Both in writing and editing, higher order concerns should come first. Let’s talk a little bit about what higher order concerns are, then how they should be considered in both writing and editing.
Ordering of Concerns
What does “higher order concerns” mean? In writing, there are levels of concerns to address. They should always start with the highest order of concerns, then flow into the lower levels. The highest order concerns things involving the content and organization. These highest order concerns address clarity of the overall topics and the piece as a whole. After those have been address, we can move on to word choice and clarity of the specific statements. Finally, after clarity has been thoroughly addressed, we can move on to proofreading for grammatical issues.
Higher Order Concerns in Writing
When writing, you should always start with the higher order concerns first, because these are what ultimately make up the substance of your writing. These include the content, organization of ideas/topics, and argumentation. In other words, do you have substance to your writing, and are you conveying it convincingly?
After higher order concerns have been addressed, then you can address mid-level concerns, including specific word choice. This means that it is much more effective to get your ideas down on paper in a “crappy first draft” than to nitpick over wording. Finally, after you are sure your ideas are conveyed clearly, then you can read through your writing for typos.
Higher Order Concerns in Editing
Clients often approach us for proofreading, which is the lowest order concern in writing. Proofreading should be the last step, right before you are ready to submit the piece. However, we often find that submissions are not really ready for proofreading and need higher order concerns addressed first. This may be because the client actually needed help with those things, such as word choice or argumentation, but didn’t realize that editors can do that! Sometimes, clients also don’t realize that there is a difference between proofreading and copyediting for higher order concerns.
We love working with clients at every stage, from highest to lowest order concerns.