When writing, it’s easy to get bogged down by the smaller elements that make up a work like word choice, grammar, and punctuation. However, the editing process will flow much more quickly if we pay attention to the Editor’s Hierarchy of Concerns. There are ten items in the hierarchy; five Higher Order Concerns (HOCs), and five Lower Order Concerns (LOCs).
HOCs: Higher Order Concerns
Higher-Order Concerns make up the meaning of a piece. From fiction to dissertation, the most important thing to nail down is a purpose. Without a clear purpose, any other category on the hierarchy of concerns is irrelevant. Who is the audience? Why should they care?
The next HOC to worry about is organization. Are we presenting material in a way that will make sense to the reader? When it comes to storytelling, working chronologically helps to clear up most problems with organization. Writers can complicate this by using flashbacks or other nonlinear methods, but make sure you’re nailing the chronological storytelling before moving on to advanced techniques.
Informative and argumentative work can be a bit more difficult to organize. At the most basic level, I recommend beginning with the main idea (If X, then Y), then providing 3-5 pieces of supporting evidence (This is true because of A, B, and C). Then, dedicate a section to each supporting idea, and wrap it up by summarizing each point once again.
Development and Support may look like rising action in storytelling. In argumentative and informative writing, it’s important to begin with a wide scope and zoom in slowly as you move to different topics. Sort your information into categories so that you are building the readers’ knowledge as they go. For example, a report on the Mayan Civilization would probably begin with when and where the civilization began and not with traditions of marriage.
Style and Voice are a bit more difficult to capture. There are entire books dedicated to style and voice (Like Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style). In a nutshell, though, style is concerned with the way something is written. A piece may be filled with long, ornate sentences or straightforward, punchy ones. Voice is the writer’s personality coming through; it should feel personal and unique. Don’t be too concerned with mastering these things yet. What is more important is that style and voice remain consistent throughout a work. To help with this, consider your intended audience and how you want to be perceived by them. Do you want to be a teacher, a best friend, a belief challenger, or do you want to simply state the facts?
LOCs: Lower Order Concerns
Once those HOCs are all in line, LOCs can be checked. LOCs are your lower-order concerns. Look over the paragraphs as parts of a whole. Are they ordered in a way that takes your reader on an easy ride? Imagine swapping different paragraphs and see how that affects the piece overall. Sentences can be looked at in much the same way. Does rearranging them within a paragraph improve your flow? Punctuation and Mechanics can often be checked in your word processor, but always check to be sure you haven’t overlooked anything that could interfere with a reader’s understanding. Printing out your writing or having a friend look at it can help you recognize mistakes you may have become accustomed to seeing as you were working.
My personal favorite part of the editing process, words, comes last. Here, you can tweak your word choice. Play with different synonyms and see if there are any words that more concisely convey what you want to say. Think of the different ideas between dirt, earth, and soil convey. Do you want words that tumble out the most poetically? Or words that feel clinical and austere?
Minding our HOCs and LOCs can cut down on the amount of time spent editing, but it can also cut down on the amount of fluff in our writing. HOCs help us identify the essential parts of a work, and order them in such a way that we don’t repeat ourselves, or get lost in our arguments. LOCs help us refine the parts that give a piece flair, personality, consistency, and correctness. Once you’ve gone through the hierarchy, revisit your piece and go through it again. You’ll be surprised how much more you can cut, change, and fine-tune. I usually make somewhere between three and five passes on just the final draft, but I keep the hierarchy in mind through the entire writing process to be sure I never get lost, and neither does the reader.