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May 13 / King Kaufman

Check it out: How checklists can make you a better editor

True confession: I’ve never been one to use outlines or checklists. What I mean by that is: I’m a dummy.

I wish I could tell you that I don’t do these things because of some philosophy I’ve got going, but really I’m just lazy. 

Well, “Grammar Girl” Mignon Fogarty and Baltimore Sun content production manager, and former copy chief, John McIntyre might just convince me. From the latter, I learned that Fogarty had published Grammar Girl’s Editing Checklist. She suggests you print it out and keep it handy when editing, including when you edit yourself, of course. 

A couple of examples:

Unnecessary Adverbs and Prepositions

Bloated: I was very angry that Bob sat down on the wet paint.

Better: I was furious that Bob sat on the wet paint.

More on adverbs and prepositions.


Passive Voice

Passive voice isn’t wrong, but active sentences are often better.

Passive: The bell was rung by zombies.

Active: Zombies rang the bell.

More about active voice and passive voice.

McIntyre passed that checklist along approvingly in a blog post, calling it “Grammar Girl’s micro-editing checklist,” but adding: “But The Old Editor fears that in your attention to individual trees you might lose your way in the forest.” Thus he provides his own “macro-editing checklist.” So once you’ve mastered the small stuff in Fogarty’s checklist, turn to McIntyre’s big picture to check the piece for issues around Focus, Structure, Organization, Credibility, Tone and Legal and Ethical Concerns.

That progression reminds me of the middle piece I linked to in Monday’s post. In The Perfect Essay, John Kaag writes that his mother, an English teacher, agreed to critique and edit his school papers only once his essay was “flawless”:

For each assignment, I was to write the best essay I could. Real criticism isn’t meant to find obvious mistakes, so if she found any—the type I could have found on my own—I had to start from scratch. From scratch. Once the essay was “flawless,” she would take an evening to walk me through my errors.

That’s a pretty good approach: Sweat the small stuff, then go back and sweat the big stuff. I think it’s the reverse of how I do it. I sweat the big stuff first, then go back and work on the small stuff. The point, though, is to sweat it all, checklist or no.