Language editing, more than spell checking!

Language practitioners are misunderstood and underappreciated folk. Seen by many as glorified spell checkers or an expensive substitute for google translate their skill and importance are dismissed quite too easily. What they actually do and the time they put into a text are however no small feat! Join me as I explore the basics of editing and translation!

What is editing, and is there a difference between editing and proofreading?

Upon finishing the first draft of a piece of text, it is submitted for editing, where the text is revised to ensure its appropriateness, correctness and accuracy with respect to a variety of conditions.

Editing is generally categorised under light, medium and heavy editing according to the degree of revision that either a client requests or a text requires, which also affect the rates you will be charged.

Light editing involves correcting faulty spelling, grammar, punctuation, incorrect usage, cross-references, and consistency and sequence issues such as those encountered with capitalisation, fonts, numerals, etc. Light editing is sometimes also referred to by some as proofreading, although the latter is also used in the publishing industry to mean checking the typeset version of a text about to be published against the original edited manuscript, so as to assure that all the information was consistently and accurately transferred with respect to content and intended presentation in the final published form.

Medium editing involves all the tasks for light editing in addition to attaining a parallel structure throughout the document or manuscript, ensuring that the text forms a meaningful whole (cohesion), is clearly expressed, checking that the arguments are relevant, the information accurate, concise, coherent and consistent, and that the tone and register are suited to the intended audience.

Heavy editing involves all tasks for medium editing in addition to eliminating wordy and redundant language use, clichés, inappropriate jargon, ambiguity, improving readability by smoothing transitions between sentences, moving sentences, making structural changes, as well as suggestions and implementation of additions or deletions at sentence and paragraph level.

In most instances the quality of the text will dictate the degree of editing required, but in some cases revising text is limited to light and medium editing, in particular when it comes to editing dissertations and theses, since the assessment and grading of such texts involve the capabilities of the researcher to formulate their own unique, clear, and logical arguments and integrating them with existing arguments.

Heavy editing is often used in the copyediting process, where the importance of the text’s fidelity to the audience, the house rules, and the requirements of the publication often outweigh maintaining the author’s original tone and creativity.


Translation involves rendering a text message from one language into another in a way that is natural to the intended reader of the translated text. The type of translation is also dictated by the client brief, which may involve maintaining the source text form and content, or tailoring the translation to suit the needs of the target audience to varying degrees – perhaps you want to translate a text originally intended for an adult audience to something suitable for children, thereby slightly adapting the tone and register. Imagine having to explain the concept of snow to someone who has never seen or heard of snow in their lives? Or, what do you do with a word in one language that has no translatable equivalent in another language? This is where translators are faced with equivalence, which involves taking a concept in the language of the original text and adapting it so that it is relatable to the culture and language of the intended audience.

These are some of the phenomena that make language so interesting to language practitioners; it is what makes us tick! At Language Matters, what we do is not just a job, it is a passion!

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Potchefstroom, South Africa