Copy-editing checklist

The following are some of the main elements to be checked during copy-editing, adapted from Judith A. Tarutz, Technical Editing: The Practical Guide for Editors and Writers (1992).

Mechanical details

At this stage, the emphasis is on rights and wrongs, ‘matters of correctness’.

 

  • Check for typos (also known as ‘literals’).
  • Check for correct spelling and consistency of spelling (e.g. focusing or focussing).
  • Check punctuation for correctness and consistency.
  • Check grammar (syntax) for correctness and consistency (syntax is about how words are sequenced to convey meaning). Are sentences clear, concise and direct?
  • Check cross-references.
  • Check subject and verb agreement (e.g. the car is or the cars are).
  • Check that modifiers and compound modifiers are used correctly.
  • Check that tense or person (first, second or third) doesn’t change mid-sentence.
  • Check for correct use of numbers and symbols.
  • Check any figure and table captions and references.
  • Check for appropriate word usage.
  • Check abbreviations and acronyms: consistency of spelling; consistent punctuation; and to ensure that meanings are either commonly known or explained. Write the acronym or abbreviation in full on firs occurrence.

Organisation

During copy-editing, the editor checks the organisation at sentence and paragraph level.

  • Make sure that all terms are defined and concepts explained.
  • Check the overall flow of text, in particular, transitions between sentences.
  • Divide long sentences for readability.
  • Ensure that procedural steps are in the correct order. Are numbered lists appropriate and correctly numbered?
  • Check formatting and punctuation of bulleted lists.

Inconsistencies

  • Check for conformance to specified style guide (if applicable).
  • Check for consistent, appropriate tone of voice.
  • Check for consistent terminology and nomenclature (naming).
  • Check for correct spelling and capitalisation of product names.
  • Ensure correct use of trademarks
  • Check for parallel style and construction (headings, subheads, sentences, bulleted lists etc.).
  • Check for clear antecedents (words to which pronouns refer).

Formatting

 

  • Ensure that the page is easy to read and uncluttered.
  • Make sure that like information is presented in a like manner.
  • Point out where an image or table would help clear communication of the information.
  • Check that design and formatting complements text.

When all these factors are considered systematically and corrected (with rewriting if required), even the ‘roughest’ raw draft copy can be transformed into a thing of elegance and beauty. Most important of all, it will be a more effective commercial tool, writing that works well and won’t let you down with mistakes, poor structure, inconsistencies and sloppy formatting.

 

 

 

 

 

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