Self-Editing Checklist: How to Edit Your Writing

Self-Editing Checklist: How to Edit Your Writing

So, you’ve finished your book’s manuscript. Congratulations!

Time To Edit

Unfortunately, we have some bad news. While completing your manuscript is a tremendous accomplishment, there’s a lot of work that comes between writing “The End” and finally publishing your book. 

While that may seem daunting, editing is actually an amazing opportunity to shore up your book and make sure it’s ready for readers.

During the editing stage, you ensure ‌your manuscript does justice to all the fantastic ideas you generated during the writing process.

And if you’re not ‌sure how to approach editing or what to look for, don’t worry. There are dozens of tools out there (like ProWritingAid’s grammar checker) that can help make the process simpler. In this article, we’ll demystify the editing process so you know exactly what to look for (and where to find help) when you’re self-editing.

Let’s get into it.

Make Your List and Check It Thrice

The first thing to know about the editing stage is that it’s actually multiple stages rolled into one. Just like you had to write your book in stages, you’ll edit your manuscript in stages, too. Each of these stages is distinct. You should go through each stage at least once before publishing.

There are many schools of thought around editing, but to keep things simple, we’re going to break the editing process down into three distinct stages:

  • Developmental editing: This stage is the first part of editing, where you take a big picture look at your manuscript. You’ll pay attention to characterization, setting, plot, and overall story structure during this phase.

  • Line editing: During this stage, you’ll zoom into your manuscript, going line by line to make sure your word choice and sentence structure are clear and effective. You’ll also look at grammar, style, and spelling errors to tighten up your manuscript. Sometimes, people divide line editing into two stages (line editing and copy editing) but we’ll keep it as one to make things simpler.

  • Proofreading: Proofreading isn’t actually an editing stage, but it’s still necessary for publication. During this final step, you’ll make last-minute checks on things like formatting, consistent spelling, and font as you get your manuscript ready for readers. 

Self-Editing Checklist

Now that we know what happens in each stage of editing, let’s get into what you should actually look for during each stage.

  1. Developmental Editing Checklist

Developmental editing happens after you have a completed manuscript. You’ll want to look at your manuscript holistically at this stage to see overall trends. Here’s what to look for when developmental editing:

  • Does your setting have not only an engaging location, but use of time, date, objects, and senses?

  • Do your characters have clear goals and a recognizable point-of-view?

  • Do you have effective arcs that move your plot forward in each scene?

  • Is your overall story clear?

  • Are there any points where your story is paced too slowly or too quickly?

  • Are there any characters that don’t serve a purpose and should be cut?

  • Are there any scenes that don’t serve a purpose and should be cut?
  1. Line Editing Checklist

During line editing, you’ll look closely at each sentence to make sure it sounds clear and can communicate your ideas effectively. Here’s what to look for when copy editing:

  • Are your subjects and verbs the stars of your sentences?

  • Is your writing readable for your audience?

  • Are you choosing specific words that explain exactly what you’re trying to say?

  • Have you kept up the pacing, varying long and short sentences within sections?

  • Have you eliminated echoes and repeats?

  • Have you used enough sensory words?

  • Are your sentences punctuated correctly?

  • Have you fixed any spelling errors?

  • Have you eliminated or reduced instances of passive voice?
  1. Proofreading Checklist

Proofreading is the final step before you publish your manuscript. Remember, proofreading isn’t actually editing: this stage is about ensuring the consistency of your manuscript’s style and spelling so it’s ready for publication. Here’s what to look for when proofreading:

  • Is every heading or chapter break capitalized the same way?

  • Are margins consistent throughout the manuscript?

  • Do you use the same spelling for words with multiple potential spellings throughout your document?

  • Do you use the same formatting for acronyms throughout your document?

  • Have you used the same style of quotation marks throughout your document?

  • Are your fonts consistently sized and readable?

Self-Editing Improves Your Manuscript

Editing is an important part of the writing process—just as important as the first draft. During editing, you’ll make your ideas shine. While editing might seem intimidating, it’s possible to effectively self-edit your manuscript. Just follow the checklist outlined in this article and you’ll be ready to publish.

This post was written by:


As Head of Education at ProWritingAid, Hayley focuses on building engaging, helpful learning content for the millions of users who rely on ProWritingAid to make their writing clear and effective. Hayley has a robust writing portfolio and has written for dozens of publications on topics related to education, marketing strategy, history, entrepreneurship, and more.

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