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!

How to Decide Between Self-Editing and Hiring a Professional Editor


Pen on white backgroundShould You Self-Edit or Hire a Professional?

As an author or writer, a business professional, marketing or advertising expert, you have created a book manuscript, document or promotional copy that will soon be published or otherwise distributed to its targeted audience. You have a daunting task: Do you perform the proofreading and/or editing exercise independently and release your content for public consumption/purchase or do you hire a professional textual editor/proofreader to execute this phase that will bring your content to its critical and polished best presentation?

Decision Factors

That is a loaded question and not one that you should take lightly. Consider these factors very carefully when making that decision:

  • Are you publishing your content for retail purposes?
  • Who is your targeted audience and does that audience include the potential for business revenue development?
  • Is this your first of such published/distributed materials or one of many and what has your audience response been so far? Has your content been response-driven? What is the metrics of reader response indicating to date? Have your documents or published materials performed as anticipated? Did your results meet or exceed your objectives?
  • Has your audience response in terms of actions taken been measurable and as intended? If not, what will you have to do to change your audience response?

When you are creating content for a company and/or client project or for direct revenue purposes, there is a considerable amount of pressure (internal/external) for optimum results in terms of the foregoing questions, how effective your content was in stimulating audience response and to what degree that response met or exceeded expectations.

Consider what is at stake if your content is not the best it can and needs to be. What efforts in terms of time, resources and investment have gone into the project? Has your return on investment (ROI) met and exceeded your expectations?

Objectivity

First, make sure that in making a decision your perspective is an objective one. Take an honest look at your content and be completely honest about self-assessing your capabilities with respect to your writing skills and equally as important, your level of knowledge and skills to effectively analyze and revise your work as necessary to bring it to a professional polish.

Seek an Outside Opinion

Have a colleague, family member, friend or other parties take your content for a test drive. Ask for their unbiased impressions of your work without any sugar coating thrown in…a straight up assessment or review, thumbs up or thumbs down! Avoid negative results by thoroughly examining your content before taking it to the next level. Beyond the surface level of the content and its delivery, are your reviewers finding a significant number of issues that require rewriting or correction?

Editing Decision Touch Points

The following is a series of keywords or phrases which need to be considered when deciding whether to engage a textual proofreader/editor for your content. These are the skills and expertise level indicators to consider as an expandable list (not all-inclusive) of the many elements of content development and revision that I do as a professional proofreader/editor:

authors               bibliography           book manuscript editing

bookmarks             border design          caption

change                markup charts          citations

clear formatting      cohesion               column orientation

columns insertion     content development    content layout

content sequence      copyediting            copywriting

cross-reference       developmental          document comparison

drop cap              editorial role         endnote

English editing       Flesch-Kincaid Standards

fluid progression     font face              font size

footnote              formatting             grammar

gridlines             headlines              hyperlinks

hyphenation           image alt text         image insertion

indentation           insert footer          insert header

line spacing          lower case             macro

margins               mark entry             mobile content

multiple page viewing outline level          page break

page breaks           page orientation       pagination

paragraph structure   postscript             problems

proofreading          publishing             punctuation

quick parts           readability           reader engagement      

reference navigation  references            review                 

reviewing pane        revision balloons     ruler                  

section breaks        sentence structure    signature line         

solutions             source management     special indents        

spelling              split window          storyline consistency

strikethrough         style guides          styles

subheads              subscript             substantive

symbols               table of authorities  tables

tables                text align            text box insertion

text wrap             thesaurus             track change review

trim size             typos                 upper case

watermark             web layout            word count

Common Misconceptions

A writer/author/creator’s greatest fear is that their content will be changed by the editor to the extent that their storyline, intent, meaning, and objectives could be seriously altered or compromised. Avoid such issues with a proofreader or editor before any editorial project gets under way.

The editor’s contract should clearly reflect that the integrity of their client’s work will be maintained during the process without clear and advance discussion and authorization from the client otherwise. The primary objective of the editor is to clarify any evident ambiguities or inconsistencies to content copy to enhance its delivery to the reader and to effect revisions that will correct typos, spelling errors, discrepancies in grammatical correctness, punctuation and sentence composition.

The ‘polish’ that an editor puts on a document, known as ‘proofreading‘ is meant to incorporate the correction of errors in spelling, grammatical and punctuation issues. More extensive ‘editing’ of a developmental or substantive nature is an analysis of the content through which to consult with the client to alert them that there are inconsistencies in the message delivery or storyline. The editor role does not incorporate re-writing of such content elements unless there has been an advance extension to the services agreement for the editor to do so. That kind of change, which involves greater involvement by the editor, will naturally add cost to the services agreement.

