Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How to How-To: Part 7 - Editing

After you have finished writing your article or book, you’ll need to edit it before submitting it to the editor or publisher. Always send in your cleanest copy. That way, you increase your chances of being invited to send another piece. And, it marks you as a strong writer and a professional.

Editing is done in several passes. If you look for certain things in each pass, your chances of catching all the problems will be greater than if you try to look for every problem in one pass. Do at least three edits: the first for layout and mechanics; the second for organization and flow; and the third for miscellaneous pieces of the manuscript.

The following checklists show you what to look for in each editing pass.

  • Use the Chicago Manual of Style, or the style guide recommended by the publisher or client. If you’re editing a manuscript for a periodical, use the Associated Press Stylebook. Christian publishers also use A Christian Writer’s Manual of Style. Other organizations or genres might also have specialty style guides, so check around. Always use the most recent edition.
  • Set the manuscript aside for a few days, to create emotional and mental distance from it. Your editor (that would be you) will be able to look at the copy with a more objective eye after a few days’ vacation.
  • Choose how you want to edit—online or from printed copy. If you choose online and you use Microsoft Word as your word processing program, consider editing with the Track Changes tool. You can make your editorial changes and then decide later if you want to keep each one or revert to the original version.
  • If you mark on hard copy, learn proofreaders’ marks.
  • Become familiar with common misspellings and commonly misused words (for example, ensure and insure; affect and effect; lie and lay).

First pass: Layout and mechanics
  • Make sure the components of a book manuscript are in the correct order, usually:
1. Title page
2. Copyright page
3. Epigraph
4. Dedication page
5. Acknowledgements page
6. Table of contents (TOC)
7. Foreword
8. Preface
9. Introduction
10. Chapters
11. Appendixes
12. Glossary
13. Bibliography
14. Endnotes
15. Index
  • Make sure the page format is correct—first-line tabs are indented correctly, and the top, bottom, and side margins are correct. Check that line spacing is correct.
  • Check that headers and footers are correct on each page, each page has a page number, and all pages are included.
  • Check that page breaks and section breaks are properly placed, with no widows or orphans.
  • Use your software program’s search-and-replace feature to replace two spaces with one; change two hyphens (--) to one em dash (—), and three dots with an ellipsis, according to your style guide.
  • Change straight quotation marks to “curly” ones (except when straight are called for), and make sure all quotation marks point in the proper direction.
  • Turn on hidden characters and look for any strange formatting characters that snuck in (for example, extraneous tabs, line breaks, or page breaks), and correct them.

Second pass: Organization and flow
  • Read through the manuscript for overall flow, organization, structure, and style. Does it make sense? Is everything in logical order? Does the content follow the outline and TOC?
  • Perform spelling and grammar checks, but don’t rely solely on your software program’s tools.
  • Make sure names and other proper nouns are spelled correctly and properly capitalized and punctuated.
  • Check that chapter titles and section headings descriptive, so that readers will grasp the content as they scan.
  • Make sure headings use a consistent format and are capitalized correctly.
  • Read for texture and rhythm in sentences. Break up long sentences and combine shorter ones. Break up long paragraphs to improve readability.
  • Make sure sentences contain proper punctuation.
  • Change passive sentence construction to active.
  • Change negative phrasing to positive wherever possible. Instead of telling readers what not to do, tell them what to do.
  • Remove all unnecessary words. Remove redundancy by combining sentences with similar meaning. Replace complicated words with simple ones, and remove jargon.
  • Make sure each open parenthesis has a corresponding close parenthesis, and vice versa. Check also for brackets and double quotation marks.
  • Make sure the serial comma is used correctly according to your style guide.
  • Use correct rules for numbers and digits, according to the style guide.
  • Remove exclamation points, except where absolutely necessary.
  • Make sure that items in tables and bulleted lists are all consistent, that the grammar has parallel construction, and is properly punctuated.
  • Make sure steps are in proper order. “Keystroke” (test) steps to make sure they’re correct.
  • Make sure cross-references point to the correct place.
  • Change Latin abbreviations to words. For example, use “in other words” instead of “i.e.”
  • To keep the text gender neutral, change singular forms of pronouns to plural wherever possible. Use male and female names in examples.
  • Think internationally and inclusively. If you’re writing to an international audience, use international examples. Avoid examples about baseball, hot dogs, holidays celebrated during particular seasons (half the world celebrates the new year in summer), and so on. Use names from different languages and countries. Consider including metric measurements.
Third pass: Miscellaneous pieces
  • TOC: check that each heading that should be in the TOC is there, and that page numbers are correct,
  • Illustrations: check that illustrations are in the correct place and that they are aligned correctly. Make sure that the correct caption and callouts apply to the illustration and they’re spelled and punctuated correctly.
  • Sidebars: check that sidebar text is aligned correctly. Also make sure the text is spelled and punctuated correctly.
  • Footnotes and endnotes: make sure that one appears for each marker in the text, and that they’re spelled, formatted, and punctuated correctly. Footnotes appear at the bottom of the page, and endnotes appear at the end of the book or article.
  • Bibliography: check that bibliographical notes are spelled and formatted correctly and that they’re in alphabetical order.
  • Make sure all referenced sources are correct and valid. Make sure URLs (Web site addresses) are correct.
  • Index: make sure that all entries are in correct alphabetical order, and that page numbers, font, spelling, and punctuation are correct.
Making It work for you
Use the steps above to edit something you’ve been working on.

Happy editing!

Copyright © 2012 by Marilyn C. Hilton

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