Monday, September 07, 2020

Editing and Proofreading Checklist for Writers


To be a successful writer you need to be able to proofread and edit your own work.

So what do you look for? This list presents 58 editing and proofreading tips to whip your work into shape.

The expression editing encompasses a wide range of approaches, from refashioning whole documents to reworking sentences.  The final stage of the editing process is proofreading, all you need to do is watch for any final errors or inconsistencies.

The editing and proofreading tips are split into four relevant sections, which are:

  • Regular Actions
  • Useful Methods
  • The Whole Picture
  • Recasting Sentences

Let's get started with the best editing and proofreading tips:

Regular Actions

1. Mull it over

When you've been working on a document for a while, you start to lose objectivity.  In order to get the best out of the editing and proofreading process, mull it over.

2. Check over your manuscript at different times of the day

Some of us work better at night, others work best in the early hours of the day.  Find out which part of the day suits you best when you're editing.

3. Read your writing out loud

You can miss errors more easily when you're reading quietly to yourself.  Instead read out loud and clearly to yourself, and listen to how it sounds.

4. List all of your common types of writing errors

If you're finding the same errors over and over again, write them down.  Then go back to them using the find feature on your word processor.

5. Create a list of challenging words by your side

The more you write, the more you discover new words that you've never used before.  Make a list of the words you have trouble remembering spelling, or meaning, and keep that list on your desk while you write.

6. Take time with your proofreading and editing process

It's amazing how long you can spend writing something out.  But how much time do you spend editing and proofreading?  Give yourself plenty of time for this process to be completed.

7. Use a style sheet at the start

Create your own style guide or use a one already set up, before you start drafting. This will ensure consistent grammar, spelling, capitalization and formatting from the beginning.

8. Use a different print layout

Try shortening your column widths, to enable you to see mistakes more clearly.

9. Stay away from distractions

Ignore all emails, social media and any other distractions going on.  Find a quiet space where you can concentrate on editing, and do nothing else but edit.

10. Make all changes consistent throughout

It's easy to lose track of any changes you may have made at the beginning of your document.  That's why you need to make sure all changes are uniform throughout.

11. Ask friends and family to ready through your draft

Writing doesn't have to be solitary, you can share your document with people you can trust, to ensure the quality of your manuscript is good.

12. Wait until your ideas are on the page before you edit

Never edit while you're writing your draft, just write.

13. Proofread and edit other writer's work

The best way to learn is to look at what someone else has done.  You'll discover new relationships with other writers, and may end up with an editing buddy.

14. Editing is just one stage of the process of publishing

Depending on how long your manuscript or document is, you need to get through it reasonably quickly.  Don't be a perfectionist, because you'll never get it finished.  If you've hired an editor of your own leave it to them to make it better

15. Use a red pen if your editing on paper

Pencils and black pens don't show it, and can be easily missed.  Use a red pen and your corrections will jump off the page.

16. Read as much great writing as you can

We live in a world where everything is fast, the days of sitting down and reading great newspaper articles, and amazing books on paper are disappearing.  So read as much as you can get your hands on, digital or paper.

17. Buy a good grammar book

The internet is one big library, but that shouldn't stop you from buying a grammar book or two, to really get your teeth into. And it won't do any harm to your writing either, in fact, it will make it even better.

18. Get a professional editor to do the job for you

Hire a professional editor to do the editing for you.  They can work marvels on rough drafts.

19. Work that editing muscle to keep it in shape

It takes work to be a good editor, and it's no different to working out at the gym.  Practice makes perfect.  If you don't have any of your own work to edit, go online and edit someone else's.

20. Make sure a specific mistake isn't a sign of things to come

If you find an instance where you've made a very identifiable mistake in your writing, chances are it's all over your document.  Use the find feature on your word processor to put that word or error right.

Useful Methods

21. Try editing on your computer, then print out a hardcopy on paper to read through

Computer screens can become a hindrance more than help sometimes, for reasons unknown, your eyes and brain just don't see the letters and words on the screen that well.  Which is why reading it from a hardcopy can make all the difference.

22. Read through your sentences starting from end back to the beginning

A simple trick to give things a new perspective is to read your sentences in reverse order.  Making your brain concentrate more on what it's reading.

23. Slow your proofreading pace

Don't rush through your proofreading process, that's a big mistake.  Make sure you take your time to read slowly, so you can digest every sentence.

24. Don't look for multiple problems all in one sitting 

Solving every problem in one go is nearly impossible, instead take a number of tries to help your mind stay focused.

25. Concentrate on the big stuff, the little things will be done later

Small things like changing around sentences or spell checking can be left until last.  There's no point in spell checking when you may be deleting or rephrasing a paragraph or sentence. 

26. Don't leave Academic footnotes behind

Academic papers such as a thesis have endnotes and footnotes pushed to the bottom of the page.  Harder to proofread because of their font size, give them a read through at a higher point size to make your job a little easier.

27. Make a checklist of points to review

Keep your points checklist by your side during the editing process, marking off as you go.

28. Switch off full justification

This will help you see any extra spaces which should be deleted as you go along.

29. Utilise a ruler when proofreading on paper

If you're editing on paper, other sentences jump into your line of vision.  That's where a ruler becomes helpful in the editing process, allowing you to zoom in on the text.

