Pen on written document

A writing process

By Vinetta Bell

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

The editing stage involves the identification and correction of factual errors, deletion or revision of tangential issues, and rectification of omissions in a
written document.


Original copy [problematic prefix underlined]

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Edited copy [corrected prefix underlined]

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Striving for focus and accuracy

Accuracy is one of the chief concerns of the editing stage.

News reporters have the professional and ethical responsibility to include in their research and writing process the checking of facts, which includes the correct spelling and pronunciation of names, the factual details of a story, and any basis upon which conclusions are drawn. Multiple checks for accuracy are the norm. All careful, responsible writers should do the same. The reliability of the finished text depends upon accuracy in the researching and writing process.


The internet has increased access to sources for checking facts. Unfortunately, the internet has also increased access to dubious sources. Debates about the academic credibility and trustworthiness of sources to which the public can contribute will probably continue as expanding internet access changes the rules by which sources are evaluated. Ready access, speed, and the look of authenticity typically influence public use and acceptance of available resources, as the proliferation of medical, legal, and other specialty web sites attest. One can even watch surgical operations online. Who is to say what is real and what is staged?

The traditional characteristics of reputable sources still prevail, even in a technologically driven world. For example, a source with the top-level domain “edu” indicates that the site is affiliated with an educational institution — typically a college or university. Such sources are typically considered to have more academic — and therefore legitimate — credibility than a “com” source, even though the commercial source might be the work of scholars who are also associated with a college or university.

A “gov” site might be viewed as credible but also as potentially unduly influenced by the sponsoring governmental agency. An “org” source might be the web address of a legitimate charity — or the cover for a scheme that preys upon the goodwill implicit in an appeal to pathos. Any of these sites, as well as the many others not mentioned, can be duplicated by con artists who regularly use seemingly legitimate web sites and email addresses, including the ethical disclaimers at the conclusion of those sites and addresses, to deceive the user.

Most internet users are savvy enough to avoid entering credit card information on unfamiliar and unverified websites. The “buyer beware” admonition is just as applicable to those who would use the web indiscriminately to find factual information.

Evaluating online sources

The following sites offer guidelines that can help researchers determine the credibility of online sources.

Maintaining objectivity

Inaccurate information can also be dispersed by well-meaning sources. For example, a distraught mother who claims that her incarcerated son is an innocent victim of a federal law might have reached that erroneous conclusion as a result of her own emotional investment in her son’s case, as opposed to the facts of the case. To maintain objectivity, one can report the mother’s perspective as her factual, though undocumented, point of view, while also reporting the contents of the actual arrest warrant or any other claims communicated by the arresting authority.

Staying on track

Maintaining the focus of a piece of writing is another important element of the editing stage.

Writers are notoriously protective of their work. Crafting a text can be a painful, time-consuming process. After investing so much time and effort, it is very difficult for some writers to recognize and delete tangential sentences or passages — particularly if they are well-crafted or contain brilliant ideas. Writers can also be blinded to generalizations that do not adequately cover the specifics of a topic.

In short, taking on an editor’s role often conflicts with the writer’s emotional and intellectual investment in the writing process. For that reason, it is common for many writers to distance themselves from the text before editing it, or to ask someone else to read the text as a dispassionate editor.