At Liberal America, putting out polished, professional content is important to us. Nothing will discredit a writer or a website more quickly than poorly written content that is laden with grammar, spelling, and formatting issues.
With that said, we can longer afford editors. Here’s why.
Because we no longer employ editors, all of our wonderful volunteer contributors have to self-edit. We found these great tips at author Nina Amir’s site and have revised them slightly for our purposes here at Liberal America. Use these tips BEFORE submitting your article to ensure that you’re submitting your best work. If you have repeated problems with your articles, the first thing we are going to ask you is if you use this checklist.
Quick tip: definitely read all of this, but one thing you can do is save just the bold headers if you want a quick desk-aide. Copy and paste it, editing out the extra text, and print it to keep on your desk. Or save it as a Word doc, or an Evernote note. Or hand-write it and tape it to the wall over your desk. Whatever works for you!
1. Read your article aloud.
When you read your work aloud, it sounds different—even different than it sounded in your head as you wrote and revised. So prior to submitting a post, read it aloud looking for errors and things to improve.
This is a step that most writers omit. “Meh….that won’t help me,” you may think. Trust me, it will. Do this. Do it every single time. I promise you that it will help you catch most of your grammar mistakes and awkwardly worded sentences.
2. Reread your article from your readers’ point of view.
Your article must provide benefit to your readers and address their interests and concerns at all times. By rereading with a reader’s primary question—“What’s it in for me?”—in mind, you might find a number of ways to improve each article you write.
Write every article with the assumption that you are educating a reader. An extreme example that I always use is “assume that your reader doesn’t know that Barack Obama is president of the United States.” With this assumption in mind, you’ll never begin an article with “Obama said this…”. You’ll begin it with “Pres. Obama said this…”
While most of your readers will definitely know who the president of the U.S. is, don’t assume that they read as much about politics and news as you do. They may not be aware of who the name of the House majority leader is, whether or not Paul Ryan is a senator or a representative and which state he represents, that Vladmir Putin is president of Russia, which state Scott Walker governs, etc…
3. Make sure all verbs are strong and active.
Use action verbs whenever possible. Also, double check that you have noun/verb agreement throughout. Simply search every sentence for the verb. Then rewrite or revise as necessary.
Always use active voice and avoid passive voice.
4. Cut unnecessary words.
Eliminate all unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. Let your nouns, verbs and dialogue, if you have used any, do the work. Try to tighten all your sentences. Look for words that do little work, such as “that,” “very,” and “just.” I’ve been known to cut the word-count of a blog post in half simply with this step, and the same methodology can be used to cut or improve a book manuscript.
Remember in college how we’d add lots of “that” and “because” and “very” trying to meet our word and/or page count quota? Do just the opposite here. Say as much as you possibly can in as few words as possible. A good article: How to Write Clear Sentences from Grammar Girl
5. Recheck all quotes and names.
Double-check all quotes. Do the same for names, visiting to your sources’ websites whenever possible. If you feel uncomfortable about a quote in any way, or you think your source might not like the quote or how you used it, ask them to approve it.
At Liberal America, we don’t do a lot of interviews, but if you do an interview, follow this tip. Also, be sure to check your quotes and provide a reference link for quotes. Be careful to not take a quote out of context. That’s a right wing nut job media thing. We don’t do that.
Example: Don’t say: “Joe Blow Said All Dogs Should Be Put To Sleep” if what he really said is “Joe Blow Republican Senator Said All Dogs Should Be Put To Sleep If They Have Rabies.” Context.
Definitely check name spellings, ALWAYS. It’s horrible to see a writer make the mistake of “Michelle Bachman” when it’s “Michele Bachmann.” Bad rookie move!
6. Make sure you retain point of view.
Check that you haven’t started with first-person tense and changed to the third-person perspective along the way. Also, if you have referred to the reader as “you” and then switched to “he” or “she,” or even begun writing in the plural “we,” rewrite for consistency.
Establish your own voice early on and stick with that.
7. Check all punctuation and grammar.
Even if this is not your forte, go through the manuscript and look for punctuation and grammar errors. Get a good grammar book and use it to help you correct mistakes—or to find them. Or use Grammarly or spellcheck (in Word) to check for you.
You are professional writers. There is a difference between a typo or occasional mistake and plain ole’ not knowing. The editor’s time is valuable. They could be writing to make money of their own. They are allotted 10 minutes to edit and publish a document. If it takes more than this, it goes back to draft for writers to fix.
There are some great minds out there — people who have great things to say but aren’t proficient in grammar and spelling. Unfortunately, we don’t have the budget or resources to work with these great people. Our writers have to be top-notch.
8. Read backward.
Reading your posts from the end to the beginning, word by word, can be hard and tedious, but you’d be surprised what you find if you read each post, or your whole manuscript, in reverse.
You can try it with sentences, too. Start at the bottom of your article and read each sentence aloud.
9. Read from the hard copy.
We often end up proofreading our posts or manuscripts on the computer screen. By switching to a hard copy—the printed version, your eye see something totally different.
In the interest of saving trees (and money), this isn’t a tip I use for articles I write. In the past, when writing training manuals or technical papers, I did this. If it works for you and you have a big printing budget, go for it!
This website allows you to print a webpage without all the extraneous stuff like ads.
10. Use tools that will help you.
Microsoft Word, Grammarly, and other tools will help you catch a lot of your mistakes. If grammar and spelling is a challenge for you, type your work (or copy and paste) into one of these.
WordPress has a spell-check. It just isn’t as accurate as Word. If you are using Chrome. there is a feature that allows you to plug into Google for spell-check but I have never used that feature.
When you see a red line under a word, RIGHT click on it. If you don’t see the prompt on the pull down menu, a couple of right clicks generally forces it to show up as a pop-up box where you can opt to use it.
If you want to type in Word you can. But if you do so, paste it into notepad once finished… then copy it from notepad and paste into WordPress. If you don’t, it will transfer coding issues… which could make it look stupid bad ugly. When it’s bad, you can’t fix it unless you remove all the code in text editor. And that’s tedious and time-consuming.