Note: Focus on one of these points at a time. If you want
to review some basic points of punctuation and usage before you begin editing,
please go to the Basic
Are you using commas correctly? Look especially for sentences that
start with one of these words:
After, Although, As soon as, Before, Because, If, Since, Unless,
Until, or When.
Each of these words alert the reader to an initial condition, followed
by a logical second step or consequence. Once you have set out the initial
condition, mark the end of that condition with a comma (as I just did in
this sentence). If your sentence begins with one of the words listed above,
then you know you'll need a comma to set off your first condition.
Look also for transitional phrases such as after all, as a matter
of fact, as a result, at any rate, at the same time, even so, for example,
for instance, in addition, in conclusion, in fact, in other words, in the
first place, on the contrary, on the other hand.
Do you avoid comma splices? While you're looking at transition
words, see if you've used a period or semi-colon to mark the end of every
sentence. If a complete sentence follows the transition word, then you
should also see a semi-colon or a period right before the transition word.
Read backward, sentence by sentence. Sometimes it's easier to catch
comma splices when you read each sentence individually.
Do you use active verbs wherever you can? (Do you "decide" rather
than "make a decision"?) Look for -ion endings and "to be" verbs
(is, are, was, were) combined with another verb. (If editing a
résumé, check out "Chart
of Strong Verbs" on Bridgewater's Résumé site.)
Have you cut all the excess words from your sentences? (Click on
the highlighted phrase if you want to read about Key
In general, look for sentences that are more than two lines long.
A long sentence might be fine, but ask yourself whether or not you could
state your idea more clearly and concisely. Watch for these wordy phrases
at the beginnings of sentences:
EXAMPLE: "It is important to note that cutting unnecessary words improves
REVISED: "Cutting unnecessary words improves a sentence."
Can you use a smaller word where you have used a big one?
"in order to" --> [Cut]
"There is/ There are/ It is/ It was/ It might be" [See if you can use a
"at this point in time" -- > [now]
"in the near future" --> [soon]
"due to the fact that" --> [because]
"in the event that" -- > [if]
Have you used the most precise word that you can? If it is
a specialized term, will your readers understand the word, or do you need
to define it?
Do you find any clichés in your sentences?
EXAMPLE: "Can you utilize this checklist?"
REVISED: "Can you use this checklist?"
If you've quoted or summarized someone else's work, are your
references and documentation complete and precise? If
you need a review of documentation, check out the resources on the Writing
Have you double-checked your use of apostrophes and possessives?
Have you asked someone else to proofread your text one last time
for punctuation, spelling, and typos?
Have you double checked the readability of your final presentation?
EXAMPLE: "Cut through the red tape and take the bull by the horns when
you edit your sentences."
REVISED: ---> "Eliminate clichés and write clearly."
For instance, do you use headings consistently? Have you made
sure that headings and the text they highlight are on the same page?
Have you used white space, lists, and bullets effectively? Do you
label and number all graphics? Have you numbered pages?
For additional help, please see the Writing