Editing a Manuscript

I used to offer a course called How to Get Published. One of the topics I discussed was editing a manuscript before submitting it to an editor. Her are the basic points I’d go over.

Spelling, Grammar and Punctuation: Go through the manuscript and correct spelling mistakes, punctuation and grammar. If a manuscript is riddled with these mistakes, an editor has the right to reject it after a dozen or so pages. These mistakes tell the editor that you may be too lazy to look up the word or that you are careless. It also means the entire manuscript will require extra time and effort to read and edit.

Time = Money = Less Profit


What can you do?

Get a good dictionary. And use it! Keep it near, so it is less of an effort. A quick look can provide the precise word you are looking for. This is particularly important when words such as isle and aisle sound the same but have different meanings. Even the experts use dictionaries. Some have more than one because one dictionary doesn’t serve every purpose. If you feel intimidated by a dictionary, pick it up and begin flipping through it. Read the introduction – the part everyone skips at the front that explains how to use a dictionary. You don’t have to know the meaning to every symbol. You want it for spelling and meanings.

Use spell check. I know. Many say, don’t use it. I say use it, but don’t depend on it as your only source. Their and there are both right and will not be picked up by spell check. But their and thier will be highlighted. Spell check will eliminate about 80% of spelling mistakes – the rest are up to you.

Diane Lynn Tibert
sillie spelling misstakes can make U feel like a . . . .well, you know.

Post notes. For those annoying words and grammar usages that keep dogging you, post a note at your desk. Eventually, after referring and looking at it for a few months, it might just stick in your head.

Keep learning. You don’t have to sit down for an hour a day and study word spellings and grammar rules, but an hour or so a week can be set aside for spelling, grammar, punctuation and increasing your vocabulary.

Some websites, such as Merriam-Webster send a ‘word of the day’ right to your inbox. This not only increases your vocabulary, but reminds you of the correct spelling and the exact meaning of words you do know. It also provides history on the word of the day which increases your knowledge on how to use it.

There are many publications to help with grammar, spelling and sentence structure:

The Bare Essentials – English Writing Skills by Sarah Norton and Brian Green

Grammar & Usage by Webster’s, the dictionary people

Dictionary of Problem words and expressions by Harry Shaw

The average dictionary contains grammar and capitalization rules in the back.

      . . . and dozens more

If you want and if you are able, take a class to help you through the grammar maze. Universities and other institutions offer stand-alone classes to hone your skills. Many run for only two or three hours a week in a three to four month time slot.

Have a second person read the manuscript. Others can pick up mistakes we miss, even if we have read the manuscript a dozen times. We are attached to our writing, and this makes it difficult, sometimes impossible, to spot our mistakes.

At one workshop I attended on editing, the facilitator suggested reading the text backwards to pick up mistakes. I tried that. It didn’t work for me, but it might for you.

TIP: Individuals are more likely to miss a mistake on a computer screen than on paper. To find mistakes easier, increase font size and change the font. If the manuscript was typed in Times New Roman, then change it to Courier. Personally, I prefer to print the manuscript for the final edit. On the computer screen, the text is 11 or 10 point (so I can see a larger section of writing), Times New Roman. When I print to edit, I use 12 point, Courier New. Reading the text in a different font tricks your eyes in to believing they haven’t seen this writing before. It is easier for writers to spot mistakes in another person’s writing than their own.

REMINDER: Years ago, the average typed page held about 250 words (double-spaced). Today’s computers now produce a page with an average of 350 words (double-spaced).

9 thoughts on “Editing a Manuscript

  1. Great tips! I hadn’t thought of the font thing, but it makes perfect sense! 🙂
    I have one more to “trick” the mind: Reading out loud. I find that it is especially useful when editing dialogue, but also for passages that I am not entirely certain of. It forces me to read more slowly, and sometimes I can pick up alliterations, repetitions of certain words, and so on more easily.


  2. Lots of good tips, Diane.

    I always like to print off my manuscript and proof read it. Our eyes become so accustomed to the screen that our brain reads what it thinks is there rather than what really is.


    • I agree, Laura. I didn’t believe it myself until I printed something off. The mistakes were so obvious on paper, but not on the screen. It’s weird how the brain works.

      Thanks for visiting.


  3. For me, it’s so much easier to do final edits in hard copy. You’d be amazed how many mistakes are caught that I simply don’t see on the computer screen.


    • I’m like you, Tracy. I always print before I send. Each time I print, I use a different font. Not only does it appear fresh, I know by the font which draft (1st, 2nd, 3rd), I’m working on.



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