The beautiful part of writing is that you don’t have to get it right the first time, unlike, say, a brain surgeon.
Author of The Chocolate War
The most complex publishing job I ever had was managing editor of the Journal of the American Optometric Association. We worked on three issues at a time, which isn’t uncommon, and paid close attention to detail, which is common in medical publishing.
My experience there helped me develop a thorough system of copyediting for medical writing. Some of it doesn’t translate well into other writing styles, so I’m focusing on the aspects that do. The process is not pretty or sexy. The editing/copyediting system is a list of items I checked to ensure that the manuscript was factual, used proper grammar and followed our publishing style. I didn't read every manuscript 17 times, but would combine several steps to maximize my time and effort.
These 17 steps may not cover every aspect of your writing project, but it may help you develop your own consistent style, which can generate cleaner copy regardless of what you write.
1) Capital letters (all proper nouns)
2) Begin parenthesis/quotations – end parenthesis/quotations
3) Names and titles consistent – you can’t check names/titles too many times
4) References in order
5) Commas (especially before “ands,” and “which”)
6) Page endings (in galleys – check for lost words between pages)
7) Contractions (consistent use)
8) Very, really, just, that and then (most can be removed without changing meaning)
9) Read aloud, and read backwards for spelling
10) Perspective (consistent use of first or third person)
11) Subhead styles match (first letter upper case, all others lower, no punctuation at end)
12) Mark the end of every line that has changes (helps them stand out on hard copies)
13) All question marks addressed and answered*
14) Consistent use of present or past tense
15) Correct use of hyphens, especially for compound modifiers
16) Sentence fragments and run-on sentences eliminated
17) Numbers (consistent use, check publication style manual)
*When a question arises while my writing is going well, I don’t want to stop and look it up. I mark the spot with three question marks in a row. Later, when I’m editing, I do a search for three question marks, and can go back to each question and answer it before I turn in my assignment.
Writers shouldn't be intimidated by what some might call the mysterious editing process. Like any art form, it is a craft that can be learned and improved with practice. So use these steps to edit yourself right into more publications. And don't forget to share your editing process!