(If I followed this checklist below, I'd never make mistakes.)
In addition to being CEO of Red Room, I do writing coaching with private clients, and sometimes do larger trainings and teaching, which includes traditional editing. I charge on the high side of what writing coaches charge, so often, when someone can only afford a couple of hours, I'll try to help by sending them a self-study checklist or helpful excerpt from some of the materials I've created over the years for other writers.
The writer can self-evaluate and self-edit, for free. It's important people realise they can do it, they just have to put on an editorial hat and have some patience and self-awareness--writing and editing are very different. DIfferent sides of your brain. Different skill set.
Here's a checklist I developed for journalists writing brief pieces for print or the web. Notice that just like with a novel or other longer work, the "Red Room Method" is to first address the big picture, working your way into the center of a bullseye, toward the finer points. Don't ever start with fixing spelling and grammar or tinkering with vocabulary, since that entire passage may need to go. Make sure the frame of the house is up before picking out curtains.
I hope you find this helpful. Please add your own tips at the end of the article and let me know if this helps you get your pieces accepted in the future!
How to Edit Your Own Writing
Switch from “writing” to “editing” mode
Being a great editor is a large part of being a great writer, yet writing and editing are completely different skills. It’s important to consciously switch from “writing” to “editing” mode when you think you have a final draft of your article ready. It also helps to wait at least thirty minutes in between writing and editing. Once you’re ready to start editing, don’t start by checking for spelling and punctuation—start with the big picture and you’ll save time.
- Did you make the point or convey the information you set out to convey?
- Can you briefly summarize your article as a headline?
- Does it tell a story that engages the reader?
- Did you follow all of the editorial guidelines, including the appropriate reference book, such as AP Style, house style, submission guidelines, and formatting?
- Did you use the appropriate tone, such as snarky or sincere, or “opinion” or “objective,” specific to this article and this publication?
- Make each paragraph short and limited to one basic idea.
- Most of the time, stick to the magic formula for every paragraph: One topic sentence, two supporting sentences, then a conclusion or transition sentence.
- Paragraphs longer than four sentences should be unusual, as should ones shorter than three.
- Make sure the paragraphs are in a logical, optimal order to lead the reader through the beginning, middle, and end of the story, even if it’s a very short piece.
Hint to fix troubled paragraphs: Make a temporary placeholder headline for each paragraph summarizing the major idea in each. If you can’t easily do this, you may have a paragraph that should be divided into two or that is not adding value and should be omitted.
Edit your sentences to less than 25 words each if at all possible. Five- to fifteen-word sentences have the most punch and are the most readable. Repair incomplete sentences and run-on sentences to be complete sentences.
- Vary patterns so not all sentences begin with “The” or any other repeated word.
- Use “active” language such as “The book club discussed the movie,” instead of passive language, such as “The movie was discussed by the book club.”
- Don’t include unnecessary lists of qualities or topics, such as “She was beautiful, glamorous, and captivating, whether on the beach, in the city, or on the movie set.” Awful.
Confirm all spellings of words are as you intended—remember that the spellchecker doesn’t catch when you make typos that are also words, such as “form” versus “from.”
Confirm all spellings and capitalization of names, places, and organizations, especially geographical references you aren’t familiar with.
Confirm definitions—make sure that word means what you think it means, and pay special attention to problem words, such as “assure” versus “ensure.”
Cut most adverbs, many adjectives, and any unnecessary or distracting word choices, such as words that are culturally inappropriate for your intended audience.
Check your tenses, such as “walking” versus “walked.”
Check your style guide for how to refer to people, such as “Mr. Gates” or “Bill Gates” and regarding abbreviations and acronyms.
One space after each period between sentences.
Don’t overuse or neglect commas. They are not used to indicate a pause, and more than two or three in any one sentence is probably excessive.
Avoid exclamation points almost entirely unless quoting someone.
In U.S.-based publications, quotation marks go outside of the punctuation in almost all cases, as demonstrated “here.”
Before Sending Work to Your Editor
Double-check your title still works, then print out your writing and read it from a piece of paper, not your computer screen. If it passes the “paper” test, then take your printed copy and read it out loud, slowly, at full volume, ideally to someone else. Do not skim the text or mumble—really read it out loud. Reading aloud is the very best way to catch mistakes, large and small, mechanical and stylistic.
Reading-aloud hint: If you have a willing friend who will read out loud to you, ask them to do so. You’ll literally hear what it sounds like to a reader.
Giving You an Edge
Most writers don’t take the time to edit, or who do their editing in a haphazard way, or they skip the crucial printing and reading aloud technique. If you follow all of these editorial steps in this order, looking at the big picture down to the smallest detail, you’ll turn in articles that don’t need editing, which will impress your editors.
So, Red Room writers and editors, if you have more tips or comments for the community, don't forget to add them in the comment section below. Let's share as much information as we can with each other. Thanks!