This blog lists 15 quick and easy self editing checks for your manuscript, prior to professional editing and self publishing. Each check features the most common errors I see as a professional editor. Working methodically through these checks and fixing these errors will ensure your manuscript is tighter, formatted consistently and professionally presented.
1) Rogue spacing
Once upon a time, two spaces were used between sentences. Not any more! We’ve moved past the old, traditional word processing teachings and now only one space is needed.
A quick way to fix this throughout your whole Word manuscript in one go is:
Edit ––– Find ––– Replace ––– [two spaces in the find box] ––– [one space in the replace box] ––– Replace all.
2) Uniform font, size and spacing
A quick way to fix the font style and size throughout your whole Word manuscript in one go is:
Ctrl + A ––– [choose one font style and size].
There’s no need to enlarge headings or change margins. All that can be done at the formatting stage.
A quick way to fix the spacing throughout your whole Word manuscript in one go is:
Format ––– Paragraph ––– Line spacing: 1.5 lines.
You can also choose this as default setting for your future documents too.
3) Full stops at the end of all sentences
Full stops can be easily missed but work through each sentence methodically to make sure they’re there (and not randomly placed anywhere else!).
4) Random capitalisation
If it’s not the start of a sentence or a proper noun (name of a person, place or event, for example: Christmas), it doesn’t need a capital letter. Simple as that! However, if you do choose to capitalise specific words for any reason, ensure you capitalise them consistently throughout the entire manuscript.
Plural nouns NEVER need an apostrophe, not even for abbreviations, for example: Mondays, coffees, 1980s, CDs etc.
You are contracted ALWAYS needs an apostrophe to replace the missing ‘a’: you’re.
Apostrophes are placed after plural nouns to show possession, for example:
- The dogs’ toys (more than one dog)
- The cats’ whiskers (more than one cat)
- The babies’ rattles (more than one baby)
6) Consistent names/spellings of names
Make sure Suzanne doesn’t become Susan half way through! Keep track with a list of all your characters’ first names and surnames.
Also, beware of confusing readers by using similar names for different characters, for example: Laura/Lara, Carly/Cally, Kerry/Kelly, Dan/Dane etc.
7) Consistent use of italics
Italics are most commonly used for: asides, thoughts and titles of works within your novel. For example:
What shall I do? he thought.
Whatever (else) you choose to use italics for, make sure you’re consistent throughout your manuscript.
8) Dialogue tags
There’s no need to vary your dialogue tags because you think said isn’t expressive enough, for example: uttered, retorted, vocalised etc.
Said, replied and asked work perfectly.
Also, character actions are NOT dialogue tags. Any action should form its own sentence, for example:
“Right then.” She smiled.
9) Correct speech punctuation
Use a dialogue tag to show when a character is speaking/has spoken, for example:
“I should have known,” she said.
The dialogue itself and the dialogue tag forms a whole sentence so use a comma before the closing speech marks and lower case for ‘she’.
The same applies even if the dialogue is a question or an exclamation, for example:
“How should I know?” he asked.
The dialogue itself and the dialogue tag forms a whole sentence so use lower case for ‘he’ even after a question mark or exclamation mark.
10) Consistent use of single or double speech marks
Generally, the UK convention is to use double speech marks while the US convention is to use one. However, as an indie author, it is your preference. It is also important to consider reported speech within direct speech, for example:
“What did he say?” she asked, twisting her hair around her fingers.
“He said ‘over my dead body’ and stalked off!” Annie replied.
If the reported speech – ‘over my dead body’ – also used double speech marks, the same as the direct speech, it might confuse readers:
“He said “over my dead body” and stalked off!” Annie replied.
Therefore, it is often better (although not necessarily essential) to differentiate between the two for clarity. However, as long as who is saying what is obvious to your readers, there are no hard and fast rules about speech/quotation marks, except one – be consistent throughout the entire manuscript!
11) Mixed up homophones/confused words
Next in 15 quick and easy self editing checks for your manuscript, is mixed up homophones or confused words. The Oxford English Dictionary lists the most commonly confused words but others I have spotted in published books lately are:
If you’re not sure of a word’s meaning or spelling, simply look it up!
It’s also worth checking your manuscript for common typos, including:
Can you think of any more?
12) Consistent use of UK/US meanings/spellings
As an indie author, it’s your choice to write in UK or US English (or another language entirely). Whichever you choose, just make sure you’re consistent throughout.
Some UK/US meaning variations include:
A full list of the spelling variations can be found here: UK vs US spelling list.
13) Consistent use of numbers, dates and times
As with names, spellings and use of italics, consistency is key when it comes to numbers, dates and times too. Mixing numerical digits with written words, or formatting dates and times differently throughout your manuscript looks amateurish. Therefore, make sure your numbers, dates and times are all consistent, for example:
12 OR 24 hour clock / if 12 hour clock, use am and pm OR a.m. and p.m. / if 24 hour clock, use 15.00 OR 15:00
Written OR numerical dates / if written, use 1st January 2020 OR January 1st 2020 (or without st/nd/rd/th) / if numerical, use 01.01.2020 OR 01/01/2020
14) Repeated words in the same sentence/paragraph
Thanks to dictionaries and thesauruses, it’s easy to avoid repeating a word, or a variation of a word in the same sentence or paragraph, for example:
She stood and stormed out of the room – she refused to stand for his nonsense. (stood/stand repeated)
“You’re important to me, to all of us,” he said, stressing the importance of her role in their family. (important/importance repeated)
Be aware of repetition and self edit accordingly.
15) Overly long sentences
Unless you’re writing literary fiction and deliberately want to wow readers with your flowery prose, avoid overly complex sentences. Go through your manuscript and check where longer sentences could be streamlined, or chopped into two (or three). Aim for a steady rhythm throughout. Reading your story aloud (or using the read aloud function on your laptop) can help with this.
If you’ve found 15 quick and easy self editing checks for your manuscript helpful, please check out these other self editing posts:
How to self edit dialogue mistakes
5 editing terms indie authors should know
How to cut the clutter for page-turning prose
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