30. Change your software when you edit

For most writers Microsoft Word is the word processor of choice, but it may help even more to use a non-linear word processor such as Scrivener to see the bigger picture.

31. Go over your changes

It's easy for our fingers to hit the wrong keys and add new typos.  So make sure you go over the changes you've made.

32. Look at syllables not words

Some words have more than three syllables, and your eyes skip over these easily.  On longer words read each syllable out loud.

The Whole Picture

33. Find your writing at the start

When you're writing fiction there's a concept of finding your story at the start.  This is the same for research based or academic writing, people want to know the purpose of the writing early on.

34. Be cautious with your introductions

Most professional writing requires a certain amount of enticing the reader.  Use provocative statements in the first couple of sentences to draw the reader in.

35. Expand your research

When you're doing research-based writing sometimes you may find an underdeveloped section.  To make this section complete may require more research than you think.  Make sure you've done enough research from the get-go.

36. Make certain the document has a spine

The element that fuses a document together is a spine.  This can be anything from a plot in a novel or an argument in an academic paper. 

37. Get rid of the parts that don't work

Taking chunks out of your writing can be challenging work at times, but to the objective reader they make things easier to understand.  Remove phrases and ideas that don't fit your argument or stream of thought.  

38. Decide whether your document has a uniform tone

Don't confuse the tone of your writing because this can confuse your readers.  Some writers combine a serious and comedic tone, when a formal one is required.

39. Incorporate real-life stories and examples

Abstract concepts can be understood more easily when real-life examples are added.  

40. Ensure you have enough evidence for your arguments

Business recommendation and academic writing should contain arguments, but often writers don't argue anything.  Instead they just present the facts.  This is why your writing requires evidence from credible sources.  This will help persuade your reader through reason.

41. Modify your arguments by distinguishing your opposition

Being able to recognise your opposition's arguments will help you understand what the other person is saying.  Helping you to push your argument forward by including their criticisms into your writing.

42. Gather together random thematic parts

When your head is buried deep in writing, it's easy to lose track of things you may have said, and where you said them.  That's why it's important to look at the document thematically.  Creating one theme per section written.

Recasting Sentences

43. Get rid of dead verbs

Verbs or the words that do things in sentences are often used too readily, and can become useless in a sentence when they're not used properly.  Verbs such as, is, are, was and were are commonly used, and need to be made more meaningful for them to be understood in a sentence.  So when possible use strong verbs such as run, walk, hit, throw etc.

44. Tighten your writing by getting rid of wordiness

Give your reader the best experience possible by eliminating words, phrases and even sentences, to make things more understandable.  

45. Eradicate unnecessary adverbs

Often writers (particularly newbies) can overdo adverbs in an innocent attempt at description, so use them sparingly.

46. Clear away peppered adjectives

An excess of adjectives can be really annoying to the reader, only use adjectives to describe elements that need describing.

47. Avoid writing negative statements

Stay clear of negative statements such as "It wasn't convenient for Jenny to start her new job in the autumn" or "He would not date her again."  Instead try writing "Jenny will be available to start her new job in the autumn" or "He would date her again." You should always try to be positive when you write.

48. Focus on one topic per paragraph

Stay on topic with each new paragraph, don't drift onto a new point at the start of each new sentence.  Make sure all of your sentences fit, if the sentence doesn't fit the point, remove it, and put it in a more appropriate paragraph, or start a new one.

49. Keep your sentences short and sweet

Readers find longer sentences harder to digest, so stick to sentences no longer than 15 words long.

50. Ensure all sentences have just one idea

Writing simultaneous ideas in one sentence confuses the reader, it's best to have only one idea per sentence.

51. Make sure verb tenses are consistent throughout

Tenses can be real problem for some writers, especially those in the field of fiction.  Oftentimes the writer can move in between tenses incorrectly.  It's easier to stay in one tense than bounce around between tenses all of the time.

52. Beware of homophones

Homophones, those pesky words that sound the same, but have a different spelling.  Try keeping a list of words difficult by your desk, so you can make sure you're spelling them correctly, or know the correct meaning.

53. Make sure names are spelled correctly

Often writers spell a name one way in the beginning, and a different way at the end of their manuscript.  Be consistent with name spelling throughout your document.

54. Only paraphrase a quotation if it's brilliant

Quotes should only be used when using really interesting language, and not on everyday mundane things.

Appearance of Your Text

55. Be wary of formatting inconsistencies

When we focus too much on the words we're writing we often forget about the formatting issues that can pop-up.  Make sure your text is formatted the same throughout, don't change from indented to flush left etc.

56. Make sure all quotation marks are there

It's easy to miss the little things, especially when you're using quotation marks in your text.  Handy tip, make sure to include your full stop inside the quotation marks, most style guides recommend this.

57. Introduce headings for easy reading

Understanding of the text is amplified by simply adding headings and subheadings in a document.  This will not only help you as a writer, but bring a greater comprehension to your reader.

58. Remain consistent with your capitlisation

With the help of your style guide, decide early on what needs capitalising.

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Read more:

Why Writers Should Use Style Sheets When They Edit

Everything You Need to Know About Working With an Editor

What Writers Need to Know About Indexing a Book

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