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Your Guides to Excellent Writing

An editing checklist will help you know
when youíre ready to send

by Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere

Also see style checklist & writing checklist.
 

 

Now that youíve developed a systematic approach to writing based on the checklist you read about in my previous column, youíre feeling the power. I can tell. You look more confident. Youíre less reluctant to tackle that next challenging assignment, more eager to stake out your position in writing.

 

So here you are. Youíve made your way, point by point, through my eight-point checklist. Youíve (1) identified your purpose, (2) organized your thoughts into coherent, logical order, (3) gathered supporting information, (4) thought about your reader, (5) developed a persuasive strategy, (6) written your first draft, (7) revised your text, and (8) proofread your document. Nice going.

 

By taking this systematic approach to writing, youíve completed a particularly complex assignment without your normal anxiety attacks, meltdowns, and endless procrastination. Well done. Pat yourself on the back. Savor the empowerment that comes from having developed a reliable method. Itís a good feeling, isnít it? Your neurotransmitters are on overdrive. Enjoy the dopamine rush. Youíve earned it.

 

So now the moment has arrived. Youíre ready to send. Or are you?

 

By taking a systematic approach to planning, drafting, revising, and proofreading your writing, youíve increased your odds for success, but how do you know if what youíre about to send is truly good?

 

What you need Ė you guessed it Ė is another checklist, this one not for creating text but for evaluating it. Based on my experience in reading 25 million writing samples and student papers over my 42 years of teaching (I exaggerate Ė Iíve only been teaching 41 years), this four-step method may also be applied to evaluating other peopleís writing.

 

Ready?

 

1. Begin by looking, not reading. Check for consistency in format, headings, style, and punctuation. Are your pages numbered sequentially? If youíre working on hard copy, did the printer skip any pages? Are headings within the same category consistent in font and style? Are items in vertical lists numbered correctly and punctuated consistently? Are they parallel (for example, are they all sentences or all fragments, and not a mix)? Have you forgotten your attachment?

 

2. Check for clarity. Begin by reading your headings. Do they convey your main conclusions and principal points? Are they arranged in logical order? Next read the first sentence of each paragraph. Do your topic sentences indicate where youíre going next? When needed, do your transitions such as for these reasons and despite these concerns link the thought of one paragraph to another? Have you offered sufficient detail and examples to illustrate your points? Given your readerís knowledge and sophistication, have you offered the right detail, in the right language?

 

3. Check for accuracy and errors. Double-check your facts. Confirm the spelling of all names and titles, especially those of your recipient. Although you proofread your document earlier, check once more for errors in word choice, grammar, and spelling.

 

4. Take one last look. Have you accomplished your purpose? Go back to the first question you asked yourself when you began writing. What do you want your reader to do or think as a result of reading your message? Is your persuasive strategy right for your goal?

 

Now take a deep breath and send. Itís too late to change anything now.


 

 

 


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