Good Story or Message Composition vs. Bad

As the writer, you need to be aware that if your storyline or copy content is mediocre in its development and does not pack the punch that it must have to achieve the desired results, resolving such issues is the responsibility of the author/writer/copywriter. I am writing this article for the various types of client projects I specialize in but the premise in this regard is the same. The writer of the content must develop their own individual skills in content development and delivery in order to realize the maximum possible success that they might achieve.

You may not possess the ultimate writing skills and technique to deliver that stellar content the first time around but if you are doing due diligence to do extensive research, studies and content refinement, your content quality and how it is received by your audience should improve as you gain experience. An editor or proofreader is NOT a ghostwriter. He or she will provide content analysis and revision. Writing better, more exciting or convincing/engaging content remains the job of the author/writer/copywriter.

Do Not Take Critique Personally

Repeatedly I have heard stories or, at times, experienced first-hand, that a client has taken an editorial comment as a personal affront. As the originator of that written content, own your responsibility as the content creator. Accept their role as editor for the objective analysis that they provide for the writer during the editing process. Do not allow that assessment to become personal or confrontational. The editor/proofreader is on your side! This seems a little off track for this article but the point is that you do not want to lose perspective to the extent that it dissuades you from engaging an editor for future projects. They are indeed there for a purpose.

Self-Editing Is Important

The first step to take once your content is completed, in a draft, is to set it aside for a few days, refresh and come back to your project to undertake a self-editing process. Take your time with this process. If you tear through the proofread at a break-neck pace only for the sake of meeting your publishing submission target date, the result is missed issues that require correction. Be very cautious about establishing hard deadlines for submission. Make sure that you have adequate time for the entire proofreading and editing process to be completed. That process is as important as the writing of the content itself.

Anticipate problems with the editing and polishing phases of your project. Base that anticipation of adequate time on the length and complexity of the project itself. Refer back to previous projects as a reference point and judge accordingly. If you do engage a professional editor to undertake the final analysis and revision process, establish a timeline that they anticipate they will require to do their part and wherever possible, keep your submission date a soft deadline.

I have seen clients get terribly anxious and stressed because they did not meet their original submission date. Maintain perspective on what is more important: a deadline for submission or the best possible quality content possible. In the case of a hard and fast deadline for submission in conjunction with a collaborative project involving a multiple of contributors, make sure that your advance lead time is more than sufficient for all of these processes to be performed thoroughly.

If issues of a more extensive nature arise such as storyline inconsistency, structural or copywriting revision is required, the time to do so is often greater than the original composition. Again, the priority has to be on the content quality first.

Multiple Round Editing Process

Be aware that the professional proofreading and editing processes involve several rounds of focus on specific elements of content analysis. Typically, that process, especially where the client elects both editing and proofreading services, are three or four separate rounds for complete, front to back content analysis and revision. The process is separated out into a multiple of rounds so that numerous elements of the analysis can be more effectively and efficiently addressed rather than an exhaustive all-in-one round which could result in issues being missed.

Type of Editing Services Needed

Editing can be considerably more extensive in the process that proofreading. They are two clearly defined and separate processes. Proofreading includes checking for typos, spelling errors, grammar, punctuation and sentence composition analysis. The author/writer needs to decide their writing strengths vs. what services they engage through an editor. If the author/writer were unsure of the extent of services required, the editor would most often seek a representative sample of the content to review in advance of starting a project. This advance review will give the editor some assurance that the content before him/her is consistent with the quality of content throughout the manuscript or document. Where the editor sees more than average issues in the sample they may ask for a larger sample or assess a greater fee structure that will reasonably meet the additional work that will ensue with the project.

If the author/writer were unsure of the extent of services required, the editor would most often seek a representative sample of the content to review in advance of starting a project. This advance review will give the editor some assurance that the content before him/her is consistent with the quality of content throughout the manuscript or document. Where the editor sees more than average issues in the sample they may ask for a larger sample or assess a greater fee structure that will reasonably meet the additional work that will ensue with the project.

Selection of an editor should be one of the first things the client determines so that they are comfortable with cost and can plan accordingly. There will still be a review of that representative sample to help alleviate any concerns on the part of the editor. It is not unheard of that extraordinary issues crop up well into a manuscript or document that was not evident in the initial review. In that case, there is usually a provision in the editor’s contract for a fee adjustment if deemed necessary.

