12 Important Steps for Self-Editing; An Author & Writer’s Checklist


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There is arguably no substitute for engaging a professional editor or proofreader, however, self-editing is an essential exercise for all authors and writers. Developing skills to facilitate thorough content analysis and correction/revision is the first phase in fine-tuning a book manuscript or document before its editorial and proofreading analysis and publication or audience distribution.

With each successive round of proofreading the fewer the errors to be addressed in the final analysis. This process not only helps to reduce the degree of correction and revision by a professional editor but also lends to a refinement of writing skills of the author from a developmental and grammatical perspective.

Hiring a proofreader and/or editor is a critical stage of the pre-publication process that will help to ensure that your book manuscript is clear, concise, and as error-free as humanly possible and reads with a consistent flow and progression. After all, the primary objective for the author is to ensure that their purchasing readership has an exceptional and satisfying reading experience.

Start with an Online Spellchecker and/or Grammar Tool

There is numerous spelling and grammar analysis software on the market and MS Word even has their own built-in tool found at the very first of a series of related document ‘review’ functions across the top of the MS Word document window under the ‘Review’ tab. One click of the ‘Spelling & Grammar’ tool tab and the software will scan through the entire document, underlining spelling and grammar issues that require further review and changes as necessary. Grammarly.com is one such online tool which offers a host of resources to educate users on proper English language applications.

Apply this built-in tool before doing any proofreading and editing rounds. This will alleviate many typical issues right up front and allow you to focus your greatest attention on analyzing and revising with optimum efficiency and accuracy.

The spelling and grammar check should be considered the author/writer’s first step toward producing a quality, clean product with a professional presentation. This is important not only to the paying product purchaser but also to the publishing company whose critical mandate is to ensure a high-quality product is being distributed through the various retail outlets that will market your book. Even as a business professional distributing communications documents internally or externally for business purposes, the cleaner your content presents the better the reading audience’ perceptions will be and how they respond moving forward.

Pause Before Commencing to Proofread

There is a tendency to rush through the proofing process in order to meet personal or professional deadlines for publication or distribution of books or documents to their intended audience. Writing can be a long and exhaustive process in itself and it is easy to develop a habit of glazing over the essential proofreading and editing process.

After concluding the writing of your content, stop! Take a break by stepping away from the finished content for a number of days or even weeks. Come back to your work with fresh eyes and clear focus as the proofreading exercise is a painstaking, exacting process that you cannot afford to rush.

Proofreading and editing is a multi-round process. It cannot be executed effectively in one round of re-reading. You will be checking for typos, spelling errors, poor grammatical application, sentence composition issues, sentence fragmentation whereby words are inadvertently missed or as written from a conversational perspective that result in confusing, inconsistent idea or storyline flow.

The bigger picture to watch for carefully is the ‘developmental’ aspects of your content. Is there a consistent and fluid progression of the story or presentation of ideas throughout? Are the paragraphs consistent in length and spaced for easy readability? Are character and location details consistent throughout? Research exactly what to watch out for in the various elements of content development as the intent in this article is not to be exhaustive to that end.

Seek the Opinion of Others

Having referred to the proofreading and editing process as ‘painstaking’ and ‘exacting’ here previously, to be more precise the task of checking content for evident errors or inconsistencies goes to the checking of every single word, phrase, sentence, and paragraph individually and as they relate to prior and subsequent content as well. If storyline or thought processes are expressed in a haphazard manner, your readers will become confused and easily frustrated that the content was ill-conceived and not thoroughly evaluated before publication and distribution.

As the author of your own content development, there is a tendency to be overconfident about that content and during self-editing, it is easy to glaze over your content and miss errors or discrepancies. As such, it is a wise next step to seek the assessment of your content through the scrutiny of others who are not so closely attached to the work. Ask friends, a colleague at work, people who work as manuscript or content ‘reviewers’ or relevant online forum groups. Fellow writers will also help in this supportive role. You may wish to offer a gift incentive for reviewers’ efforts such as a free copy of the published product or other forms of reward.

Read Your Content Out Loud

This sounds like an odd suggestion yet when your content is read back out loud you will audibly detect unusual sounding sentence elements that trigger an immediate question in your mind. You will hear elements that do not make sense. You will hear awkward word choices and word duplication that need attention. Sentence structure is important. For many, hearing a voice, perhaps even their own voice, as they read content, will trigger the same reaction.

Learn in Advance Guidelines for Proper Grammar and Punctuation

Before you can sit down to a thorough and accurate proofread and edit of your content, you need to make sure you possess the knowledge base to do so. Research thoroughly online and/or take courses at a local college or other facility offering such study programs. Punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and grammar are complex disciplines. As a professional editor, I see these skill sets lacking in the textual content that I am engaged to review.

Many of the online resources are even free of charge. Grammarly.com is an effective app that can be installed to your internet toolbar and when developing content online the software does real-time analysis and colored underlining of words and sentence elements that require attention. It will provide suggestions for possible changes where the software may not be fully clear on the issue in some cases. Be sure to download and install the Grammarly app designed for your browser.

Prepare a Checklist of Common Content Issues

You know better than anyone what your strengths and weaknesses are in terms of your written English content. Maybe you tend to use incorrect word variations such as ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’, ‘then’ vs. ‘than’, ‘they’re’ or ‘their’ or ‘there’, ‘its’ or ‘it’s’; the list is lengthy. Have your prewritten list of your own typical spelling and grammatical issues at the ready and do a round of proofreading specifically checking for only those types of issues.

Avoid Editing While Writing

As an author or writer, your first priority is exceptional content for the intended reader or audience. Your first inclination may be to edit during your content writing process. That is a risky practice at best as doing so becomes very disruptive to the writing thought processes and could very well diminish the quality of your writing as a result.

