2011-09-17

Grappling With Grammar
An Editing Checklist

Let me start by saying that editing is not the same as proof reading. Proof-reading comes after editing and is basically checking for spelling and typos, giving your work a final polish. Editing, on the other hand, is a little more in depth.

Once you’ve finished writing a piece, whether it’s a non-fiction article, a short story, or a novel, you need to edit it. Preferably before you show it to anyone else. To help you with this, I’ve made a list of things you should look for.

1. Spelling
Just because a word isn’t underlined in red by your spell check program doesn’t mean it’s the right word. The English language is riddled with words that sound the same but are spelled differently and have different meanings. (We’ll go into this in depth next week).

2. Grammar and punctuation.
While there are exceptions to every rule, make sure you don’t take advantage of this. The occasional deliberate misuse of grammar can add clarity, but too much only serves to make your writing look sloppy.

3. Cosmetics
Is each paragraph indented? Do all sentences begin with a capital letter? Are all proper nouns capitalized?

4. Sentences
Do sentences begin with different words? Is each sentence clear and complete? Can any short, choppy sentences be improved by combining them? Can any long, awkward sentences be improved by breaking them down? Can any wordy sentences be made more concise?

5. Word Usage
Are the words you’re using appropriate for the piece? For the subject matter? For the targeted audience?

6. Details
Do you have enough detail in your story to show the reader where and when the story takes place? Have you used too much detail?

7. Research for non-fiction
Have you double-checked your research to make sure your facts are correct? Have you used more than once source? Have you correctly cited your sources?

8. Research for fiction
Are your scientific or historical references correct? Have you taken into account the accents and behaviours of the people in the time period or location of your story?

9. Repetition
Occasional repetition can be use effectively for emphasis, but you want to avoid overuse of favourite words or phrases.

10. Pacing
Does your piece move at a proper pace, keeping the reader interested from start to finish? You may need to tighten up places where the story drags, or slow down where it seems rushed.

11. Show and tell
Have you shown what’s going on in your story using action and detail, or merely told what’s going on without engaging the reader?

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your piece is perfect. Every author, no matter how famous, has to edit their work. It's what sets the great writers apart from the not so great. Editing a novel is a long involved process. It can take even the most experienced writer a great deal of time, effort, and patience. But the end results are well worth the time.

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