Proofreaders and editors should always address any extraordinary issues as soon as they become evident by discussing those concerns with their client. The editor should never undertake to do extra work without first having obtained advance permission from their client to proceed. In doing so, the relationship between the editor and client does not become strained or compromised.

An author or writer can always obtain more than one content sample review before deciding on whom to engage if they feel the need to do so. Obtaining a referral from a fellow author or writer can also go a long way to minimizing any issues that might arise during the course of the editing process.

Research to Find Experienced and Highly Regarded Editing Professionals

Taking the time to locate successful and highly regarded proofreading and editorial professionals will pay huge dividends in the long run. Most often people conducting a search for products or services will seek to find local professionals, failing which they will expand their search. Remember that editing professionals provide their services for clients around the globe.

Essentially all services for document proofing and editing/publishing are currently completed electronically on a laptop or desktop computer, often including client communications by email or online video calls through Skype, Google Hangouts or Facebook Video Calling. When long distance separates the editor and their client, communication by telephone is much less frequent for obvious cost control.

Take advantage of resources that are typically found featured on editorial professionals sites. Familiarize yourself with these resources as a means to enjoy direct benefit when it comes to your content development, editing, marketing and where applicable optimizing for search visibility. There are many free and paid tools for writers and editors that greatly enhance organization, accuracy, innovation, presentation, formatting and much more.

Great examples of highly informative and resourceful editing professionals include An American Editor and Louise Harnby whose sites are richly enhanced through resource and industry links. Both of these seasoned editorial experts are outstanding writers whose on-site blogs are highly informative. They are well worth a visit to advance your practical knowledge base and writing/publishing objectives. Both editors have published as have I.

Self-Editing is an Important Phase of the Project

It is a highly recommended part of the writing and publishing process that the author becomes involved in the editing phase with every publication project. Developing improvement in your proofing and editing skills is important. It will actually help your writing process as you become more aware of your content quality as you write. To a degree, it will help reduce the extent of proofing and editing required by a professional. It will not necessarily result in dramatic savings though, especially if it is your first time working together.

Even when self-editing your work, it is highly recommended that you plan to engage a proofreader/editor for the final analysis. An external, professional analysis of your work helps to alleviate the possibility of issues occurring. Your objectivity can affect how well you proof and edit because the writer tends to be over-confident about their editing capability and thoroughness when self-editing. Your process can become a glaze over because of over-confidence and close familiarity with your work. At the end of a long writing project, the writer’s eyes will be fatigued and that ‘lazy eye syndrome’ results in skipping over content and missing important issues that require correction.

There is also the level of editorial knowledge and skill to consider. In addition, focus on what your overall objective is for your project. Keep in mind, too, that the publisher will also anticipate a quality content submission, as they will not publish inferior products to the buying public. Doing so affects their revenue stream as well as your own. If you begin to receive negative reviews about content quality, consider the valuable lost time to pull the project out of retail, go through another editing process, resubmission and further publisher review before the project goes is finally approved and goes live again for public purchase.

Effective self-editing and proofreading demand that you develop advanced knowledge and skills. The English language is complex and typical elementary and secondary school studies of the English language and grammar are not at the level that is required for content development. Take the time necessary well in advance of any content distribution at a professional or publishing level, especially when self-editing is the sole or only level of editing planned for your project.

My recommendation here insofar as hiring a professional editor reflects what this industry supports wholeheartedly and not in a self-serving way. Whether you are a publishing author, content writer or marketing, and advertising copywriter, if you do not have the in-house expertise, you will have to outsource your proofreading and editing needs. You have enormous competition out there vying for the same market share and anything short of the highest possible quality will fall well short in terms of your bottom line.

Testimonials and Reviews Speak Volumes

Seek out solid testimonials from any editing professional you are considering. Nothing is more powerful than the direct word of previous or ongoing clients of the professional editor under review. You can see examples of my own client testimonials which are featured on not only the Testimonials page but also the Home page. Be aware that even testimonials published online or in print may not be the real deal so be prudent in following up directly with the writer of such testimonials if at all in doubt. Editing professionals will usually be more than happy to seek the permission of their raving clients for prospective client contact provided their client’s wishes as to the means of contact is satisfied.

Not every editorial professional has a university degree in support of and relevant to his or her services. Through years of experience in various vocations, where they possess an exceptional command of the English language, they are solid candidates in their own right. To avoid frustration and disappointment, opt for personal and professional editing for optimum results. Editing takes tremendous commitment to ensure a consistent, painstaking focus and effective process. There is no room to leave your desired results open to chance.

My sincere best wishes go out to everyone in the pursuit of excellence; getting it right the first and every time will help make a significant difference in your bottom line.

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