How to become a more effective self-editor: The developmental edit

As discussed in the introduction to this series on becoming a more effective self-editor, writing and editing are two distinct processes. You will be a better and faster writer if you treat them as such. Similarly, editing has two phases: the developmental edit and the substantive edit. ​

The developmental edit improves the structure and organization of a piece of writing. It focuses on the audience, clarifies the purpose of the piece, and makes sure it has a consistent tone and perspective. Before turning your attention to the substantive edit, make sure the structure is sound.

Use the CORD Framework™ to enhance the editorial quality of your article.

The CORD Framework serves as the foundation for much of the developmental edit and ensures the editorial quality of your work. Take a break after you finish writing to gain some perspective, and then read your article and ask yourself the following questions:

Is it cogent? Does it present a compelling case in support of a specific position or viewpoint? Is it useful to the intended reader? Does it provide enough context for the reader to understand its importance? Could the reader share the most important information with another person?

Is it original? Does it present a strong voice and clear point of view? Does it add to the conversation by focusing on insights, not simply information? Does it build upon the writer’s experience and position them as an authority? Do analogies and anecdotes help the reader understand complex concepts?

Is it researched? Are the writer’s insights based on evidence? Are their assertions grounded in fact? Is the data accurate? Is it essential? Can it be simplified? Are cited sources trustworthy? Is the research cited appropriately and presented with sufficient context? Where the ideas get complex, does the writer slow the pace?

Is it deep? Is the piece well written? Does it leave a lasting impression? Does it dive below the surface and offer insights not found elsewhere? Is it relevant? Does the writer discern fact from opinion?

Download a copy of The CORD Framework™ to improve the editorial quality of your articles.

Review and improve the structure and organization of your article.

Once you’ve ensured the editorial quality of your article, it’s time to improve its structure and organization. Read the article aloud to identify places where the rhythm, flow, or voice doesn’t quite work. Mark the areas that need adjustment and then reread it, asking yourself the following questions:

Is it striking? Is the headline strong? Does it grab your attention? Does the deck support the headline and make the reader want to learn more? Does the first paragraph get right to the point, or is the lede buried a few paragraphs down?

Is it focused? Does the article maintain its focus, or does the writing stray from its purpose? Does the writer make their point clearly and succinctly, or do they say the same thing in slightly different ways? Does each section of the article support the main point? Are there any darlings to murder?

Is it authoritative? Where does the article present opportunities for the writer to increase authority by adding detail, examples, or further evidence?

Is it skimmable? Do you get the general idea of the article simply by reading the heading, deck, and subheads? Are there any long sentences or paragraphs that can be broken down? Does the writer use bullet points and lists where appropriate?

Is it targeted? Is the intended audience clear throughout the piece? Does the tone of voice shift or stay consistent? Are such shifts intentional and easy for the reader to follow?

It’s not just about grammar and spelling.

Editing is about so much more than grammar and spelling. To be a good editor, you must start by looking at the big picture. You have to put yourself in the reader’s shoes and make sure that it is clear and easy to follow. Only after the structure is sound can you focus on the details.

In the next installment of this series, we’ll dive into the substantive edit. This line-by-line edit looks at grammar, punctuation, and spelling. It seeks out confusing, complicated, and wordy sentences and makes them clear and compelling. I’ll give you a checklist you can use to make the process easier so you can become a better writer, a deeper thinker, and a clearer communicator.