What is substantive editing?

By Vimala Panikar, M.Com, Mumbai University


Editing is broadly classified by level of service into proofreading, copyediting, and substantive editing. Of these, the last is the most comprehensive. So, what exactly do substantive editors do? All that copyeditors and proofreaders do and much more! They cast a critical eye over all components of your document and see whether these link together as a coherent whole. They will


  • Evaluate your document in its entirety, as well as its sections as standalone components
  • Check that it communicates clearly with your target audience
  • Flag missing structural elements or inadequate discussion
  • Highlight problems with logic and style
  • Ensure terminology accuracy and consistency
  • Rephrase sentences to ensure conciseness, clarity, smooth transition, and within-paragraph flow
  • Relocate sentences or chunks of text to improve your document’s overall flow
  • Check the formatting

Thus, substantive editing involves a complete overhaul of your document—from the title to Appendix. Are you writing a journal article? Academic papers must usually follow a certain format and have a formal tone. Do you aim to get it published in a particular journal? You would, of course, be aware that most journals receive and desk-reject many more papers than they can ever publish—substantive editing can help you get past that goalpost more easily and at the review stage, help you address reviewers’ concerns more effectively. Even if you have not yet zeroed in on a journal, it’s best to keep in mind that journals usually have some common benchmarks related to language and presentation. This is why substantive editing can be immensely helpful: A substantive editor is your collaborator, the language and subject matter expert who will polish your paper till it meets the publication standards of international journals.

Or are you writing a thesis or book? You will need to keep track of the narrative thread and also ensure each chapter flows seamlessly into the next—a geometrical increase in the complexities and challenges, thanks to the volume of content! This is when brainstorming with a substantive editor will be of immense help. You can opt for substantive editing at any point of the writing process, but it might be wise to get the editor’s view once your rough draft is ready. This way, you can easily incorporate editorial suggestions at the outset and develop the manuscript more effortlessly.

In summary, substantive editors will point out all possible ways and means to improve a document so that it is publication-ready—and this, while retaining the author’s “voice” to the extent possible.


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  • A professionally written cover letter for journal submission

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In addition to the features offered under the Premium Editing Service, we offer Journal response letter check, which will ensure effective communication with journal editors and the submission of a professionally written, well-structured manuscript. Your editor will also edit your response to reviewers and crosscheck it with the revised manuscript. This is the best service when you need an expert for both communication with journal editors and accurate manuscript revisions.
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Some unique features about the Editage substantive editing process
  • Confused about whether your document needs copyediting or substantive editing? Relax, let’s figure that out for you. Just get in touch with us and we will give you an honest assessment about the level of editing support it requires.
  • Do remember that substantive editing is an iterative process. So, it’s rare that your document will be picture-perfect after just one round of editing. Be ready to ask your editor questions if the revisions don’t match your intended meaning. Similarly, be ready to answer your editor’s questions. This way, you—and your editor—are likely to be much happier with the final outcome. As will your publisher! Which is exactly why we offer FREE re-editing for 365 days.
  • We offer a 100% quality guarantee, no questions asked. That means, if for some reason you are not delighted with the quality, we will rework your document until you are satisfied. Click here for more details.

To get a quote for the substantive editing services you need, click here.



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