Visualize your purpose: Developmental editing tip

When you have finished your first draft of your article, book or chapter it is time to do some developmental editing. This means that you will look critically at the structure of your text and see whether improvements can be made to it, before moving on to the line-editing or copyediting. In this Author Resources post, I will help you take the first step on your developmental editing journey. I will help you visualize your purpose on different levels in your text. This will then give you a great foundation from which to start your self-editing process.

Developmental Editing

For me, the main goal in developmental editing is to make sure that the shape of the text supports its purpose. If your purpose is to convince your ideal reader of a certain point of view, in the developmental editing process you try to figure out in what order and at what pace your different supporting arguments need to be made. If it is to take your reader through increasing suspense before revealing that the butler was the murderer all along, you might look for the different points in which the suspense falters or fades and prevent that from happening. 

And here, I think, it already becomes clear why you need to visualize your purpose. If you don’t know what you want your text, or a piece of your text, to do, then how can you make sure it is successful in its aims?

And yes, I purposefully added “a piece of your text” in that sentence. Because figuring out what your text is supposed to do is not enough. Your text needs to be successful on every level.

Visualize your purpose: how to start?

As I said before: if you want to make your text successful in its aims, you will need to know what these aims are. Now, when I say “visualize your purpose,” I don’t necessarily mean you need to make a mood board. (Though, if that technique works for you, by all means: go ahead!!) What I mean is that you need to formulate your aims. And they need to be precise. You need to be able to imagine what the purpose looks and feels like. 

There’s a few questions you can ask yourself to help you figure this out:

  • What is the one thing (thought, view, feeling) you want your reader to be left with after reading this text?
  • What makes your text unique, different from everyone else’s?
  • Why is this important?

When you have clear for yourself what the text SHOULD do, it makes it easier to see at which points it does not yet succeed. 

Visualize your purpose: on the level of your text

Before you even start spell-checking your first draft, make sure you have already taken time to visualize your text’s purpose. I’m not even exaggerating here. If in a later stage you find out that an entire paragraph can be deleted, then copy-editing this paragraph now will be a waste of your time. Don’t start editing before you’ve taken this first step: make sure you know what exactly it is you want your text to accomplish.

1. Who is your ideal reader?

One aspect of this is to figure out your ideal reader. What is it that they do and do not know already? Which things need to be explained, and what can you assume they will understand without much elaboration?

2. How long should your text be?

This is also the time to think about how long you want your text to be. That’s especially relevant if you want to go the traditional publishing route. If you are submitting your article to an academic journal: check their word count requirements. If you want to publish a book: make sure you stay under 120.000 words and look up what the ideal length is for a book in your specific genre. And if you want to self-publish and produce a hardcopy, it’s a good time to research the price ranges when it comes to cost of printing: how much do you want to sell your book for? And consequently: what should the maximum length of your book be?

3. Break it down!

Then, it’s time to break your purpose down into parts. If you want to convince your reader of a point of view: which arguments need to be presented in which order to convince them? If you want to leave them with a feeling: what parts of your text contribute to the building of this feeling and how are they distributed through your text? Are there large passages where the feeling is lost? Do you start building towards your goal from the very start? 

What you basically do here, is take your bag of purpose and sprinkle its contents throughout your text. Make sure that every part of your text supports the overall purpose. When you’ve done this, you can move on to the next level.

Visualize your purpose: on the level of your chapter and paragraph

You now know what the purpose of your text is. You also know which elements are necessary to reach these goals. Now it is time to look at the purpose of the elements that make up your text: the chapters and paragraphs. For each of these, you need to ask yourself the same questions I outlined above. And, if, for example, the paragraph is part of a chapter, which is part of the book… How does this paragraph support the aims of both the chapter and the book? 

Now, at this point you’re probably asking yourself why I felt this second level needed its own heading in this post. And that’s pretty simple: it’s because just figuring out your purpose is not enough here. You also need to look at the relationship of this one element to the elements surrounding it on the same level. What I’m talking about here is order and flow. 

1. The order of your elements

It might help to look at your text as a journey. You basically take your reader by the hand and guide them through the steps necessary to get to your goal. Now, some steps can only be taken after you’ve already finished the last step. And it’s certainly possible to backtrack to an earlier step, but you do need to ask yourself if that’s absolutely necessary. Try to keep information that belongs together together, unless you have a good reason to separate them. So ask yourself: is everything I want to say in the right order? 

2. Signposting

You might know exactly where you are in your journey. But is that clear to the reader as well? Do they understand why you move on to this specific step now? This is especially important for non-fiction, but might also be something to consider when you’re writing a narrative. Once in a while, it’s important to remind them of the steps they’ve already taken. And to emphasize again where they are going. Make sure your reader does not get lost in your text. Give them signposts to remind them where they are and where they are going. 

3. Bringing the flow

If you want your reader’s journey to be smooth and intuitive, you need to pay attention to the flow of your text. This sounds rather vague, but there’s actually some specific things you can do to improve the flow. And that is to add words and phrases to show the relationship between your chapters and paragraphs.

At the start of your chapter, for example, you can remind your reader what happened in the last chapter and how this chapter relates to that. Similarly, at the end of the chapter, you can give them a teaser of what happens next. The second strategy has two benefits: it not only improves the flow but also motivates them to keep reading.

On a paragraph level, you can use connectives to link elements together. You can find a list of “connective words” here. Rather than having a collection of different paragraphs, make sure that they are connected so they form one cohesive whole. 

If it’s still not clear, you can look at this section 3. Bringing the flow. In the first paragraph, I told you why you should read this (“If you want your reader’s journey to be smooth and intuitive”). Then, I said that you should use the strategies on the levels of chapters and paragraphs. Then, in the second paragraph, I told you more about chapters. And in the third, I told you more about paragraphs. So: I outlined what I was going to do and led you through this section without explicitly saying that I was signposting. Neat, no? 

Visualize your purpose: on the level of your sentences and words

Now it’s time to get into the copy-editing. Every tip I’ve given you previously is also applicable here. When a sentence doesn’t work, ask yourself: what is the role of this sentence, what is its purpose? And is it actually necessary for the overall goals of this text? When a word interrupts your flow, ask yourself what its purpose is and if it’s not discernable: delete it. And link sentences together using the connective words list I linked to above. 

Just imagine the feeling you want the reader to have at this point in your text. Or focus on the point this part of the text needs to make. And then ask yourself: does this word, this sentence, belong here? 

And that’s it! There’s no more levels left!

In Conclusion

When you try to improve your text, it’s essential that you can visualize your purpose on every level. Only when you know what your goal is can you assess how successful your chapters, paragraphs, sentences and words are. When you know what your purpose is, it becomes easier to organize your text logically, to cut words when needed and to improve your clarity and flow. 

If you’re still struggling with either your purpose or the editing of your text, please feel free to contact me! You can schedule a free coaching session here so we can discuss your project and find your purpose together. Or you can hire me to do the developmental editing for you, by sending me an e-mail at