What Is an Editorial Second Pass?

Learn about what editors do during a second editorial pass on a copy or line edit.
A pair of yellow plastic gloves hanging from a string

While the “first pass”—the initial round of copyedits or line edits—often transforms a manuscript, its journey to being publication-ready doesn’t stop there. After receiving an editor’s feedback, authors review and respond to the edits before returning the manuscript to the editor for a second editorial pass. The second pass is a crucial phase designed to refine and polish a manuscript.

Here’s what the second pass entails at Flatpage, and why it’s so crucial:

Focused Cleanup

The second pass is fundamentally a cleanup operation. For manuscripts with locked tracked changes (see Microsoft’s guide for more info), we will accept all changes from the first pass that you haven’t specifically marked to retain (or “stet,” a Latin term meaning “keep the original”) or modified in your response to our first pass. This step is essential for creating a clean version of the document, ensuring that all agreed-upon modifications from the first pass are properly incorporated.

The second pass also targets issues flagged during the first pass, integrating author responses to editor comments—called “queries”—and refining the text to address any remaining inconsistencies or queries.

New Text Integration

After that, our focus shifts to the adjustments you’ve made in response to our first pass. This phase is not about re-editing the entire manuscript from scratch; rather, it’s about examining the specific areas you’ve updated to catch any new errors and to ensure these changes are seamlessly integrated with the rest of the text. Please note, adding new text during the response pass may result in extra charges due to the increased word count.

Finalizing Technical Details

For a copyedit, it’s common for footnotes, endnotes, bibliographies, and captions to receive additional reformatting in the second pass, especially if they were incomplete in the original document. We finalize the formatting and content of these elements based on the information you provide in your response document.

Handling Unresolved Queries and Changes

Sometimes, not all edits and queries can be resolved in the second pass, which might prevent the editor from delivering a fully polished document. This usually occurs when new text introduced after the first pass is substantial or unclear, or when queries from the first pass remain unanswered.

If you receive a second pass that’s not “clean,” you have two options:

  • Self-revision: Review and address the unresolved issues directly in the text, using our feedback as guide and accepting or rejecting changes as you see fit in Microsoft Word. (See our guide to tracked changes here.)
  • Consider a third pass: For unresolved items requiring further editing, a third pass is available. This is an additional service that might be billed separately.

Time Limit for Submission

To maintain efficiency and effectiveness in the editing process, editors often ask clients to respond to the first pass within a certain amount of time (at Flatpage it’s 30–90 days, depending on the length). This time frame ensures that the content and initial concerns remain fresh in our editor’s memory.

How You Can Help

To help us make the most of the second pass, here are a few things authors can consider when responding to our first pass:

Embrace the spirit of partnership: While reviewing our suggestions, remember that editing is a collaborative process. We’re here to enhance your work with our expertise, and we welcome your insights and preferences, especially regarding stylistic choices outside strict style guidelines during a copyedit. Together we can work to refine word choice or sentence structure and ensure your intentions are conveyed accurately.

Be responsive: Respond to each of our first pass queries and clarify any uncertainties in the text so that your preferences are clear when we receive your document. Your clear communication can make the second pass more effective and reduce confusion or open queries at the end of the pass.

Edit directly in the document: Sometimes editors will suggest a possible revision to word choice or sentence structure in a query. So that your preference is obvious, we encourage you to make the revision yourself in your document instead of replying in a comment.

Stay tracked: Please keep the document’s tracked changes feature enabled in your response. This ensures all your revisions are visible to us for the second pass, allowing for a more comprehensive review.


The second pass is a vital step in the editorial process, offering a final opportunity to refine the manuscript before it moves toward publication. Through a detailed second pass, we bridge the gap between a good manuscript and an exceptional one, ensuring that the author’s voice is clear, the narrative is compelling, and the text is flawless.

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About the author

Jennie is the copyediting and proofreading team lead at Flatpage. A former associate professor of art history, she brings her passion for art and the written word to her position as editor.


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