Best practices: An Editor’s Editing Checklist

1. Reading, not editing, is the first step.

Give the story a quick reading for content -- without making any editing changes.

2. Organization.

Is the lead labored or long? Is there a nut paragraph, no lower than the third or fourth graf, that tells succinctly why the story is in the paper? Does the story contain the essential five W's and H? Does the story have a good ending that will make the reader remember it? Did the lead's writer mine the story for information that will grab the reader's attention?

Clarity. Is the story clear? Is it complete? Are there unanswered questions? Are there unexplained contradictions?

Fairness. Is the story balanced? Are sources reliable and identified? Does the story give both sides? Does it provide an opportunity to reply to charges? Does it libel anyone? Is it in good taste?

Length. Is the story too long, too short, just right? Is there more information than is useful or interesting to the reader? Can it be made shorter without sacrificing anything truly important?

3. If there are problems in any of the areas listed above, go back to the writer with questions and suggestions.

Ask the writer to fix the story. This is part of the feedback that makes a good story better and makes the writer and the editor a team.

4. After the first reading, review the story again.

Have you done everything that is needed or are you trying to avoid dealing with difficult questions? Leave no question unanswered. Have you listened to your instincts, your experience? If you have a hunch, have you followed it? Remember that gut feelings are an important part of editing.

5. Check one more time to make sure the reader can understand the story.

Also:

• Have you checked grammar, punctuation and spelling?

• Are verbs generally active and lively, rather than passive and dull? Do subjects and verbs agree? Is verb tense consistent?

• Is the time element clear? Does the reader know when things happened? Remember that chronology is a good organizing device.

• Are historical facts and dates correct?

• Does usage conform to style?

• Have you changed awkward phrases, shortened marathon sentences, chopped up long paragraphs, eliminated repetitiveness and redundancy, killed cliches?

• Have you checked the weird name in the city directory, telephone book or library?

• Has the writer removed "stutter quotes," a direct quotation followed by a paraphrase of the same thing, or vice versa?

• Does the story avoid jargon? Have you removed foreign words or phrases, unexplained acronyms and unexplained technical terms?

• Are numbers correct? Double-check any math, including percentages, to make sure it is right.

• Does the story avoid the use of words in place of "said?"

• Does the story avoid hyperbole? Has the writer refused the temptation to set records for the biggest, best, tallest, shortest?

• Is there enough background for the reader who missed the last story?

• Have you checked for agreement, especially in the case of prepositions and their antecedents?