Editors provide necessary assistance to the writer because they are trained to meet the needs of both the writer and the text.

In the field of news editing, there is a prevalent belief that editors only cut text. Three researchers test this belief by analyzing the editing of 30 broadsheet articles.


In their Written Communication article “Beyond ‘Trimming the Fat’: The Sub-editing Stage of Newswriting,” Astrid Vandendaele, Ludovic De Cuypere, and Ellen Van Praet (2015) from Ghent University highlight specifically how substantive editors contribute to news writing. They wanted to answer three questions in their research: What are the ways in which articles are altered? Are some types of articles altered using some types of edits more than others? Are some sections within news articles altered using some type of edits more than others?

The researchers collected the first and final drafts of 30 broadsheet articles produced using the Quark Publishing System, a collaborative workflow management system used in the particular newsroom they studied. To select the 30 articles, they divided the articles into six types—front-page, headline, long, medium, short, and wire—and randomly selected 5 of each from the system. Front-page articles and headline articles located at the top of pages featured more prominently in a paper, whereas medium and short articles located at the middle or bottom of pages. The edits from first to final draft were highlighted and divided by type of edits and by where in the sentence and article the edits took place.

With this first step in the direction of a more complete understanding of professional sub-editing, we disclose how sub-editors go ‘beyond trimming the fat’ of an article and are an indispensable part of the newswriting process.

—Vandendaele, De Cuypere, and Praet (2015)

Vandendaele et al. (2015) categorized the edits into four intervention types: additions, deletions, translocations (i.e., moving text), and replacements. They found that deletions were significantly less frequent than additions and replacements, and translocations were the least common overall. The researchers also found a significant association between article type and intervention type and between the type of intervention and where the intervention took place in the article. They determined that the substantive editors provided more significant edits in “high-stakes” articles in places within the article that would encourage readers to read the article rather than to scan it (i.e., the front-page articles saw the most interventions at 28%, which was three times the amount of interventions compared to articles of similar in length located at the middle or bottom of pages).


The results contradict the popular belief that news editing is deletions only. News editors added and replaced more text than they deleted.

In addition, substantive news editors were shown to cater to the needs of the article based on the type of article or the section of the article. This suggests that the edits were catered to the needs of the news field and to the audience. Given that “high-stakes” articles saw the most significant edits, editors also appeared to know that more serious pieces needed more thorough work. 

While the researchers of this article looked specifically at the newsroom, we can draw some broader conclusions about editing. Editors need to be sensitive to the genre and audience of the writing. In addition, writers should choose and work with experienced editors whose genre- and audience-related knowledge can help writers produce the best work.

To read more about substantive editing in the news world, read the full article:

Vandendaele, Astrid, Ludovic De Cuypere, and Ellen Van Praet. 2015. “Beyond ‘Trimming the Fat’: The Sub-editing Stage of Newswriting.” Written Communication 32, no. 4 (August): 368–95. https://doi.org/10.1177/0741088315599391

—Kalene Gillespie, Editing Research


Find more research

Check out Barbara Ellis’s (2001) book to learn more about being an editor in the newsroom: The Copy Editing and Headline Handbook. Cambridge, UK: Perseus. https://www.amazon.com/Copy-Editing-Headline-Handbook-ebook/dp/B00AHEZXU6/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=The+Copy+Editing+and+Headline+Handbook&qid=1591158776&sr=8-1.

Read Elizabeth Swan’s Editing Research article to see the importance of copy editors and accuracy in the newsroom: “When Newsrooms Cut Copy Editors.”