How to Learn Structural Editing

How to Learn Structural Editing

Or, PD for DEs

Sometimes called developmental editing (DE), structural editors work with the writer to shape and form a piece. If you think of this as rearranging the table of contents rather than working on the wording (stylistic/line editing) or consistency and continuity (copy editing), you’ll get it.

photo of people standing at junctures of steel scaffold

Traditionally, editors learn how to work with document structure via a mentor, or perhaps beginning with literature studies. It’s one of those practices that one might say requires an innate ability rather than training. That’s less true of non-fiction, and not entirely true overall.

There are some courses in publishing and editing programs that focus on structural issues (see the note at the end). But while there are a dozen books that explain (and give practice with) copyediting, and dozens more style guides for copyediting, there are precious few print resources to learn—or to keep learning (aka PD, professional development)—about structural editing.

Reading List for DEs

Luckily, there are some resources and the list has grown a bit. So, if you’ve perused “how to become an editor” but found that it focussed on the word-by-word edits and you’re looking for DE PD, try these readings:

cover of What Editors Do, by Peter Ginna. University of Chicago Press, Oct 2017
Several chapters contain paragraphs related to development work. I found especially valuable tidbits in chapters 8, 17, 19, and 25. (2017) U of Chicago Press
cover of Editing Canadian English, 3rd edition and the online interface
The whole “Canadianization” chapter is relevant and contains a section titled Structural Editing as well as sections on Permissions and Copyright. Also read the chapter, “The Editor’s Legal and Ethical Responsibilities.” (2015) Editors Canada
cover of Editorial Niches print edition by EAC
Find in depth considerations for 10 genres/media. (Note this is a separate print book but is included in the online access for in Editing Canadian English, 3rd. (2015) Editors Canada.)
And for practice: There is a structure section in the old Meeting Editorial Standards workbooks from Editors Canada. They have great discussions of several solutions for each exercise. A new edition may be published in 2022, and it will isolate structural editing from other stages of editing, so watch out for it under the new title: Edit Like a Pro!
  • The Forest for the Trees, Betsy Lerner (2010) Riverhead Books (Penguin)
  • The Subversive Copyeditor, Carol Fisher Saller (2016) U of Chicago Press — This is a lot like a great, frank discussion with a colleague about how to build author–editor relationships and gently persuade for changes, despite the term “copyeditor” in the title.
  • Developmental Editing, Scott Norton (2009) U of Chicago Press

Blog Posts for DEs

On this blog and in my posts on other sites you’ll find these bite-sized tips for developmental/structural editing:

DE Defined

The detailed list of concerns related to a structural edit (DE) are well outlined in Professional Editorial Standards from Editors Canada. It’s free, so start there.

To learn more about features in MS Word that will help your structural editing work, check out the book.

For formal training in editing, including structural editing, find me at Queen’s University, Ryerson University, or Simon Fraser University. Disclosure: I wrote chapters in Editing Canadian English and Editorial Niches, including the one on editing for education markets, though I do not get $ from sales.

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