Writing Tips – Commas and Editing Checklist

 There are two things I’ve found useful that I’d like to share today. The first is on comma usage. I have noticed there is a lot of inconsistency not only in how commas are used by different writers but also in guidance on how to use commas. The link below is for a tip-sheet from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry Writing Program. I like this one because it is clear, succinct, and (I think) correct.

http://www.esf.edu/writingprogram/tipsheets/comma.htm

The second thing I have to share is a self-editing checklist I made using guidance from multiple sources and my own experience. One of the people on Goodreads asked if I would share this, and I am more than happy to do so. It doesn’t provide rules of grammar or punctuation, it doesn’t tell you how to write tight prose or how to “show” rather than “tell,” but it does help me check my final draft for areas in which these things might be improved. One more caveat — I created this for my own use, so it is written for how I write. I use MS Word. I’ve tried programs such as Scrivener designed specifically for writers, but I’ve reverted to Word for my manuscript and for my character, setting, and special item sheets because I find it easier. I use separate Excel files for my timelines and statistics. Still, except for the first couple of steps, I think others may find this useful. I’ve simply pasted it below to make it easy for anyone who wishes to copy and tailor it for their own private use. (Please excuse the proofread checklist. This is an embedded spreadsheet in my form, which doesn’t paste well to HTML.)

One other thing I should mention — If you do use something like this, expect it to take several days (weeks or months) to methodically go through your book-length manuscript.

 ~*~

 Prose and Grammar Self-Editing Checklist:

1. Compile work into one document. Read for content and story flow. [__]

2. Run spell and grammar check in Word. Correct obvious errors. [__]

3. Run spell and grammar check in OpenOffice. Correct obvious errors. [__]

4. Reopen in Word.

a. Search for the following words and ensure each is the best fit for the prose. Eliminate or reword if not:

  • “had” [__]
  • “was” [__]
  • “were” [__]
  • “up” [__]
  • “down” [__]
  • “that” [__]
  • “then” [__]
  • “as” [__]

b. Search for “-ly” adverbs. Do not overuse. Consider changing prose. [__]

c. Search for generic physical action words to see if these need to be more descriptive.

  • “went” [__]
  • “walked” [__]
  • “moved” [__]
  • “ran” [__]

d. Search for generic cognitive words to see if these need to be more descriptive.

  • “watched” [__]
  • “wondered” [__]
  • “realized” [__]
  • “knew” [__]
  • “thought” [__]
  • “saw” / “could see” [__]
  • “felt”/ “could feel” [__]
  • “heard” / “could hear” [__]

e. Search for generic descriptive words to see if the prose needs to be more specific.

  • “looked” [__]
  • “appeared” [__]

5. Repeat #2. [   ]

6. Do a slow proofread from page 1 to the end. Watch for scenes that require more detail to visualize adequately, repeated words in paragraphs, POV errors, dialogue flow, and punctuation. Especially look at dialog tags and comma usage. [__]

7. Repeat #2 and #3. [__]

8. Do a final proofread. [__]

 Proofread Checklist:

First Proofread Second Proofread Final Proofread
Chapter 1 Chapter 1 Chapter 1
Chapter 2 Chapter 2 Chapter 2
Chapter 3 Chapter 3 Chapter 3
Chapter 4 Chapter 4 Chapter 4
Chapter 5 Chapter 5 Chapter 5
Chapter 6 Chapter 6 Chapter 6
Chapter 7 Chapter 7 Chapter 7
Chapter 8 Chapter 8 Chapter 8
Chapter 9 Chapter 9 Chapter 9
Chapter 10 Chapter 10 Chapter 10
Chapter 11 Chapter 11 Chapter 11
Chapter 12 Chapter 12 Chapter 12
Chapter 13 Chapter 13 Chapter 13
Chapter 14 Chapter 14 Chapter 14
Chapter 15 Chapter 15 Chapter 15
Chapter 16 Chapter 16 Chapter 16
Chapter 17 Chapter 17 Chapter 17
Chapter 18 Chapter 18 Chapter 18
Chapter 19 Chapter 19 Chapter 19
Chapter 20 Chapter 20 Chapter 20
Chapter 21 Chapter 21 Chapter 21
Chapter 22 Chapter 22 Chapter 22
Chapter 23 Chapter 23 Chapter 23
Chapter 24 Chapter 24 Chapter 24
Advertisements

About Dave

A reader and writer of speculative fiction. See my website for more information on me and my writing. https://dlmorrese.wordpress.com/

Posted on January 27, 2012, in Self Publishing, Writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Long time after the post but just got to the link from Goodreads. Some excellent points

    • Just spotted this reference to the “comma-usage tipsheet” and went and looked at it. I am a “minimal commas” writer, but most of what they had sounded reasonable. However I disagree with, and very much dislike, number 5, “Commas separate descriptive modifiers of equal rank. If you can use adjectives interchangeably and can successfully insert the conjunction “and” between them, they are coordinate and require a comma.” Putting a comma in such a place seems to me to break the train of thought, so I don’t use one. To me, “She wore a frilly pink hat” sounds better without the comma. I maintain that this one is an “author’s voice” issue, but lord help you if you get a “Grammar Nazi” editor.

  2. Great list! Thanks, Jennifer.

  3. I think comma usage is to some extent a matter of “author’s voice.” I tend to use commas to provide a “mental pause” or “mental separation” and therefore I omit them when I don’t want that separation. Always fighting with my editors who try to put in commas I don’t think are needed. I think my style comes from many tears of computer programming experience. Oh, and I always use that “Oxford comma.”

  4. Very good reminders of things all writers should know, but often forget. Thanks,

    Mary S,. Palmer

  5. There are some real advocates of the Oxford comma and some who seem to loath it. Personally, I like it because it clears up possible confusion. There is a difference between ‘bread and butter,’ and ‘bread, and butter.’ One implies the butter is on the bread, the other makes it clear they are separate. Oddly, I just had a conversation with my copy editor (an Oxford comma loather) who implied my use of it was redundant. Oh well. You can’t make everyone happy.

  6. Thanks for this. Just a quick point regarding the comma… I think I’ll still avoid using the “Oxford comma” (i.e. the one used before the word “and” in a list of things) just because its not really standard in British English. So for us across the pond in Blighty we have to remember we might have some slightly different rules to follow.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: