Editing and Proofreading Checklist for Writers: A Guest Post with Karen S. Elliott

I am a big fan of Karen Elliott. I've known her via her blog ( I subscribe via email and you should, too) and through Facebook. If you want to learn about creating a platform, you should follow Karen.

She's also an editor extraordinaire and has dedicated her talents to making those of us who write without looking at the keyboard (or our manuscripts, it might seem) look better.

I asked Karen to do a guest post and then gave her free rein on the content. As you'll see below, she was incredibly generous... What you'll find is a checklist to guide you through the self-editing process. However, what I think you'll also find by the end of the post is why hiring an editor, like Karen, is really so necessary for an indie-author. 

I learned this lesson the hard way with my first book, when I received numerous reviews from readers who loved the story, but hated the typos and grammatical errors that were missed by me and MS Word spellcheck. It's absolutely true that a writer makes a lousy editor of their own work.

At the end of this checklist, Karen has included numerous links to reach her. Check them out.

Editing and Proofreading Checklist

Check for consistency

Character – Where your characters live, where they work, their likes and dislikes, their phobias, dress/style, favorite foods/allergies.

Names, Proper Nouns – Did you call your main character Allan in the first chapter and Alan in all the other chapters?

Electronic Age – If you use words like e-mail or email, web-site or website, on-line or online – each of these words needs to be consistent throughout your manuscript.

Who’s talking? – If your English-teacher character is talking prim and proper English in Chapter Three, make sure she doesn’t go all street slang in Chapter Twenty.

Know your props – If you have your police officer with a Glock in Chapter Four, he should still have a Glock in the final chapter.  

Where are you? – I have often drawn my own map on a large sheet of paper to maintain perspective. Or use Google maps. If you write Route 83 and Burdick Expressway intersect in Minot, ND, they’d better intersect.

Fixing what’s wrong

Adjust your mind set from “writer” to “proofreader.” You are looking for things that are wrong.

Spell check – Do not – DO NOT – depend on your computer’s spell checker.

Read out loud – This will help you hear where there are stops and starts, what’s awkward. Take it a step further – read your MS or short story into a tape recorder or have your computer read it to you and listen while looking at a printed copy.

Print it – Sounds silly, but it works. You’ve been looking at your project on the screen – you need a new perspective – you need to see it on paper.

Change the font – If you have been looking at your MS in Times New Roman, change it to Palatino Linotype. It will look completely different.

First Reader – Ask someone to look at your MS with a critical eye. If they come back to you and say they loved it, they are not critical enough.

Mom or BFF – Don’t ask them to proofread, unless mom was a proofreader for Merriam-Webster (my mom was!). Not that you shouldn’t trust them, but you shouldn’t trust them with proofreading your manuscript.

Sounds like – Look at words like there and their, you’re and your, and its and it’s. If you know you have trouble with a certain word(s), search for that word throughout your manuscript. Labor-intensive, yes. But it works. Also check for words like wet and whet, rain, reign, and rein, affect and effect and so forth.  

Take a break – Put the manuscript aside for a few weeks or a month or two. Then go back to it with fresh eyes.

Hiring an editor or proofreader  

Planning – Start looking for an editor or proofreader the minute you start your book or soon thereafter. Shop around. Ask other writers for recommendations. Ask the editor/proofreader for a sample. 

Ask for specifics – Ask the proofreader to outline exactly what they consider “editing” and “proofreading.” These standards differ significantly throughout the industry.

Scalpel or hatchet – I suggest changes; I do not make edits for the writer. What will your editor/proofreader do?

Research online – Look at the proofreader’s website, Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, and blog. Are they positive? Do they share tips and links? Are their online pages clean?

Stylebooks, references – Ask what style books and references they use. If they hem and haw or say, “Oh, I don’t use those things,” run away.

Testimonials – Get testimonials or references and then look at the publications of the testimonials. Contact the people who have provided these testimonials.

Turn-around – If a proofreader says she’ll have your 100,000-word work of art back to you in a week, that’s just not gonna happen. Have realistic expectations.

Contract – Sign one. If the proofreader doesn’t use contracts, again, run away. Be sure you can accept the contract payment terms, turn-around time, cancellation terms, additional cost for phone consultations, etc. If you can’t, ask that they be amended.

NDA – Ask the proofreader to sign an NDA – non-disclosure agreement. You don’t want your hard work to end up in the proofreader’s e-book!

Can’t afford a proofreader?

Writer’s group – Join a critique group in your area. If you can’t find one, start one!

Exchange services – With other professionals – I’ll read yours if you read mine. Or trade one service for another. I used to proofread a monthly newsletter and got a free ad every month. I’ve recently agreed to exchange editing a blog for help with CreateSpace.

Join Linked In – There are hundreds of groups for writers broken down by genre, e-book vs. print, and everything in-between.

Online exchange – Join an online exchange group or forum like Fictionaut, Dropbox, Backspace, Goodreads, or Yahoo groups for writers.

Join Facebook groups – On Facebook, there are pages and groups galore! 

Proofreading sites and blogs – Search for sites and blogs that share proofreading and editing tips.

Dictionary Plus – It’s not enough to have a dictionary. You should have a couple other desk references for grammar and punctuation like The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation by Jane Straus, Diane Hacker’s Rules for Writers, or Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style.

Subscribe – Pick one or two magazines like Writer's Digest or The Writer. If you don’t want to fork over the subscription price, ask for them at your local library.

Start saving – Perhaps you could afford a proofreader if you did a little belt-tightening. Do you really need a five-dollar peppermint mocha every morning? 

Karen S. Elliott was raised by a mother who wanted to be an English teacher and who worked for Merriam-Webster as a proofreader and an aunt who could complete the Sunday New York Times crossword in a day. Their favorite expression was, “Look it up!” Karen is an editor and proofreader, blogger, and writer. Her work has been featured in The Rose & Thorn Journal, Every Child is Entitled to Innocence anthology, Valley Living Magazine, BewilderingStories.com, and WritingRaw.com. Connect with Karen on her website, blog, Twitter, LinkedIn, Fan Page, and Facebook.

 You can find Karen here:

Karen S. Elliott


Thank you for having me, Suzanne. I'm always happy to share what I've learned, both as a writer and as an editor and proofreader. I love that you included my Shark header! I hope your subscribers find this post helpful.
Anonymous said…
Another great article by Karen S. Elliot! Thanks for inviting her to your blog, Suzanne. I always love reading Karen's posts. :-)
Hey, thanks, Rosie. Nice to see you over here!
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Unknown said…
It is really a good way for complete proofreading. You have mentioned every single point. I am adding this blog into my bookmarks. Currently I have hired a proofreading company Docfixers for proofreading my business documents and offer letters. They provide me huge quality with high standards..
Unknown said…
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Unknown said…
Here's an editing and proofreading services reviews that every writer should know. So, check it out!
Unknown said…

I agree that a second pair of eyes is absolutely essential to avoid rejections. Through WordsRU.com I was able to get top class editing and proofreading, manuscript critique. They also write excellent author profiles and book synopsis, so pretty much the entire package.
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