Pending Review or Draft? What’s the Difference in WordPress?

Here at PublishPress, our focus is on creating publishing workflows in WordPress. This includes allowing you to create custom statuses in WordPress.

However, before moving on to more advanced workflows, people often need some clarity on the basic workflow features in WordPress.

For example, what exactly is the difference between “Pending Review” and “Draft”?

To see what I mean, go to create a post on your WordPress site. Unless you’ve added some extra plugins (such as PublishPress) there will be three things you can do with each post:

  • Save as “Draft”.
  • Save as “Pending Review”.
  • Click “Publish”
Pending Review and Draft statuses in WordPress

The purpose of the “Publish” button is clear. However, the “Draft” and “Pending Review” options are not so obvious. What is the difference between these statuses? What happens if I choose “Draft” instead of “Pending Review”? Those are the questions I’ll answer in this blog post.

The difference really matters for users who do not have many permissions on your site. A good example is the “Contributor” role. Click here for an overview of Contributor permissions.

When a Contributor writes a post, they only see the “Save Draft” and “Submit for “Review” options. They do not see the “Publish” button. Contributors don’t have permission to publish posts.

So for the Contributor, there is a very real difference between these two statuses:

  • “Draft” means “I’m still working on this post. It’s not ready yet.”
  • “Pending Review” means “I think this post is ready for someone else to approve and publish”.
Pending Review and Draft options in WordPress

If a Contributor chooses “Pending Review”, an Administrator or Editor can come along and update the post. They will see the box shown in the image below. They can click “Publish” or keep the post in “Pending Review” status.

Administrator who can publish in WordPress

It’s worth noting that,  if the high-level user does chose the publish the post, then the Contributor will be locked out. They can not edit the post after it’s been published.

Posts locked in WordPress

The difference between “Pending Review” and “Draft” only really matters for Contributors. This is because users in the Subscriber role don’t have the ability to write posts (click here to see Subscriber permissions). And users in higher roles, such as Author, have the option to publish their own posts.

For the Editors and Administrators, they can easily see all the posts and pages in “Pending Review” status. This allows them to see which posts they can edit and publish.

  • Go to “Posts” or “Pages” and click the “Pending” tab.

One limitation to this is that you can’t sort these posts by author, so it’s hard to see your own posts. Click here to see how to view your Draft or Pending Review posts in WordPress.

The History Behind Pending Review and Draft

Mark Jaquith, a key WordPress core developer, explained the background for these two status. The Contributor role was added to WordPress back in 2004. When it was first added, Contributors could only use the “Draft” role. They had no way to indicate when a post was ready to publish. So to solve this problem, the “Pending Review” status was added three years later in WordPress 2.3.

Modifying or Expanding on Pending Review and Draft

These two statuses are the default options in WordPress, but it is possible to modify or expand these options.

  • Download and install the PublishPress plugin from WordPress.org.
  • Go to “PublishPress” then “Settings” and you’ll see that several more statuses are available. Each status has its own color and icon to make it easy to identify.

Using PublishPress, you can easily edit each status. For example, you might think that “Pending Review” is a confusing name. Here’s how you can fix it:

  • Click “Edit” under “Pending Review”.
  • You can change the name of the status here. In this image, I’m changing it to “Needs Editor Review”.

Now when a Contributor goes to write a post, they’ll see several status options including your new “Needs Editor Review”. If you want to restrict access to any of these statuses, use the Permissions add-on for PublishPress.

Summary

The key to understanding the difference between “Draft” and “Pending Review” is understanding the Contributor role in WordPress.

For most users, there’s no practical difference between “Draft” and “Pending Review”. However, for Contributors there is a major difference. These are the only two statuses they can use. One status means “I’m still working on this” and the other status means “This is ready to publish”.

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