DailyWritingTips

Copyediting Checklist

Before you begin copyediting (and before activating the track-changing function), format the manuscript:

  • If it is not to be published in Word, and if typeface and point size will not be employed as design cues (such as in the case of different levels of subheads), convert the typeface to a more readable font if necessary, and increase point size and line spacing for better legibility to avoid reading fatigue. (When the formatting of display type should be preserved, use the document’s zoom function to improve legibility.)
  • Check that formatting that signals a new paragraph (an indent or a line space) is consistent.
  • Replace multiple letter spaces at the beginning of paragraphs with tabbed indents, or delete them, as appropriate.
  • Globally search for and replace extra letter spaces between words and sentences.
  • Delete hard returns (extraneous paragraph breaks) within paragraphs, and delete multiple hard returns between paragraphs or before or after display type.

Activate track changing.

Check for proper grammar and syntax.

  • Does active voice prevail over passive voice?
  • Are lively, specific verbs favored over generic ones?
  • Are adjectives pertinent, and correctly ordered and punctuated?
  • Are there any dangling or misplaced modifiers?
  • Are there any cases of faulty parallelism?
  • Are there any noun/verb disagreements?
  • Are there any incomplete sentences or independent clauses, or comma splices?
  • Is there a lack of variety of sentence structure, and are there any awkward sentence constructions?

Check for verbosity.

  • Does the text contain empty phrases such as “be that as it may,” or “at the end of the day”?
  • Are there unnecessary filler words such as actually and currently?
  • Is there superfluous hedging phrasing such as “I think that” or “I would say that”?

Check for misspellings.

  • Is spelling correct and consistent?
  • Are closed, open, and hyphenated compound words correctly formatted?
  • Is the correct distinction made between its and it’s?
  • In quotations from text written in British English, are original spellings correctly retained?

Check for correct usage.

  • Does the text correctly make a distinction between such oft-confused words as discreet and discrete or fazed and phased?
  • Are terms like comprise (which is not a synonym for consists) and nonplussed (which means “perplexed”) used incorrectly?
  • Are phrases such as “begs the question” (which does not mean “prompts the question”) mistakenly employed?
  • Are idiomatic phrases correctly rendered (“all intents and purposes,” not “all intensive purposes,” for example)?
  • Are similar but noninterchangeable words like less and fewer confused?
  • Are there nonstandard words like irregardless?
  • Are Greek and Latin words such as kudos and biceps that naturally end in s in singular form incorrectly rendered as kudo or bicep to represent the singular form of the term?

Check for noninclusive and ableist language.

  • Does the content avoid gender-specific references (referring to a police officer instead of a policeman, for example, or stating that “anyone can join as long as they sign a waiver” instead of “. . . he signs a waiver”)?
  • Are descriptions in references to disability respectful (stating that someone uses a wheelchair, for example, instead of writing that they are confined to a wheelchair)?

Check for lengths of text blocks.

  • Are some paragraphs especially short or long? (Suitable paragraph length depends on multiple factors—document size, text size, margin width, formality of content—but a rule of thumb is to avoid paragraphs longer than ten lines of 12-point type in Word.
  • Have sections of text been accidentally run together or divided?

Check quotations and extracts.

  • Are spoken or written quotations properly and clearly attributed?
  • Are quotations and extracts correctly punctuated?
  • Are quotations of more than one hundred words or so (or two or more paragraphs, or representing a letter or other written correspondence) formatted as extracts?

Check names and terms.

  • Are names and terms spelled and capitalized correctly?
  • Is other treatment (italicization, for example, or boldface) correct?
  • Are job titles capitalized only immediately preceding the title holder’s name?
  • Are generic terms for entities like president or council lowercase in isolation?
  • Are business jargon and terminology like agile and “generally accepted accounting principles” lowercase?
  • Are the nouns in terms like “Moore’s law” and “Pythagorean theorem” correctly lowercase?
  • Are foreign terms italicized only on first reference, or throughout, depending on preference?
  • Are foreign terms adopted into English (legitimized by a dictionary entry), such as “ad hoc,” correctly unitalicized?
  • Are vocabulary terms, or introduced terms, boldface or italicized on first reference?
  • Are proper nouns such as surnames spelled consistently throughout the document?
  • Are full names given on first reference, and are subsequent references (a person’s surname alone, for example, or an acronym) consistently correct?

Check language standards.

  • Are contractions, slang, and jargon allowed?
  • Is their use consistent? (“Is not” is invariably employed in place of isn’t, for example, or a character always says, “Gonna” instead of “going to.”)

