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Writers and Editors (RSS feed)

Editing Checklists

by Pat McNees, Writers and Editors (updated 10-19-17)
I created these checklists to help editors of memoirs, personal histories, and histories of organizations keep track of what needs doing at each stage of manuscript preparation:
PRE-EDITING (as you interview, edit, and write)
SUBSTANTIVE EDITING (for content, organization, and approach)
LINE EDITING (for effective writing)
COPY EDITING (for grammar and style)
PERMISSIONS EDITING (check for copyright issues, especially for photos)
FORMAT EDITING/PROOFING, PRODUCTION EDITING (double check all formatting issues, before final production)

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 verb; 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 in text, 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 a 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--it can sometimes take months.

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. Find the best structure and organization of material.

• 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.

• 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. 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)
~~One space (not two) after periods.

• 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; etc. (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 consistence 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 the index, as this is the first thing people will go to.

Links to more editing checklists
Industry Standards Checklist for
a Professionally Published Book
(Independent Book Publishers Association)

Much detail work can be done more efficiently and quickly if you use macro software. See Macro tools for editors and proofreaders.
Proofreading tips and tools.

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