Do I decline this piece or do I request edits? Sometimes it's incredibly clear, and other times, it's difficult to determine what your next step should be.

A good rule of thumb is that if a piece isn't 85-90% complete, it's a candidate for declining. But what determines what "complete" is? In this article, we'll go over criteria for when to decline versus when to request edits, as well as how to evaluate a piece's success & what kinds of revisions it might require before taking action.

Declining v. Requesting Edits

When to consider declining a piece…

  • When the piece requires revision, as opposed to copyediting or proofreading (further explanations of these concepts included below).

  • When an author misunderstands the purpose & focus of the piece and doesn’t achieve it in the piece.

  • When an author doesn’t properly develop the piece for the intended audience.

  • When the kinds of edits the piece needs will require more than 1-2 rounds of edits.

When to request edits…

  • When the piece requires copy-editing or proofreading, work that requires the writer to rework more surface-level issues, such as style, voice, tone, and grammar.

  • When the kinds of edits the piece needs can be easily completed in 1-2 rounds of edits, and don’t require further explanation of the original request and the concepts outlined therein.

  • When the piece achieves the purpose & is developed well for the audience, but requires polishes on the components related to the voice, tone, grammar, or format.

Revision, Copyediting, & Proofreading: What’s the difference?

Revision

  • Revision requires the most effort out of the writer. It deals holistically with the entire piece.

  • Typically, revision is required when the piece is not properly developed to achieve its purpose, when it’s not developed well for its intended audience, or when the writer fails to understand and respond to the given prompt.

  • Revision requires the writer to radically re-envision their work. They must revisit, review, and rework their piece. This often requires large amounts of rewriting.

Copyediting

  • Copy-editing is less strenuous than revision but requires more effort than proofreading. It deals with content at the paragraph and sentence level. Typically, copyediting occurs after all major revision work is completed.

  • Typically, copyediting deals with issues of style, clarity, grammatical conventions, word choice, etc.

  • The writer may revisit components such as word choice, sentence structure (simplifying, expanding, combining, separating), passive v. active voice, diction, transition phrases, etc.

  • Copyediting requires the writer to carefully review their work for clarity & precision.

Proofreading

  • Proofreading is the process of reviewing work for grammar and spelling errors, and any additional minor errors. This is the final stage in the reviewing & editing process.

  • Unlike copyediting, proofreading does not typically involve any reworking or rewriting of the content of a piece.

How to evaluate whether or not a piece requires revision, copyediting, or proofreading.

When reviewing a document, you can typically diagnose composing issues based on a hierarchy, where higher priority concerns (like purpose & audience) require deeper investigation and revision work, and where lower priority concerns (like style & conventions) can be more easily remedied through copyediting & proofreading.

Composing Issues in order of Importance:

  1. Purpose: what is the goal or objective for this piece of writing? How does the text need to be developed in order to achieve this purpose? (Ex: argument structure, evidence used)

  2. Audience: to whom are you writing? How does this piece need to be developed for this particular audience and their needs? (Ex: types of evidence used, rhetorical appeals used, voice & tone)

  3. Context: what are the current arguments and points of view on your topic? What format or genre does your audience expect—academic essay, business report, memo…?

  4. Development: how much evidence do you need to support your argument or to clearly communicate your message? What types of evidence are appropriate for your purpose, audience, and context?

  5. Organization: how should you organize your ideas to best meet the expectations of your audience?

  6. Style: genre conventions, vocabulary, sentence structure, paragraphing

  7. Conventions: grammar, spelling, punctuation

This does not mean that conventions (grammar, spelling, punctuation) are not important. It means that if a writer doesn’t know who their audience is, their message won’t be effective even if the grammar is correct.

On the flip side, a writer can have a well-defined audience and purpose but if their spelling is terrible and their argument poorly organized, their audience won’t trust them or their argument and therefore they won’t achieve their purpose.

Once you decide to decline...

If you review a submission and realize it doesn't meet the mark because it isn't successfully developed in terms of higher priority concerns such as purpose or audience, go ahead and decline the piece! Just be sure to leave polite feedback for the writer. Oftentimes, writers may choose to go back and revise and resubmit the piece, without you having to provide them with detailed edits. Other times, they or other writers will incorporate this feedback into future submissions.

Once you decide to request edits...

Make sure that your edits fall firmly into the realm of those lower priority concerns that require copy-editing or proofreading, rather than revision. In your edits, make sure to be as specific as possible, and if providing holistic feedback, reference specific examples within the submission. Try to ensure that you capture all potential edit requests into your first round of edits to ensure you're requesting edits in as few rounds as possible.

Remember that writers are not required to accept your requests for edits. Making sure your edits are lower priority concerns and therefore easier to remedy increases the likelihood that a writer will accept and complete your edit requests.

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