Checklists for Editors

I am a very systematic person, probably attributed to my type A personality. And as part of my methodical approach, I use checklists to keep me organized and to help my scattered brain remember and think of all the things.  

I have made these checklists available for you to download and modify to suit your needs. Additionally, I walk you through my system and process for using the checklists.

If you also have a great system, leave a comment explaining what works for you. It is great to learn from others. 

Description of the Checklists

  • Copyediting Checklist: A list of grammar and punctuation concepts I have to make a conscious effort to look for. These are errors I more easily gloss over. So this is obviously not an extensive list of everything to look for while copyediting as I don’t need reminders for the grammar and punctuation concepts I naturally notice and fix.

  • Substantive(Developmental) Editing Fiction Checklist: A list of big-picture issues to keep in mind when editing a fiction manuscript.

  • Substantive (Developmental) Editing Nonfiction Checklist: A list of big-picture issues to keep in mind when editing a nonfiction manuscript.

  • Editorial Process Checklist: This walks me through the steps I go through with each client during each stage: intake, editing round one, editing round two, and finishing the project. These checklists reference tasks I need to mark in mytrackers, which are available for purchase.

The Downloads

How I Use the Editing Checklists

Prep and Materials

  • Make however many copies you need of each (Since I sometimes have three projects at a time in various stages, I made three copies of each.)
  • Note: If you are going to use the document holder, do not make them double-sided. The substantive nonfiction checklist is two pages. My substantive fiction checklist is two pages, but the one I have provided for you is only one page as the second page is specific information found in Jennifer Lawler’s DE Detective Class.

  • Put them in sheet protectors so you can write on them with wet erase markers

  • Place them inside a three-ring binder

  • Get two document book holdersto prop up your lists near your computer station

  • Get some wet-erase markersfor taking notes on your lists

Other Items in Binder


My binder has other resources, not just my checklists. While I am not usually paper based and I love to use technology, I prefer to have these items on paper so I don’t have to minimize my editing document to open another Word document.

  • CMoS hyphenation table
  • Grammar and punctuation cheat sheet (This is essentially extended notes on the concepts found on my copyediting checklist. It has rules and examples for the concepts I struggle with.)
  • Substantive fiction editing notes (These are notes gathered from various fiction editing classes dealing with the topics on my checklist.)
  • Word tricks and shortcuts reference list

The Process

  1. Write the client name and project title on top of the checklist using the wet-erase marker.

  2. Place the substantive or copyediting checklist, whichever one you need, for the current project in your document holder. Since the checklists are two pages long, I put one in each document holder.

  3. Mark the checklist and add to it for that particular project to create a customized checklist.

    • If you do a read-through round: write notes on the substantive checklist of things to edit for that particular project. For example, if the manuscript has some head-hopping, circle heading-hopping in the point-of-view box and note where this occurred.


    • If you launch right into the editing: during the first pass, glance at the checklist before each chapter to remind you of things to keep in mind. As you edit, circle the author’s biggest weaknesses on the checklist and make note of things to watch out for in the second pass. After finishing the first pass, you have the full context so you can note additional things to watch out for during your second pass.

  1. Repeat step three with the copyediting checklist as needed.

  2. When you are done working on a particular project for that day, place the checklist back in the binder. If you are only working on one project at a time, then you can just keep the checklist in the document holder.

  3. Once the project is finished, clean off the checklist. (I just spray it with a water bottle and wipe it with these auto shop towels.)

This is my binder. Before the tabs, I have all three copies for each of the checklists. I store them in here when not being used. Marked ones go back in here as well when I am not currently working on that project.
This is for a nonfiction client. I added some things to the list that were specific for his project in a given category. Then during my second pass, I made sure to focus on those.
This is my fiction substantive checklist on the document holders. My desktop computer screen has the edited manuscript, then my tablet screen is for the style sheet and dictionary and internet browsing.

How I Use the Editorial Process Checklist

Prep and Materials

  • Print out one single-sided copy of the checklist and put each sheet in a sheet protector

  • *Colored wet-erase markers

  • Either post it on a corkboard or a white board with a magnet in your office

*I choose to use wet-erase versus dry-erase markers because my daughter, my cat, or myself could accidentally erase it if it were dry erase.

The Process

  1. Assign each current project a color. If you have your checklist on a whiteboard, you can write the project title and stage it is on in the assigned color above the checklist.

  2. As you complete a task for that project, make a checkmark using a wet-erase marker in the assigned color.

  3. Once a particular project is finished, erase the checkmarks for that project, so all you have remaining are the checkmarks for any current projects.

On my whiteboard, I list my current projects in their assigned color, with the stage they are on; the projects I have completed a sample for but haven't heard back yet on whether I was hired; and all future projects with their start date. I have a little area for space to take notes above the checklists. I also have the back side for note-taking when my husband creates my turntable, as the whiteboard is double-sided.

I added a picture of just the checklist since it is hard to see on the board. Using the wet-erase markers, I have checked off each stage in the assigned color for each project. 

When this picture was taken, I had sent the invoice for the green project and was awaiting payment before I sent the final. When this project is done, the green marks will be erased and the next new project will be assigned green. 

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