Editing is an essential process for any piece of writing that is intended for publication, but not all works are edited equally. For nonfiction writing, there are special considerations that need to be made that may not apply to fiction. Here’s what you need to keep in mind when editing nonfiction work.
When you first pick up a piece of nonfiction writing to edit, you’re going to being with structural editing. Structural editing does not take into account things like grammar, spelling, or word choice, which are small details compared to the bigger issues you should be paying attention to. Here is a list of what you’re going to be looking for during a structural edit:
You should do an initial read-through of the writing in which you simply read and comprehend without making any edits. Once you’ve read the writing, consider its clarity. Were all details sufficiently explained? Were any questions left unanswered? Was anything confusing or misleading? Did you understand everything? Which parts were harder to understand or unclear?
Coherence and Transitions
Next, take a look at how all the information fits together. Was it presented in a logical order? Did the information flow? Were there adequate and natural transitions from one topic to another? Did everything relate well to everything else? Did anything stick out as being unnecessary or out of order/place? Is the information well organized?
It’s important to make sure that the reader, who is usually presumed to unknowledgeable about the subject, is given a full picture in order to understand the material. Is there any missing information that would make the story/message more complete or easier to understand? Are there any logic gaps, in which it’s difficult to understand how a point was reached?
The narrator of a nonfiction story is usually removed from the action – an observer of events, and the information is usually presented in an objective manner. Is there anything about the narration style that could be improved? Does the narrator ever inappropriately interject opinions?
Perhaps the most important aspect of a nonfiction piece is that the information provided is true and accurate. Double- and triple-check all facts to be sure they’re quoted correctly. Has all the information been verified by a trusted and reliable source? You should also be on the lookout for misrepresentation of facts. A fact should not be presented in a way that the reader could construe a different, incorrect meaning or significance.
Formatting and References
Finally, the nonfiction work should be edited for consistent formatting (fonts, paragraphs, margins, etc.). The bibliography, appendix, index, table of contents, and other additions like tables and graphs should be checked for clarity and accuracy.
Copyediting should not be performed until structural editing is complete, and perhaps not until the final draft is made. After structural editing, the author should make necessary changes to improve the piece, and then copyediting can begin. Copyediting for nonfiction is the same as fiction: you’ll look for things like spelling, grammar, word choice, verb usage, and sentence structure.
Alayne Valentine is a freelance writer and college student who has plenty of experience when it comes to editing and proofing. She loves to blog and often covers literary devices or the use of grammar checkers.
Photo Credit: Dan Patterson