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 Review page.
  1. Are you using commas correctly? Look especially for sentences that start with one of these words:
  2. 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.

  3. 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.
  4. 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.)

  6. Have you cut all the excess words from your sentences? (Click on the highlighted phrase if you want to read about Key Word Editing.)

  7.    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:
  8.  Can you use a smaller word where you have used a big one?
  9. 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?
  10. Do you find any clichés in your sentences?
  11.  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 Help page.
  12. Have you double-checked your use of apostrophes and possessives?
  13. Have you asked someone else to proofread your text one last time for punctuation, spelling, and typos?
  14. Have you double checked the readability of your final presentation?

  15. 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 Help page.