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The three-tiered approach to editing

The advice to “edit your work” is ubiquitous, yet the methodology behind effective editing is harder to pin down. I recently came across a terrific social media thread by Erica Schneider, who produces a free newsletter “for content writers …who are tired of fluffy and unhelpful editing advice”. I’ve summarised this below, simply because it’s really good stuff that we should all read.

Understanding the Three-Tiered Approach to Editing

  1. Developmental Editing: This macro-level editing focuses on the high-level structure of the content. It involves assessing the intent, ensuring it answers the core questions or purposes behind the queries. It also involves scrutinizing the narrative order, perspective, audience targeting, and the strategic placement of calls to action (CTAs). This foundational step is crucial in ensuring that the content aligns with its intended goals and purpose. Skipping this step can lead to a strategy falling short.
  2. Copy Editing: At a micro-level, copy editing involves refining the low-level structure of the content. This includes improving sentence structure for clarity, eliminating redundancy, enhancing readability, smoothing out friction points, ensuring logical flow, and verifying sources. The aim is to make the content digestible, interesting, and engaging. Poor structure can undermine even the most well-researched content.
  3. Proofreading: The final polish of the content focuses on the fine details like dialect discrepancies, punctuation, spelling errors, and grammar. Even minor errors can detract from the credibility and flow of the content, risking the loss of reader engagement.

The Process of Developmental Editing

  • Initial Steps: After stepping away from the draft, revisit it alongside the brief or notes without making any edits. This helps in realigning with the core purpose of the content.
  • Editing Phase: This involves reorganizing or removing irrelevant sections, refining the introduction to ensure it hooks the reader and communicates the main learning points, and ensuring all arguments tie back to the main purpose.

The Art of Copy Editing

  • Structure and Clarity: Reorganize or remove paragraphs to establish a logical flow, set context, add relevant information, and conclude with a key takeaway. Ensure each sentence adds value and answers potential reader questions.
  • Enhancing Readability and Credibility: Simplify complex content, switch from passive to active voice, remove unnecessary words, vary sentence length, and verify the credibility of sources.

The Precision of Proofreading

  • Final Review: Whether done simultaneously with copy editing or as a separate step, the final proofreading ensures every detail is in place. Tools like Grammarly can be helpful, but a meticulous manual review is essential for that final polish.


Effective content editing is like assembling a puzzle. Developmental editing ensures you have the correct pieces and separates the crucial elements. Copy editing is about fitting these pieces together coherently. Proofreading solidifies each connection, ensuring the final output is both visually and contextually appealing. This structured editing process is essential for creating content that is not only engaging and informative but also meets professional standards and achieves strategic objectives.

Original ideas: Erica Schneider  (free newsletter)