It is choosing words that are concise; reconstructing sentences and paragraphs, and changing the order of the written work so that it accurately reflects the writer's intent.
Substantive and stylistic editing is not a separate kind of editing, but rather another level or step deeper than the mechanical editing of grammar and spelling that most writers are familiar with. The substantive edit is the difference between a good article/essay and an exemplary one. Make your writing to be clean and sparkle; I'll show you a fast method to achieve that.
Look these three things:
1. Is the subject clear?
Find the nugget of an idea buried and tangled in sentences and paragraphs.
These are the words that form the sentences.
Look at the words and see if they accurately say what they should.
There is a logical order to writing
Ideas form and progress in a natural order.
Craft sentences or paragraphs so that the whole article makes more sense and follows that logical order.
Let's look at a real example. Here is an actual article that I received from one of my regular contributors.
1. What is the main idea?
Answer the questions: who, what, where, when, why, and how.
[Good title - it tells me exactly what the writer wants to tell the reader]
[when] Two months ago I took over the job of going through my [who] Great Aunt & Uncles’ [where] house to get it cleaned out and ready for sale. This home is 80 years old and my Aunt had lived in it from the day my Great Grandfather built it back in 1930. Along with the old features of the home, and due to the mind set in those days, that you don’t throw anything away. [what] They kept everything! I had a big job of going through every nook and cranny in that house, and deciphering what was valuable or not. I took a few days here & there to go to antique stores and shows to get an idea of what I should be looking for, so that I don’t throw something away that may be valuable. What I have found has made me re-think and really appreciate these items. Being an Interior decorator, I love the intrinsic beauty of things. I have now grown to appreciate the items that I had grown up with. So, you must be very careful of what you toss into landfill or take to recycling. [how] There are collectors out there looking for these items. I was talking with the man at the metal recycling place one day, and he showed me a solid brass spice grinder that someone brought in for recycling. He paid the person $1.50 for it and now can turn around and sell it for anywhere up to $165. When I spoke with a Dealer at the Antique Show and Sale, he said that [why]most people don’t realize the treasures they have right in their own homes or those of loved ones that are facing downsizing, going into nursing homes or dying, leaving the big task of going through their belonging to their family members.
Making those sentences concise and flow!
Examples of how to edit sentences:
(Unedited) Two months ago I took over the job of going through my Great Aunt & Uncles’ house to get it cleaned out and ready for sale. This home is 80 years old and my Aunt had lived in it from the day my Great Grandfather built it back in 1930.
(Edited) Two months ago, I acquired the job of going through my great aunt’s eighty-year old house to get it ready for sale.
(Unedited) Along with the old features of the home, and due to the mind set in those days, that you don’t throw anything away. They kept everything!
(Edited) My great aunt never threw anything away; she kept everything.
Omitted from the article:
What I have found has made me re-think and really appreciate these items. Being an Interior decorator, I love the intrinsic beauty of things. I have now grown to appreciate the items that I had grown up with.
I removed this part because it really had nothing to contribute to the article.
Turn those choppy short sentences into one concise sentence, or a compound sentence that flows.
3. Order and structure
Now you can start putting all the ideas and newly constructed sentences in order to make the article flow.
Refer to the “who, what, where, when, why, and how”. This is the logical flow of information.
Two months ago, I acquired the job of going through my great aunt’s eighty-year old house to get it ready for sale. My great aunt never threw anything away; she kept everything. I went through every nook and cranny in her house, and had the difficult task of deciphering what was valuable or not. Visits to antique stores were enlightening and I learned that if you are not careful you could be throwing out valuable treasures.
During a conversation with the man at the metal recycling yard, he showed me a solid brass spice grinder that someone brought in for recyclin# # #g. He paid the person $1.50 but its value could be anywhere up to $165. We may find ourselves with the task of liquidating our parents and relatives assets, and if we are interested in learning more about antiques and collectables we will likely discover buried treasures in our homes.
Review of the final copy
You will notice that I chose better words for some of the sentences:
A. [Two months ago I took over the job of]
Two months ago, I acquired the job...
B. [When I spoke with a Dealer at the Antique Show and Sale, he said that most people don’t realize the treasures they have right in their own homes]
Visits to antique stores were enlightening...
Use your thesaurus to find a more accurate and descriptive word if you need to.
Don't be afraid to take those long, wordy, sentences and whittle them down as much as you can. You want to take your reader into your idea as smoothly and quickly as possible. Immerse them in sentences and paragraphs that don't require a machete to cut through the jungle of non-relevant ideas and off-tangent directions.
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About the Author
Cindy DeJager is a professional substantive and stylistic editor with twenty years’ experience in editing and publishing. She was previously the senior editor of eight years for Great News Publishing in Calgary, Alberta, Canada; the publisher of 93 monthly community publications. When she was twelve years old, Cindy used to watch her mother as she wrote a book using the old manual typewriter. The tall, wood bookshelf in the living room used to fascinate her and the titles of her mother’s research material intrigued Cindy for many years. Years later, in 2000, her mother self-published her book and Cindy took over the marketing and promotion of the book (Amazon was a new sales platform at that time). In 2014, when her mother became ill, Cindy decided to open her own editing and publishing companies. Her mother passed away in 2015 and Cindy retired her mother’s company and began growing Words Are My Business and Opal Publishing. Currently Cindy owns and operates Words Are My Business and OpalPublishing, the publisher of OPAL a digital magazine for author and writers. Opal is published 10 times a year and features best-selling and up-coming authors, short fiction, poetry, prose, and articles by great writers. Cindy is a writer also, she is currently working on generational family saga set in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Find out more at Cindy's website www.wordsaremybusiness.ca and find her on Facebook and Twitter @words_cindy & @opalpublishing.