by Dori Harrell

As editors, we’re always searching for ways to take our editing to the next level, beyond just developing our style-guide skills (though that’s always a focus.) Bottom line, when we return a manuscript (MS) or article, we want it in the best shape possible once it’s been in our hands. As an editor, senior editor, and managing editor of a Christian press, I’ve found these three elements particularly helpful in improving the quality of an edited document.

  1. A final checklist: If you line edit, copyedit, or proofread, develop a final checklist, and don’t send off an edit until you make sure that final list is checked off. It’s usually the last thing an editor does before returning the file, and when followed, it provides a cleaner file that benefits not only the author but the author’s next editor too.

Items to include on a final checklist:

  • A thorough look-over of the MS: Please don’t finish the last edit and then immediately turn the MS in to the author or publisher. Look it over thoroughly first—you are guaranteed to make more corrections during this stage.
  • Close reading: Close read all front matter and back matter. Close read from the beginning of chapter 1 until no errors are found, and then close read pages in the middle and end.
  • Spell-check and grammar-check: These seem like given elements, but no matter how many times this was done during an edit, a final spell- and grammar-check should be run just before sending off the MS.
  • Chapter headings: Using Word’s find box, be sure the chapters are numbered consecutively, and verify that chapter headings match the table of contents.
  • Searchable errors: Run a search for errors, including commas and periods outside quotation marks, spaces around em and en dashes, spaces before periods and commas and hyphens, double spaces, etc. The searchable errors check usually turns up multiple needed corrections.
  1. Learning Word’s advanced search features: Word’s advanced search options locate certain elements in a MS, such as all highlighted elements, terms in small caps, all uses of boldface and/or italics, particular fonts and font sizes, first-line indents, etc. The advanced search options are found in the Find and Replace box, under the Format drop-down menu. Here’s a practical example: To remove boldface from “Bible” (remember, this is just an example), insert Bible in the Find box, then select Format>Font>Bold. In the replace box, insert “Bible,” then select Format>Font>Not Bold. Word will replace the bolded “Bible” with “Bible.” (Word’s wild card search options are also worth learning.) Using these options helps ensure consistency when applying across-the-board edits.
  1. Oversight: Occasionally, pay another editor to review your edits. As an editor for an agency, my copyedits and line edits were reviewed by senior editors, who pointed out elements I missed or needed to improve. Sometimes, this was difficult to hear, as I knew my editing had dramatically improved the MS. But the oversight sharpened my CMOS skills and made me more alert as an editor—and what I learned through the process, I would have paid to learn. Having a skilled editor review your edits will improve the overall quality of your editing and pinpoint skills you may need to develop. When not editing for the agency (of which I’m now a senior editor), I hire an editor to review a few edits a year, to make sure I stay on top of my game.

Dori Harrell owns Breakout Editing and edits full time. As an editor, she releases more than twenty-five books a year. Her client list includes best-selling writers, indie authors, and publishers. She also serves as a senior editor for an editing agency. An award-winning writer, she’s published more than a thousand articles, and her first novel, A Christmas Hallelujah, was released in 2017.