Editing Checklist

Let’s create an editing checklist. I think it’s helpful for students to have a guide for editing or peer editing. Suggest your idea for something that students should check for in the comments, and I will create the document and make it available here for free.

Here’s my contribution:

Mark every instance of the words “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those.” Make sure these words are being used as adjectives rather than pronouns. If they’re being used as pronouns, consider adding a noun, revising the sentence, or combining sentences to avoid vague pronouns.

I ran into that particular issue quite a few times while reading essays today.

I will be cross-posting this request at the EC Ning.

21 thoughts on “Editing Checklist”

  1. Unfortunately this is an issue that I still run into all the time. I like to revise papers for friends, and whenever I do the words of my first semester English teacher echo in my head: "what's a this?"

    Fortunately people don't seem to argue about the notion of "this" being a vague word and will happily add in a noun. The one word I really have to fight about is "very." For some reason people love that word and will fight for it. Why anyone would want it in their paper is beyond me. There's always (yes, I am using an absolute here), always a better word to use than "very" anything.

  2. Oh…I suppose I should write it in a "check-list" format.

    Mark every instance of the word "very." Replace "very" and the adjective or adverb following it with a single, descriptive word. Instead of "very interesting" write "intriguing," or instead of "very happy" write "ecstatic." There is almost always a better, more descriptive alternative to the word "very."

    Another checklist item could be to eliminate the words "good" and "bad" or other qualitative words that hold little weight or meaning. I'll leave it to you to write that one up, though, since I can't find a proper way to express it (I almost wrote "good" instead! Ha).

    1. I feel compelled to point out to everyone else that Jamie is a former student of mine and is now double-majoring in film and English in college. Thanks for the input! Very good advice (ha, ha!)

  3. Hi Dana, I just read your tweet and thought that I would take a look. I have one thing to add tonight – the overuse of any word and specifically the over use of 'should'. I had a writing conference with a senior today. Her research paper is on proper nutrition for toddlers. She had so many 'shoulds' in the body of the paper that I went back and circled each one with her. The result in overusing 'should' is a preachy/parenty kind of flavor. Definitely best avoided, especially in research.

  4. Actually, I just recently switched from English to Telecommunications (sorry!). Although, I must say, this semester I'm really missing writing papers :/ I only had one…

    Although, I have a feeling that Telecomm won't be lacking in the writing department.

    1. Don't be sorry! I'm sure you're going to be writing plenty. I had to write papers in almost every class I took (of course the English ones): Music Appreciation, Descriptive Astronomy, even Aerobics, if you can believe it!

  5. Dana, I'm going to email you a document I have used before for what I call "sentence-level revision". Feel free to use any of it in this new document, which I'm very excited to see!

  6. I have my students check for the correct use of they're/their/there; your/you're, etc. Another common problem I run into is the use of "should/would of." Verb tenses could also be checked by students.

  7. I got this suggestion for peer-editing at a workshop many years ago.


    1 blue highlighter

    1 green pen

    1 purple pen

    1 yellow highlighter

    1 red pen

    Step 1: Highlight every sentence, alternating between the blue highlighter and the yellow one.

    (Students should highlight the sentences in the order that they appear on the paper to avoid confusion and mis-highlighting.)

    Option A: Alternating with a partner, read aloud your sentences to check for preciseness or completeness.

    Option B: Check that your sentences are of varying lengths. If they're all about the same length, consider combining or breaking apart sentences so you have some short and some long sentences.

    Step 2: With your purple pen, draw a rectangle around every first word of each sentence. Then, form a list of these words in the left margin of your paper. Have you used the same words too many times. What can you do to correct this?

    Option A: Look at a list of subordinating conjunctions to find words that would allow you to combine sentences.

    Step 3: With your red pen, circle all of your “be” verbs. (e.g. am, is, was, were, be, being, been). How many have you used? Now, eliminate half of these by using vivid

    verbs. You may have to rearrange some elements in your sentences; this is

    called serious revision.

    Step 4: With your red pen, draw a triangle around all punctuation marks. With a partner,

    check to see if you have used these appropriately.

  8. Here's mine:

    Circle every pronoun you see. Now draw an arrow from it to the noun it is replacing? If you can't find it, you have no antecedent. if you can, make sure it agrees in number with the pronoun you've used.

  9. This is great timing (Dana, see my status on FB). My biggest thing right now is making sure there are logical transitions from topic to topic (research papers).

    *Do your transitions from topic to topic make sense? Do you properly introduce each new topic, or does your paper jump from one to another?

    *I like the idea of using a particular color to highlight/mark verbs, and making sure the student isn't switching tenses within each sentence without reason.

    *Pronouns, pronouns, pronouns. I can't add to what everyone has said about them, but I agree with all of you!

    *In research papers, is the thesis obvious? Underline it, and when it is answered/addressed directly within the paper, underline or somehow note those sections. See if they match up.

    *Put your outline next to your paper. Do they match? If not, why not? Would it be better to to change the outline or the paper? (Notice I did not say "easier"!)

    *Punctuation and quotation marks: punctuation is almost always within the quotes. Provide examples of when it is not.


  10. We call it the "No-No List":

    second person


    it (or other overused pronouns)

    Beginning sentences with…I think/feel/believe

    Beginning sentences with There is/are/was/were

  11. I would add these two:

    Are any titles appropriately formatted? Long works (Books, Albums, Newspapers, Movies, TV shows) should be italicized, or, if handwritten, underlined. Short works, or works found within a larger volume (Short Stories, Song Titles, Newspaper Articles, TV Episodes), should be inside quotation marks.

    Are colons and semi-colons used correctly?

    Semi-colons should only be used to separate items in a list, or to join together two independent clauses which are so close together in meaning as to constitute a single idea.

    Colons should be used only to introduce an idea or conclusion, or set off a sub-title.

  12. My biggest problem when going over my students' papers is the use of you and other first-person terms. I cross out every single one. Now, did that make a difference when they edited to create their final drafts? No.

  13. Run-ons and Fragments…how do you put those on a checklist?

    Find any ellipses marks and eliminate them.

  14. "This", "That" and "Those" are never used as adjectives — those are determiners when used before nouns (note that you can't say "very that man", though you can say "a very blue man" — this is a decent test for adjectivehood). They share more in common with articles than they do with adjectives.

    At any rate, it's not a bad checklist item — I'd say the key would be to reword it so it doesn't make reference to parts of speech.

    In my experience, students don't generally know the parts of speech beyond having memorized the generally useless definitions given in gradeschool (a noun is a person place or thing, etc)

  15. I agree with the other comments and would like to add a tip from Stephen King: minimize adverbs. While they can be useful, there are usually more effective ways to express the same idea.

  16. –With research, students have problems with cited sources and usually place the parenthical citation on the outside of the sentence and also make errors with dropped quotes.

    –They must also verify their use of quotation marks used during dialogue, since many of them have the tendency of writing conversations among many characters together in the same paragraph.

  17. I'm wondering how to move this project forward because I think it'll be an excellent tool my students will benefit from.

    Soooo I'm confused on what to do. Shall we copy and paste rules from here and the Ning to the Doc?

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