How to Revise Your Writing: Creating a Self-Editing Checklist

Why is editing (especially of our own work) so hard? Just as I said in another post in this series, since most of us have little or no training in how to edit, it can feel intimidating, overwhelming, and stressful to do so.

As a result, folks often avoid editing entirely. We get by with light proofreading or (eek!) no review at all. And yet, thoughtful and engaged editing can improve writing so much.

In today’s post, we’ll explore a simple tool that will make revising faster, easier, and far more effective (and one that I use all the time!): a self-editing checklist.

What is a self-editing checklist? Why should I use one?

In essence, a self-editing checklist is a list of specific issues and common errors to search for and correct as you review your writing.

First, create the checklist, tailoring it to your own needs as a writer. Then, use the checklist to structure and organize your editing process. No more aimless proofreading!

Using a self-editing checklist can transform your editing, revising, and proofreading processes dramatically. Designing a customized checklist lets you reflect on your strengths and challenges as a writer, boosting your self-awareness and helping you to spend your editing time productively. Revising by working through the checklist improves your editing efficiency, because it gives you clear, specific goals to focus on as you review.

How to create a self-editing checklist:

1.     Check out some sample checklists as a starting point. Here are a few I like: here, here, and here. Keep the elements you want to prioritize, and discard those you don’t.

2.     Take a look at some of your past writing, especially if you’ve received feedback on it. Are there patterns of errors or things you often have to adjust? Do you regularly hear that you need stronger conclusions? Are you unsure how to use semi-colons? Use that data to add items to your checklist! Real life example: I tend to use too many exclamation marks, so I always make sure to check for exclamation mark use when I edit my own work.

3.     Reflect on a) yourself as a writer, and b) the specific piece of work you’re dealing with: are there areas where you’d like to improve your writing? For example, have you always struggled with being concise? Does this writing task have any particular requirements, like a unique citation system? Make sure to add these to your checklist too.

How to use a self-editing checklist:

Print out your checklist, or have it open while you edit. Be ready to read through your piece of writing several times: don’t try to address the whole checklist at once.

If you can, group parts of your checklist together: for example, you might do one editing pass to focus on argumentative logic (Do my examples support my argument? Are conclusions stated clearly and connected to evidence?) and another pass just for structural or formatting errors (Are my citations formatted correctly? Have I indented at the start of paragraphs?).

When you’re satisfied that you’ve thoroughly checked your work for a certain error or concern, cross it off the checklist and move on to the next point.

With each piece of writing you complete, you’ll improve as a writer and your checklist will evolve to reflect that!

Voila! Using a self-editing checklist can add structure, organization, and clarity to your revising process. The result: stronger writing and a deeper understanding of yourself as a writer.

Check out another way to add structure to your revising process in my post on building a reverse outline. Strengthening your editorial toolkit also means building self-awareness, and that helps you write more effectively from the start.

Looking for more support with creating a self-editing checklist of your own or growing as a writer? Want to hire an editor to show you how it’s done? I can help! :)

Sarah V.