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Editing For Style And Tone

  • By Robert Starr
  • Published 06/23/2008
  • Fiction

Every good freelance editor knows that one of the initial stages of editing text is to check the accuracy of the piece, and that means correcting where necessary the facts and figures as well as the punctuation and grammar. In most of the work that you will do, this is a big part of what the client will expect. However, there is a grey area called style that you’ll need to look at as well. Many fiction editor jobs that you will come across will allow for a certain leniency in the changes you make when it comes to style, and that’s not to say that business materials don’t demand a critical eye for the same thing, just often not on the same level as a story or novel. Still, it’s crucial to remember here that everyone who writes has their own style that includes sentence structure and length as well as word choice to name just a few elements. Keeping that in mind means that you’ll need to be especially aware that the changes you make are not interfering with the intended way the writer expresses themselves.

This means that the freelance editor should be wary about making style changes and limit these to situations where it’s clear that the original’s intended

meaning is muddled due to the choice of words , sentence structure or length used. Style should also be altered when it is inappropriate for the intended audience. For example, colloquial language would have no place in an academic manuscript, and formal paragraphs that used technical jargon would be unsuitable for a pulp magazine. Remember that style and tone are often closely related and it’s often part of the fiction editor jobs that are available that you be able to carefully navigate between the two without changing the author’s voice. This can be especially difficult since often only the person who wrote the piece ‘hears’ their intended cadence. It’s best here to know at least something about what the author is trying to say with the work and why they are trying to say it. One of the biggest mistakes that an even an otherwise good fiction editor can make is to inadvertently change either of these factors, especially in a work of fiction where certain colloquialisms and dialogue may be intended characterizations that are better left alone.

One of the cardinal rules that any freelance editor observes when approaching any of the fiction editor jobs they might come across is that the job is about enhancing the author’s voice and not changing it whenever possible.


Robert Starr is a professional writer/editor with several published books and a degree in journalism. He’s brought 20 years of experience in the craft to his own online writing/editing service. You can reach him at Rob Starr.org

by Robert Starr



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