What is Substantive Editing?

Substantive editing is a critical step in the editorial process, focusing on improving the overall quality and coherence of a manuscript. Substantive editing is a particularly insidious form of plagiarism since it has received so little attention by universities, it is seen as less serious than other forms of plagiarism, it requires high levels of vigilance to detect and there are no deterrents in place [1]. Let’s delve into the details:

  1. Purpose and Scope:
    • Substantive editing fixes various aspects of a manuscript, including its structurecontentlanguagestyle, and presentation.
    • The goal is to make the manuscript suitable for its intended purpose and readership.
  2. What Substantive Editing Addresses:
    • Structure: Editors assess the organization of the manuscript. They ensure that the flow of ideas is logical, transitions are smooth, and sections are appropriately linked.
    • Content: Editors review the substance of the work. They check for clarity, consistency, and completeness of information. If there are gaps or missing details, they may suggest additions.
    • Language and Style: Editors refine the language, making it more concise, precise, and engaging. They also address issues related to tone, voice, and readability.
    • Presentation: This includes formatting, headings, and overall visual appeal. Editors ensure that the manuscript adheres to relevant guidelines.
  3. Collaboration with Authors:
    • Substantive editors work closely with authors. They may leave comments or requests for clarification, but they don’t rewrite the entire argument.
    • Authors have the flexibility to accept or reject suggested changes, although acceptance may impact the publication process.
  4. Expertise:
    • Substantive editors are often subject matter experts. For instance, academic editing services hire specialists in specific fields (e.g., political science, neurology) to perform substantive editing.
    • Their understanding of specialized terminology and context ensures effective improvements.

Substantive editing entails a thorough reworking of your entire document, spanning from the title to the appendix. Whether you’re crafting a journal article or an academic paper, adhering to specific formats and maintaining a formal tone is paramount. If your goal is publication in a particular journal, it’s essential to recognize that many journals receive far more submissions than they can publish, often leading to desk rejections. Substantive editing can significantly enhance your chances of clearing this hurdle and, during the review process, facilitate more effective addressing of reviewers’ concerns. Even if you haven’t yet selected a journal, it’s wise to bear in mind that they typically uphold common standards regarding language and presentation. This underscores the immense value of substantive editing: a substantive editor serves as your collaborator, wielding expertise in both language and subject matter to refine your paper until it aligns with the publication standards of international journals.


  1. Lines, L. (2016). Substantive editing as a form of plagiarism among postgraduate students in Australia. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education41(3), 368-383.

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