Get your storyline or message ‘down on paper’ as it were, whether writing on or offline. That is your first priority. Worry about the tidy up after the entire content has been written and thoroughly examined under the microscope for the proofreading phase of the project. With online publishing today we have the advantage of being able to revise our manuscript and republication as a second or third edition but why leave ourselves hanging by attempting to achieve content writing and editing simultaneously; it just doesn’t serve to establish the best possible content.

Capitalization

Capitalization is one of the most common issues I find when proofreading for clients. As with punctuation errors, I see a predominant habit among authors/writers to ‘guess’ where punctuation and capitalization should apply. This becomes even more evident when their application of both is inconsistently applied.

The use of capitals is typically reserved for proper names of people, places or things as identifiers specific to the individual or place/thing of reference. Reference to governmental positions or bodies of jurisdiction are often confused and if in doubt the next step is to search online to verify proper term usage and capitalization.

It should also be noted here, too, that if an author or writer does not have a solid grasp of proper applications in this regard, with haphazard discrepancies frequenting content, the correction of such issues can be time-consuming which will also translate into greater client cost for the hired editor to correct.

Printing, Line Ruler and Visual Alteration Techniques

Developing differing techniques to increase your focus level and accuracy during the proofreading process will go a long way toward refining your process with greater efficiency and eliminating missed issues.

Many authors and editors alike find that the eye simply does not catch all discrepancies when viewing content on your computer monitor. Some find that printing the entire manuscript of content and physically checking and marking the content is easier with less tendency of missing repetitive issues.

Still, others will alter the font size and even change the font face type as viewed on their computer screen as a means to proof their work more closely. When you adjust such dynamics of textual content to other than what you are accustomed to applying and reading, this practice will force a greater level of close scrutiny to find discrepancies in your content.

Another favorite practice is to place a straight rule beneath each line of content as you progress down the page. In doing so, you cover content immediately below the line you are reading and thereby facilitating complete focus only on the line being read.

These techniques may, at first, result in a slower, more intense review process but will also increase efficiency and accuracy after repeated use.

Multiple Rounds of Proofing and Editing

Authors and editors alike must be aware and understand the critical importance of multiple rounds of proofreading and editing. When hiring an editor and or proofreader, it should be understood and accepted, as an established professional editorial practice industry-wide, that the editing and proofreading practices will require a multiple of rounds to do so.

Depending on the degree of proofing and or editing desired or required, it should be anticipated and agreed upon in advance by both parties to an editing services contract that three (3) to four (4) rounds of complete content review shall form the basis for acceptable services standard, and more or less rounds depending on a number of factors relating to content issues that will allow for or demand more or less review and revision.

It is suggested that the best practice before an editor or proofreader is hired is for the author/writer to provide a specified amount of representative content to the service provider, i.e. several pages or one or two chapters, as specified in advance, in order to give the editor/proofreader an advance read of the author/writer’s content to determine the extent of analysis and revision that will be required.

There should also be agreed upon flexibility written into this element of a service agreement such that any significant change in content editing requirements not anticipated or evident through the content sample provided will necessitate a greater scope of work and related cost adjustments to bring the content to the desired professional state of presentation. This situation may not occur often but should be a reasonable contingency in the event that such problematic content arises.

Consider, also, that the editing and proofreading processes are two distinctly separate exercises with a focus on different elements of the project content. Proofreading is primarily to address issues relating to typos, spelling and grammatical/punctuation errors and sentence composition concerns.

Editing, on the other hand, is a comprehensive analysis and revision of the bigger picture of content development, also known and referred to as ‘developmental editing’. Editing also examines stylistic consistency as well as a logistical reference such as character and location/geographical development, the accuracy of language, flow, readability, clarity, and a consistent progression of storyline or message delivery front to back.

Style Guide Applications

There are numerous editions of ‘style guides’ published today and found online as well. They serve to guide writers and editorial professionals for proper applications of style, usage, and grammar. Such style guides have been established in various countries around the world and reputed as the reference of choice for consistent textual content development standards. There is a multiple of style guides designed specifically for various formats of writing.

Digesting the content of such guides can be complex but more and more authors and writers are acquiring these reference guides in order to bring a professional standard with consistency to their written works. The advantages of doing so serve not only the writer/author but also, ultimately, their reading audience as well.

Neither editing nor proofreading services incorporate rewriting or entire writing (i.e. ghostwriting) services. That is not the focus of these professional hires. They are hired on the basis of content analysis and suggested revisions only.

Can I Not Just Use Editing Software? Why Hire an Editor as Well?

Clients must be aware that content analysis software currently being retailed is NOT 100% accurate in terms of textual proofreading and editing. There are numerous aspects of the complex written English language that such software is not able to fully recognize as a contextual or grammatical error. When reviewing ‘suggested changes’ highlighted by the software, it becomes clearly evident that the software is ‘unclear’ on any given number of grammatical or spelling issues it gives reference to for suggested changes and their analysis in those instances is incorrect.

As such, the client is left with difficult and often confusing decisions as to the correct content changes necessary, if any, in those instances. For that reason, authors/writers should never rely solely on spelling and grammar check software applications. It is still essential that a proofreader and or editor be engaged to undertake the final content analysis on the client’s behalf to ensure that the end result is a product that meets professional quality standards as free of error as humanly possible.

Publishing companies are also highly expectant that book manuscripts submitted for publication meet their own high standards. Their first priority is to ensure that the products they retail are high quality for the purchasing consumer. Their revenues are clearly at stake as well as the author’s income. The bottom line is that happy readers become devout, repeat customers when they can rely on great story delivery with quality finishing touches for their investment!

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