In the study of literature, redaction can refer to a form of editing, in which multiple source texts are combined together (redacted), and are subjected to minor alteration to make it appear that they are a single work. Often this is simply a method of collecting together a series of writings on a vaguely similar theme, and creating a definitive and coherent work.

Literary redaction

On occasion, the person(s) performing the redaction – the redactor(s) – add brief elements of their own. The reasons for doing so are varied, and can include the addition of elements to adjust the underlying conclusions of the text to suit the redactor's opinion. More commonly, the additions during the redaction simply involve the addition of a framing story, such as the tale of Scheherazade which frames the collection of folk tales in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.

Sometimes the source texts are interlaced together, particularly when discussing closely related details, things, or people. This is particularly common when source texts contain alternative versions of the same story, and slight alterations are often made in this circumstance, simply to make the texts appear to agree, and thus the resulting redacted text appear to be coherent. Such a situation is proposed by the documentary hypothesis, which proposes that multiple redactions occurred during the creation of the torah, often combining texts, which have rival political attitudes and aims, together: another example is the Talmud.

Redactional processes can be documented in numerous disciplines, including ancient literary works and biblical studies. Much has been written on the role of redaction in creating meaning for texts in various formats. For example, in the field of biblical studies, see John Barton, Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5: 644-647; or Odil Hannes Steck, Old Testament Exegesis, 2nd edition (Atlanta: Scholars Press), 74-93.

Redactional fatigue is an important related concept: When making changes to a large text, a redactor may occasionally overlook a piece of text that conflicts with the redactional goals. Since many important ancient texts are likely to have been redacted at least once, such snippets open a window into an earlier form of the text. The nature of the conflict between the bulk of a redacted text and the contradictory windows can suggest what the goals of the redactor might have been.

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