Developmental & Substantive Editing

As a content editor, I will help you to find and articulate your research focus and explain the value of your work within your field. I will recommend and help you to make improvements to your manuscript, ensuring that it meets reviewers’ and readers’ expectations for genre, readability, coherence, credibility, completeness, and interest.

Genre: Each discipline embraces specific types, or genres, of research reporting. These types of research reporting determine concrete features of manuscripts such as content sections and their order, overall length, and accepted citation form. Disciplinary research genres also determine rhetorical features of manuscripts such as their tone, objectives, and presentation of evidence.

Readability: Readability is the ease with which writing is understood by a particular reader who is reading for a specific purpose (Chall & Dale, Readability Revisited, Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books, 1995).  Generally, manuscripts that use active language; concrete terms; and short, well-constructed sentences are easier to read. In research writing, more readable manuscripts also adopt the style and vocabulary of their discipline. Beyond the sentence and paragraph level, the most readable manuscripts meet their discipline’s expectations for genre. They also define and apply disciplinary concepts deftly and precisely.

Coherence: Coherence and readability are closely related, because the more coherent an exposition or argument is, the easier it is to read. Coherent writing makes explicit logical connections at every level, between sentences, paragraphs, sections, and chapters. The most common method for increasing a manuscript’s coherence is to write strong transitions. Another is to thread key themes throughout a manuscript, themes that further develop and reinforce the global thesis.

Credibility: Credibility is how believable readers perceive an exposition or argument to be. Credibility is established through sound reasoning and good evidence in support of claims. It is also established in less direct ways, such as through how the author signals membership in a disciplinary community through demonstrating an awareness of its communication conventions.

Completeness: The degree to which an exposition or argument comes to a satisfying conclusion. For example, in some fields, an article would not seem complete without having suggested future directions for research. In most fields, an article would seem equally incomplete unless it discussed the limitations of the research. A sense of completeness is not determined only by how the article ends, but also by the moves it makes on its way to an ending.

Interest: A manuscript should hold its readers’ interest from beginning to end. In all fields, a good opening depends on the writer introducing a compelling research question, given some established field of inquiry, or intersection between fields. The middle of a manuscript holds readers’ interest through exploring that question with rigorous methodology, an ample range of research reference, and insightful analysis. A strong conclusion pulls these threads of analysis together without forcing the logic, making what claims seem credible to readers and valuable to the field. The ending must make clear at what answer to the research question the author has arrived through long study and careful work, but it should also intrigue the reader to continue to want to know more about the original question.


Content editing takes two forms: developmental and substantive.

Developmental Editing

My specialty is developmental editing. In the words of the Bay Area Editors’ Forum Editorial Services Guide, “Developmental editing can include consultation before the writing begins. The developmental editor may help plan the organization, features, and other aspects of the work, and prepare developmental reviews or analyses. Duties often include the following:

  • Suggesting formats to communicate the message.
  • Rewriting and restructuring the text to fit the format.
  • Moving entire paragraphs and sentences to improve flow.
  • Ensuring consistent structure by adding or deleting headings.
  • Identifying gaps in content, and supplying or describing the needed copy, so the author can resolve them.
  • Deleting content that is outdated or that does not achieve the desired marketing focus or tone.
  • Developing an effective system for handling trademarks and notes.

Developmental editing may also involve altering the content to meet the recommendations of reviewers and determining the style and general content of the illustrations and/or diagrams.”

Substantive Editing

According to Scott Norton’s The Introduction to Developmental Editing (U. Chicago Press 2009), “developmental editing denotes significant structuring or restructuring of a manuscript’s discourse. The DE’s role can manifest in a number of ways. Some “big picture” editors provide broad direction by helping the author to form a vision for the book, then coaching the author chapter by chapter to ensure that the vision is successfully executed. Others get their hands dirty with the prose itself, suggesting rewrites at the chapter, section, paragraph, and sentence levels. This hands-on approach is sometimes called substantive editing or line editing.”