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Writers and Editors (Pat McNees's blog) RSS feed

Editing checklist

by Pat McNees
What to do at various stages of editing a manuscript: the PRE-EDIT (as you interview, edit, and write), the SUBSTANTIVE EDIT (for content, organization, and approach), the LINE EDIT (for effective line-by-line writing), the COPY EDIT (for grammar and style), the PHOTO (AND CAPTION) EDIT, the PERMISSIONS EDIT (for copyright issues), PROOFREADING (for errors and formatting in final copy) , PRODUCTION EDITING (double-checking all formatting issues), and INDEX EDITING. Check to see that you do what's needed at each stage with this once-over-lightly editing checklist. Scroll to bottom for links to more detailed checklists.

PRE-EDIT (as you interview, edit, and write)
Create a timeline (invaluable as you write and for fact-checking).

Create a style sheet for each work (essential for consistency of spelling and useful for transcriber, editor, proofer, and indexer – especially for family names and places). My style guides also spell out some usage preferences (e.g., online, not on line; U.S. as adjective, United States as noun; p.m., not P.M., etc.) Here also is where to set rules, such as: Minimize use of acronyms and abbreviations and spell them out on first use, followed by (USO or whatever) in parens. Use parentheses sparingly. Spell out numbers from zero to nine, except when used as units of measure, as time, as dates. etc. – whatever style you set).

Decide (usually in consultation with the client):
• How closely to stick to person’s own words, and how heavily to edit or rewrite. Do you want the text grammatically correct or do you want to capture the way the narrator actually speaks. For example, decide whether to keep things like “ain’t” and “your’n.”
• Whether to tell story in first person (I was born; we fell in love) or third person (he was born; they went broke)
• How to present different voices, if telling story in more than one voice (partly a formatting issue)
• How to handle factual errors. For example, if Uncle Robert says he was wounded in Battle X in 1943 and you learn that Battle X took place in 1944, do what? Query narrator or client about all factual errors? Correct the date if it’s clearly wrong? Ignore narrator’s error and let that be part of the story ? Indicate discrepancy in footnote or brackets?
• Which items are copyrighted and will need permissions cleared? Start clearing permissions early.

SUBSTANTIVE EDIT (for content, organization, and approach)
• Strengthen the content.
• Sharpen the focus.
• Look at the big picture, see what’s missing, rearrange sections, when necessary.

LINE EDIT (for effective and economical use of language)
• Tighten long-winded stories and wordy passages.
• Be sure titles and headings are parallel in style and are clear keys to content. Many readers will only skim a book, so the headings (and later, the photo captions) are all they are likely to read. Make them tell a story.
• Strengthen sentences—preferring active to passive voice, eliminating repetition, cutting flab and empty phrases (very, actually, generally, etc.), minimizing the use of clichés.

COPY EDIT (for grammar, usage, spelling, punctuation, and style)
• Prefer active voice (line edit or copyedit) to passive voice.
• Check spelling, hyphenation, capitalization (specify dictionary or style guide, if you don’t provide one).
• Improve sentence construction. Place words, clauses, and phrases in the logical place in the sentence. Above all, avoid misplaced, dangling, and squinting modifiers.
---Misplaced modifer: Mother was talking to the mailman in shorts and a halter.
---Dangling modifier: Running up the stairs, her bosom began to bounce. [This kind of error is far too common in unedited, self-published works. Make sure the modifier has something clear to modify.]
---Squinting modifier: She said that year she’d marry him. [Placed between two phrases, “that year” could modify either. Is it: “That year, she said she’d marry him” or “She said she’d marry him that year”?]

• Check punctuation, especially
---Consistency of comma use (e.g., serial comma or not)
---Cap after colon, or not, and under what circumstances
---Commas and periods inside quotation marks (American style) or outside (Brit. style)
---Misuse of commas (e.g., Her love of history and her desire to help, led her to volunteer)
---Misuse of apostrophes (e.g., “it’s” as possessive)
--- Two spaces after periods (should be one).

• Edit for usage
---Check for commonly confused words, highly likely when transcribing interviews (“that tested her metal”).
---Fix misuse of “that” and “which”; either/or and neither/nor; between and among; and other language flaws . (e.g., I felt badly when the tsar died. Every parent has their own style.)

• Select photos and place them near appropriate text.
• Write/edit captions for clarity, contribution to storyline, parallel style and voice, consistency in capitalization and punctuation—usually done toward end.

Check for copyright issues (especially for photos).

Check folios (page numbers) and running heads.
Check and repair:
• Table of contents against text (for accuracy of page numbers )
• Page spreads for alignment of margins and justification (and for inconsistent vertical or horizontal spacing
• Unindented (or otherwise varying) paragraphs
• Inconsistent fonts
• To eliminate widows and orphans
• Spelling, accuracy, and consistency in appearance of headings, subheadings, and anything emphasized (bold, italics, fancy font, size, etc.)
• Opening and closing quotation marks, parentheses (sometimes part of a pair is missing), correctly used brackets (like [this] pair)
• Hyphenation for bad breaks and for ladders (no more than three hyphens in a row).

Double check all formatting issues (before final production).

Proof and double-proof, as this is the first thing people will go to.

***Editing checklist (Kathy Frost's invaluable 24-page compilation of points from other editing checklists--especially good for nonfiction)
One Editor's Editing Process (Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, ELS, Indian Copyeditors Forum, 4-21-16) A different kind of checklist-- the overall process, from an award-winning editor.
How to make documents readable in eight steps (Carl Steiren, 8-15-11), drawing on Jim Taylor's seminar on 8-step editing.
Editing Primer: Editing Your Own Work (Lillie Amman, PDF)
Typographic Checklist (designer Greg Devitt)
Barbara Dawson Smith's Self-Editing Checklist
Jeffrey Chapman's Self-Editing checklist
Jean Weber's sample editing checklist
Lori Handeland's fiction self-editing checklist
Editing Fiction by Lee Masterson and Tina Morgan (Fiction Factor)
Editing processes, including editing and proofreading marks
Editing checklists (when to do what, broadly and in some detail)
Common Typographical Errors (the basics, Aeonix Publishing Group)

Kinds of editors and levels of editing (Pat McNees, Writers and Editors blog)
Macro tools and editing software (shortcuts that can save editing time and improve productivity)
Macros etc. for references, citations, footnotes and endnotes
Author's alterations and document version control
Style guides and style sheets
Fact-checking sites

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