Editing checklists

In the ongoing quest to educate clients and their customers (readers) about what editors do, I’ve worked up some editorial checklists describing the primary tasks and considerations on my plate in each editing mode. Most people seem to think editing is simply where “someone fixes all the things,” and the reality is far more varied and complex.

So I’ll help you. While none of these checklists are exhaustive, they hit the highlights.

Developmental read:

  • Read entire ms at an unhurried but purposeful pace.
  • Make sparse, brief notes on personal copy, to refresh memory and assist in summation. If project goes further, notes will provide points for editing consideration. Note density is far less than in developmental editing, because the intent of a developmental read is to provide helpful input in less time.
  • Review client’s original questions to make sure they will be addressed.
  • Digest impressions into a single short para, then elucidate and present to client.
  • Offer recommendation if desired (normally this is the client’s main objective) on where to go with the ms.

Developmental edit:

  • Strip out all instances of multiple spacing with S&R.
  • Read entire ms at an unhurried but purposeful pace.
  • Repair every simple typo I notice.
  • Repair some situations (typically passive voice, overuse of cheap punctuation gimmicks, adverb hyperdependency, etc.) to provide examples of alternate handling; fix some others, explaining major problem trends and solutions in margin comments.
  • Observe not only what the author does wrong, but what the author does well.
  • Comment on anything and everything, periodically zooming out to take stock of whether the author is achieving his or her goals.
  • In fiction, observe for storyline consistency, flow, character development, pacing and other elements of good storytelling.
  • In non-fiction, observe for issues peculiar to the genre in play; illogic; incoherency or inconsistency; failure to move presentation forward in orderly and fluid manner.
  • Review client’s original questions to make sure they will be addressed.
  • Digest impressions into a single short para, then elucidate and present to client.
  • Offer recommendation if desired (normally this is the client’s main objective) on where to go with the ms.

Substantive edit:

  • Strip out all instances of multiple spacing with S&R.
  • Read entire ms at an unhurried but purposeful pace.
  • Repair every simple typo I notice.
  • Repair all problem situations, explaining major problem trends and solutions in margin comments.
  • Observe not only what the author does wrong, but what the author does well.
  • In fiction, observe for storyline consistency, flow, character development, pacing and other elements of good storytelling. Where necessary, alter or adjust plot progress, pacing, characters, dialogue styles.
  • In non-fiction, observe for issues peculiar to the genre in play. Where necessary, contact author for missing information, as new information may not simply be manufactured in non-fiction.
  • With two days eyes-off, reread entire ms.
  • Normalize earlier portions to conform these to accumulated understanding reflected in later portions.
  • Review client’s stated concerns to make sure they have been addressed.
  • Review and edit until the document is ready for content finalization, formatting, proofreading, and publication.
  • Digest impressions into a single short para, then elucidate and present to client.

Line edit:

  • Strip out all instances of multiple spacing with S&R.
  • Read entire ms at an unhurried but purposeful pace.
  • Repair every simple typo I notice.
  • Observe for issues of tone, style, and consistency, fixing as needed.
  • In fiction, observe for storyline consistency, crooked seams, orphaned references, and other issues that may linger after heavy self-editing.
  • In non-fiction, observe for style, tone, and consistency issues peculiar to the genre in play. Where necessary, contact author for missing information.
  • With two days eyes-off, reread entire ms.
  • Normalize earlier portions to conform these to accumulated understanding reflected in later portions.
  • Present to client with any comments that would seem helpful.

Copy edit:

  • Strip out all instances of multiple spacing with S&R.
  • Read entire ms at an unhurried but purposeful pace.
  • Repair every simple typo I notice.
  • Check grammar and fix where suitable.
  • Watch for name spelling variations and unconventional/arcane terms, looking up as needed.
  • Watch for capitalization inconsistencies and fix as needed.
  • Check two-side punctuation such as quotes, nested quotes, parens, brackets, etc. for opening and closure.
  • Address hyphen/dash/en dash/em dash confusion/misuses.
  • Ensure that sequentially numbered aspects, like chapters, pages, and foot/endnotes have none missing.
  • Observe indents for consistency.
  • Any time things seem to be going too smoothly, distrust this sensation and backtrack to review last ten pages. If issues exist, begin farther back.
  • Anything that looks like an error but does not fit in a pretty category can still be an error in context.
  • Present to client with observations, if those are desired.

Technical edit:

  • Much like a copy edit, but typically involving a style sheet or other guidance document to establish rules, conventions, and arcane specifics.
  • Requires special consideration and review of industry/subject/field norms that apply.
  • Conventions that would be considered errors in fiction or biography might be acceptable in technical documents.
  • Note significant changes and underlying reasoning in margin comments. Technical document clients look to editors for a higher level of understanding of English; answer in advance the questions they should logically ask.
  • Heavy emphasis on looking up terms and usages, many of which may mean something else in context.
  • As with a copy edit, distrust any seeming period of too much smoothness, and backtrack to reprocess until a uniform standard is assured.
  • Review before submission to normalize and enforce consistency, especially if it is very long and understanding of conventions is new.
  • Offer judicious feedback to submitter, if receptive, about possible stylistic shifts for clarity and better presentation.

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Tags: manuscript editor, fiction editor, non-fiction editor, freelance editor.

Blogging freelance editing, writing, and life in general. You can also Like my Facebook page for more frequent updates: J.K. Kelley, Editor.

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