Editing and Layout: 4 Agreements for Better Documents

By Connie Howard, ETMG VP & Founding Writer


A piece of writing isn’t finished until it’s been edited and laid out, in that order. We know that now, but it wasn’t always so.

In the Beginning: Layout and Corrections

A page from a Gutenburg BibleThe earliest documents were copied by monks, word by word, thousands of times over centuries. Their own handwriting doubled as both layout and print. Fixes came after the ink dried. Each monk corrector looked at a finished manuscript and tried to fix anything that looked odd. Although the process was eventually standardized, no two copies of the same document were ever quite the same. These days, scholars actually study the works of specific monastic correctors.¹

Gutenberg’s correctors were mindful of the differences in the old manuscripts.  They paid close attention to the text but missed an important layout problem. There was no page break between chapters 21 and 22 in the Book of Matthew. Once in print, a rubricator² noted where the page break should have been, with pen and ink, in each copy.³

The Industrial Age of Editing and Layout

The onset of mass-produced documents, like books and newspapers, demanded editorial and layout process rigor. If it wasn’t right, once it went to print, nobody could fix it. Copy could be corrupted at any point in the process, so, there were multiple editorial checkpoints along the way from document inception through publication, including production editors who worked alongside typesetters in the print shops, making sure that clean copy became accurate print. 4

Keeping Up With Editorial and Layout Needs in the Information Age

Today, it’s a lot easier to get corrected copy into the right format and onto many different kinds of pages, both digital and print. Editors can work collaboratively with content owners online and production artists and designers can layout documents in minutes. But this easy, rapid workflow creates new problems: anyone who has access to a document can change it—even after it’s supposed to be finished.

Today’s Change Management Challenge

In ETMG’s world, the world of sales and marketing collateral, subject matter experts and product managers change their minds, and sometimes—at the last minute—they demand document changes. Sometimes, they make the changes themselves. They often have the mistaken belief that additional changes don’t impact the rest of the document.

Sometimes important product and marketing disagreements take place on the page rather than in person. Collaboration tools allow everyone to edit and change the same document, so it’s hard to know when the content creation is complete and it’s time to edit, approve, and lay it out.

Image of kan ban desk to do list board kanban with post-itWithout Ground Rules for Editing and Layout, Documents May Never Be Finished

We’d like to offer four agreements that will help you manage the workflow and review process for editing and laying out your content. These agreements will help you get final approved copy into layout and published, while decreasing time to completion rates and labor costs, and increasing document accuracy:

1. Before a writer even starts to write, get agreement about the project specifics:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What are the document’s goals? That is, what should a reader think, want, or know by the time they finish reading the document?
  • What are the key messages, including features and benefits?
  • What company or corporate messaging is required?
  • What language guidelines should be used for tone and voice and conventions should be adhered to for industry-specific terminology and product naming?

2. Pick a recognized editorial standard and agree about that too. Chicago, AP, Columbia, and/or your company’s style guide.

3. Have the team agree on one trusted person to serve as the single point of contact for your production and editing team(s). This person would be responsible for collecting and mediating reviews and comments into one set. If reviewers’ comments contradict each other, or the edits change the meaning, that single person should work with the editor to settle any questions.

4. And finally, agree to disagree, and not change the copy after it’s been approved and gone into layout.

Maybe you can’t get all four in place for your next project, but even two or three of these agreements will help you to increase document accuracy and workflow efficiency. Most importantly these agreements will help you get vital information out into the marketplace on time and within budget.



1. Early correctors, and the study of those correctors: http://www.skypoint.com/members/waltzmn/Correctors.html

2. Rubricators were specialized scribes who added rubrics, specifically texts and headings in red ink. In the case of the Gutenberg Bible, rubrics were added by hand, after the bibles were printed. http://www.bl.uk/treasures/gutenberg/threephases.html

3. The Bodelian Library collaborated with the Vatican Library to understand the differences, and print errors, in their respective editions of the Gutenberg Bible. http://bav.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/news/printing-errors-and-corrections-in-the-gutenberg-bible

4. Taxonomy of editorial roles in the world of traditional publishing. http://www.netread.com/howto/editors/index.cfm?article=types%2Ecfm


Additional Resources:

“Printing errors and corrections in the Gutenberg Bible,” Bodleian Library University of Oxford 

Brian Carroll, Writing and Editing for Digital Media, (Routledge; 2 edition July 3, 2014)

Cecilia Friend and Don Challenger, Contemporary Editing, (Routledge; 3 edition September 25, 2013)


Further Reading:

What’s the Difference Between Copyediting and Proofreading?

The Case for the Content Editor: Polish Makes Perfect

Storytelling: the Secret to Great Copywriting

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>