Check numbers.

  • Are numbers to be rendered in numeral form, or spelled out?
  • Are treatment differences (years are always in numeral form, but names of decades are always spelled out) logical and consistent?
  • Is the dividing line of the distinction between numbers ten and up, or is it one hundred and up, is the distinction consistent, and what are the exceptions?

Check for proper punctuation.

  • Is the serial comma always used?
  • Are semicolons and colons used correctly?
  • Is punctuation correctly positioned with respect to quotation marks?
  • Are hyphens and dashes, and dashes and ellipses, correctly employed and distinguished (and do ellipses consist of correctly spaced periods, rather than a single ellipsis character)?

Check quotation marks and apostrophes.

  • Do such marks appear where they belong?
  • Is there always a matching pair of open or close quotation marks (except at the end of a paragraph before a continuation of the quotation in the next paragraph)?
  • Are they correctly formatted (for example, smart, or curly, rather than dumb, or straight)?
  • Are apostrophes employed for elision properly aligned? (For example, the symbol preceding the two-digit form of a year, or a slang construction such as ’em, is an apostrophe, not an open quotation mark.)
  • Are scare quotes used sparingly and correctly? (For example, so-called and quotation marks framing a term are redundant.)

Check superscript and subscript.

  • Are numbers, letters, and other symbols correctly positioned above or below the text’s baseline as appropriate?

Check abbreviations and symbols.

  • Are acronyms and initialisms allowed on the first reference, or should a name or term be spelled out the first time? Are there exceptions?
  • Are e.g. and i.e. used and punctuated correctly? Is spelling “for example” and “that is” preferred?
  • Are symbols such as + or % or & permitted, and in which contexts (in charts, but not in running text, for example)?

Check headings and subheads.

  • Is there a clear hierarchy of different levels of headings used to organize sections of running text?
  • Do headings and subheadings correctly and consistently have correct formatting—typeface, font, font weight, color, and point size?
  • Are headings and subheadings brief, and pertinent to the running text that follows?
  • Are single subheads avoided?

Check miscellaneous display type.

  • Are captions, image credits, footnotes (and their indicator numbers or symbols), and other assorted content that is not running text formatted correctly and consistently?

Check graphic elements.

  • Are headings, labels, and other text elements for graphs, charts, tables, maps, and illustrations formatted correctly and consistently?
  • Does visual quantitative information (extent of bars in bar charts, the relative size of pie segments in pie charts, and so on) correspond with cross-references elsewhere in the graphics or in the running text?

Check the table of contents against the contents.

  • If there is a table of contents or some other form of outline, do the listed chapter titles conform with the titles throughout the document? (Unless the copyedited document will be published in its original format, leave page numbers blank or employ placeholders such as “page XX.” Do the same for any other similar organizational element such as a list of illustrations.)

Check cross-references.

  • Are references to content in other parts of the document (“as previously mentioned in chapter 6,” for example) correct? (If the copyedited document is to be published as is, both verify and fill in such references as “as discussed on page XX.”)
  • If there is a glossary, does every entry correspond with an instance of the term in the running text?

Check links.

  • Copy and paste URLs or type them into a browser to verify them.
  • If the copyedited document will be posted online as is, check that all hyperlinks are active and that they direct the reader to the correct destination.

Check facts.

  • Are names of people and entities spelled correctly?
  • Are monetary figures and other statistics accurate?
  • Are correct geographical or chronological distinctions made (Britain versus England, for example, or Thailand versus Siam)?

Check spelling.

  • Use the document’s spell-checking feature, but don’t depend on it—treat it as a backup. Such tools may not conform to the publisher’s preferences, or may in rare cases be outright incorrect. When in doubt, look it up.

Typemarking

You may be asked to assign codes to various elements in the manuscript that correspond with a publishing program so that design or production staff, for example, does not need to individually format every subhead or caption. This task involves copying and pasting <H2>, for example, preceding every second-level heading.

Style Sheet

You may be asked to compile a style sheet, which may also include a list of names and terms. The style sheet is a record of idiosyncrasies, such as preferring an alternate spelling for a given word, or guidelines for when various classes of numbers are spelled out or rendered in numeral form. This document is a resource for proofreaders (and perhaps others) who will review the proof to guide them when questions arise during the proofreading stage. (For example, the style sheet may state that a certain acronym need not be spelled out on the first reference, or that a person’s nickname is used in place of their given name.)

Finally, query the author or the assigning editor about anything that is confusing or questionable. Whenever possible, resolve the issue, but then request confirmation that the correction is valid.