Motivational editing checklist

A typical editing checklist includes things that editors should identify, like failures of parallelism, mixed metaphors, sentence fragments, and factual errors.

But this is your motivational editing checklist. Follow this to make sure that the person you’re editing will understand, appreciate, accept, and address the problems you point out.

  1. Did you say something nice? It’s a lot easier to accept criticism along with a bit of praise. What did they do well?
  2. Did you address all levels of problems? Did you focus on meaning, structure, and flow along with grammar?
  3. Did you describe your suggestions from the reader’s perspective? It’s a lot easier to accept criticism if you understand why it creates problems for a reader, not just for a persnickety editor.
  4. Did you explain why changes will make it better? For large changes (for example, move this block of text earlier in the chapter) or repeated changes (for example, repeated use of passive voice), explain how the problems interfere with readability or effectiveness and the solution improves it.
  5. Did you offer solutions? If you find a problem, you should suggest some ideas on how to fix it. Problems without solutions make writers resent editors.
  6. Were you consistent? For example, if you edited long run-on sentences in one place, did you make the same edits everywhere else? It’s a mistake to assume that the writer will “get it” and make the fix globally; finding those repeated cases is your job.
  7. Did you use humor? Criticism is a lot easier to take if there’s something to smile about. We all make mistakes and we are all fallible; laughing about it makes it hurt less.
  8. Did you customize your comments to the writer? People respond better if they know you’re thinking, not just of a generic writer, but of them personally.
  9. Did you make helpful suggestions? Pointing out examples and cases from other books or media shows that you care about the manuscript and are personally invested in it. It positions you as helpful and thoughful, not just critical.
  10. Did you write an edit memo? When you’re done editing anything longer than 3,000 words, write a short memo about the global issues and how you addressed them. This might include inconsistencies, structural issues, frequently repeated words, and stylistic decisions that the writer must make one way or another. Suggest that the writer read the edit memo before reading the marked-up text. This will provide context and prepare the writer psychologically for what needs to be fixed, and why.

Why bother?

It’s a lot easier to edit than to do all the things in this checklist. After all, editing requires language skills, but these motivational techniques require people skills. Editors are experts on language, not psychology.

But if you follow this motivational checklist, your writer will better be able to separate their ego from what they’ve written. They’ll understand the need to make changes as a joint effort to make the writing more effective, not a list of their many flaws. And they’ll have a head-start on how and why to make changes that could make a big difference.

That’s better for the text. It’s better for the writer. And it makes them far more likely to want to work with you in the future. That’s how you get promotions and referrals, even though your job is to find fault with things.

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One Comment

  1. This is a great checklist – engaging the humanity inherent in the work. Thanks for coming up with something that I’m not sure has been addressed so specifically before. (A lot of invaluable critique group techniques here – I’m fortunate to belong to a critique group that “gets” what a critique group is supposed to do, but which so many do not.)