Grammar Girl's Editing Checklist

At the end of a recent writing webcast, we distributed a Grammar Girl editing checklist that turned out to be so popular we decided to make it widely available. Print out the checklist and keep it on your desk as a handy reference to use when you're editing. PRINTABLE PDF IS AT THE BOTTOM.

Mignon Fogarty

 Wrong Word

affect/effect, lay/lie, sit/set, who/whom, toward/towards, etc.

 Vague Pronoun Reference

Confusing: Bob annoyed Larry, but that didn’t stop him from asking for a meeting.
Clear: Bob annoyed Larry, but that didn’t stop Larry from asking for a meeting.

More about vague pronouns.

 Lack of Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement

Frequently Disparaged: Everyone withdrew their money.
Uncontroversial: Everyone withdrew his or her money.
Uncontroversial: People withdrew their money.

More about they and their as gender-neutral pronouns.

  Missing or Unnecessary Capitalization

Capitalize proper nouns: The names of things, such as the Golden Gate Bridge.
Lowercase common nouns: Descriptions, such as that famous bridge.

More about capitalization.

☐ Unnecessary Shift in Verb Tense

Wrong: John Wilkes Booth barricaded the door while Lincoln is watching the play.
Right: John Wilkes Booth barricaded the door while Lincoln watched the play.

More about mixing verb tenses and switching verb tense.

  Sentence Fragments

Sentence fragments aren’t always wrong, but don’t use them accidentally.

Fragments: Because she was late. And I held the door.

More about sentence fragments.

☐ Monotonous Sentence Structure

Monotonous: We were late. I called the office. Bob answered the phone. Bob told Sue. Sue stalled the investors.
Better: I called the office because we were late. Bob answered the phone and told Sue, who stalled the investors.

More about sentence structure.

  Adjective Drift

Confusing: The property has seasonal creeks and trail access.
Clear: The property has trail access and seasonal creeks.

  Unnecessary Adverbs and Prepositions

Bloated: I was very angry that Bob sat down on the wet paint.
Better: I was furious that Bob sat on the wet paint.

More on adverbs and prepositions.

  Parallelism Errors

Not Parallel: Kids like singing, chatting, and check their phones.
Parallel: Kids like singing, chatting, and checking their phones.

More about parallel construction.

☐ Passive Voice

Passive voice isn’t wrong, but active sentences are often better.

Passive: The bell was rung by zombies.
Active: Zombies rang the bell.

More about active voice and passive voice.

☐ “There Are” Sentences

You can often improve on sentences that start with There are.

Not great: There are usually 54 cards in a deck.
Better: A deck usually has 54 cards.

More about sentences that start with There are and There is.

☐ Jargon

Jargon: You can often improve on expletive sentences.
More Accessible: You can often improve on sentences that start with There are.

More about writing with jargon

☐ Missing Comma After Introductory Element

Wrong: In the past we bought vinyl records.
Right: In the past, we bought vinyl records.

  Unnecessary Comma

Wrong: Bob likes pandas, and visits the zoo often.
Right: Bob likes pandas and visits the zoo often.

☐ Comma Splice

Wrong: I ate cake, I played games.
Right: I ate cake, and I played games.
Right: I ate cake and played games.

More about the comma splice.

  Run-On Sentences

Wrong: I ate cake I played games.
Right: I ate cake, and I played games.
Right: I ate cake and played games.

More about run-on sentences.

☐ Missing Comma in a Compound Sentence

Wrong: All my friends came over for my birthday Tuesday and Bobby visited me the next day.
Right: All my friends came over for my birthday Tuesday, and Bobby visited me the next day.

  Missing Comma with a Nonrestrictive Element

Wrong: Shoes which are worn on your feet come in many styles.
Right: Shoes, which are worn on your feet, come in many styles.

More about commas and nonrestrictive elements.

  Mechanical Problems with Quotations

In the U.S., periods and commas go inside the closing quotation mark. Semicolons, colons, and dashes go outside the closing quotation mark. The position of question marks and exclamation points varies: They stay with their question or exclamation.

Correct: She yelled, “Help!” I won a copy of “Wrecking Ball”! She asked, “Are you hungry?” Did he just say, “We in Hungary”?

More about punctuating quotations.

☐ Quotation Marks for Emphasis

Wrong: “Free” soda on Saturdays.
Right: Free soda on Saturdays.

☐ Apostrophe Errors

Nouns take apostrophes to become possessive. Pronouns don’t. It's means “it is” or “it has.” Its is the possessive form of it. Acronyms, initialisms, and years don’t take apostrophes to become plural (CDs, 1980s).

  Unnecessary or Missing Hyphen

Don’t hyphenate phrasal verbs.

Wrong: Log-in to your account.
Right: Log in to your account.

Do hyphenate compound adjectives. These mean different things: silver jewelry cart and silver-jewelry cart.

More about hyphens.

☐ Spelling Errors

Remember to run a spellcheck. It’s obvious but easy to forget.

☐ Search for these words and phrases to do a quick check: there are, it is, its, it’s, your, you’re, their, and they’re.

editing checklist for pinterest


PDF image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Checklist image courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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