A Useful Self-Editing Checklist

by Meredith Kinder

From May 14 – 16, 2007, I attended the 54th Annual Conference of the STC (Society of Technical Communication) in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At the Lone Writer SIG (Special Interest Group) progression session titled “Out of the Solitudes: Progressions of STC’s Lone Writer Community,” Jerry Franklin led a discussion on the essentials of self-editing documentation. The following is the checklist he suggests using when self-editing.

Put distance between you and the document. If you have a long deadline, take a day or two without looking at it. If you have a short deadline, take 30 minutes away from it where you don’t look at it or think about it. Watch the Sopranos, swim the English Channel, or work on another project: just put it down for an extended amount of time.

Take on the genre of Mr./Ms. Proofreader. Remove yourself physically to play this role: if you write in an office, take it home. If you write at home, take it to a coffee shop. If you write on screen, print it out, and vice versa. You’re more likely to see errors if you reposition the way you see the text. Furthermore, when proofreading:
  • On the first pass, read slowly for cohesiveness.
  • On the second pass, proof for formatting.
  • On the third pass, read it out loud. Agonize over it. This phase is time-consuming, but absorbing it will increase your changes of finding a typo and errors.

Use a style guide. For best results, use both yours and an industry-style guide or other type of published ones (such as MicroSoft, Chicago, etc.). When you use a style guide, you don’t have to make decisions while editing—they have already been made for you. A style guide saves you time in the end.

Rely on other sources. Look at what industry leaders are doing. If you are in software, look at what Oracle is doing. If you are a small shop, make your documents look like the big guys.

Have non-SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) review your document. Others in your company can give a different perspective from someone who is not down in the details. Since non-SMEs should probably not be a techies, they’re likely to approach it from an editorial standpoint. Even if not all of their feedback is useful, they will find some good nuggets for you. So how do you persuade non-SMEs to help you out? Have a document review day/morning with cookies and colored pens and bring in hard-copy documentation. Let them read and mark it up.

Take advantage of free or cheap assistance. Students are hungry for real world experience, and will do good work for $15/.hr. Editing or proofreading gives them experience and items to put on their resume. This approach will require managing and a small time commitment, but it could be worth it in the end.

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