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Structural Editing


1. Target your audience – Identify the audience that cares about your topic, and use the communication style of this audience. For example, a book for young children may require fewer than two sentences per page, while an introduction to auto mechanics might benefit more from diagrams than from long paragraphs.

2. Structure the storyFiction: One good structure is to describe the setting, characters, motivations, and obstacles, show how these obstacles force difficult choices, and then show how the consequences of these choices change the worldview of the characters.

Nonfiction: Summarize the main idea of the book at the beginning and the end of the book, and summarize the main idea of each chapter at the beginning and end of the chapter. Each paragraph should have one sentence that summarizes its main idea. Each paragraph should transition to the paragraph before or after it.

3. Develop the characters/conceptsFiction: Create believable protagonists and antagonists by describing both negative and positive qualities for every character. Make character actions more believable by describing character motivations and goals. Create a character arc for characters by showing how a conflict changes their worldview.

Nonfiction: Say why the information is important and how the reader can use it. Build the ideas in a logical progression by introducing basic concepts first. Use analogies, examples, metaphors, and anecdotes to illustrate the practical application of the ideas. The most powerful type of example is one that sounds like a story and describes scenes using the five senses.

4. Order ideas logically, without gaps - For a bird’s eye view of the sequence of ideas for the entire book, write each major section of your manuscript as one sentence. For 40,000 words across 20 chapters, you might write 20 sentences to cover all the major ideas. This allow you to see your entire book on one sheet of paper. The series of 20 sentences should tell a story or teach an idea. If any sentence seems unnecessary or out of order, the corresponding chapter is likely also unnecessary or out of order. Use this abbreviated version of your book to make large structural improvements.

5. Build or relieve tension with pacing – Pacing is the progress of the storyline relative to the progress of the reader across the pages. Action can be slowed by adding descriptive details, describing fewer events in more words, and increasing sentence length. The inverse of these can speed up slow parts. Go through and label large sections of your text as slow, medium, or fast for a bird’s eye view.

6. Maximize the emotional journey - Label the major sections of your story for emotional tone. For example, use blue for informational, yellow for tense, red for climactic, and green for comedic. Exciting red can become overwhelming when prolonged, while relaxing blue can become boring.

Preparing Your Manuscript for An Editor: Formatting & Self-Editing

Pre-editor Formatting

This type of formatting is not the same as the professional interior formatting your book will undergo after editing. This is simple formatting  on a manuscript in MS Word that gives your editor a clean and consistent document to work with. None of these styles will be in your final book -- you will tell your designer your aesthetic preferences after editing is done.

First, save a backup copy of your document under a new name in case of any issues.


  • 12-point Times New Roman font

  • 1” margins all around

  • Double-spaced

  • Indented paragraphs (Do not use Tab  over and over -- use the Paragraph dialogue box or leave it as is)


For your structural editor, clearly marking the structure of the book's ideas is essential. You do not have to use the styling below as long as all items at the same hierarchy level have identical styling.

  • Style all chapter headers as 16-point font and bold

  • Style all sub-section headers as 12-point font and italics

  • Style all sub-sub-section headers as 12-point font and underlined

Please do the following only if you know how:

  • Highlight the entire manuscript, and in the Paragraph dialogue box, select: 

    • General: Alignment: Left

    • Indentation: Special: First line

    • Indentation: By: 0.5 inches

    • Spacing: Before: 0

    • Spacing: After: 0

    • Spacing: Line Spacing: Double

    • Check "Don't add space between paragraphs of the same style"

  • Use only one space between sentences. Double-spacing between sentences is from the days of typing on old-fashioned typewriters. To remove double spacing throughout, do a Find & Replace operation where you search for two spaces and replace with one. Repeat the operation until zero instances are found.

  • Make all text black by selecting the entire ms and clicking Text Color: black.

  • Remove highlights by selecting the entire ms and clicking Highlight: none.

Self-editing Checklist

The guide that follows describes 29 common issues you can check before sending your manuscript back to your editor for each read. While not required, repairing basic errors in advance allows editors to focus efforts on complex errors, and can in some cases save you money if your preparation reduces the number of read-throughs needed.

Generally, the editing process involves three steps:

1. Developmental/structural editors analyze the overall structure and order of ideas, specifically plot and character development in fiction and idea development in non-fiction. Developmental editors also critique pacing, voice, tone, and appropriateness for the target audience.​


2. Line/substantive editors review more closely, for comprehension and appeal. Line editors note redundant words or ideas, awkward phrasing, weak word choice, wordiness, clichés, and factual errors.


3. Copy editors scan for technical adherence to publishing standards. Copy editors check spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, hyphenation, and numbers.

***The most impactful exercise you can do before your first edit is #4 from the structural editing category. Outline your book with summaries so that the entire book fits on a single page, and then analyze the outline to see the "big picture" of what structural changes your book needs: adding, removing, or reordering entire chapters or paragraphs. If you choose to do this exercise, please submit the outline as a separate document when you submit your manuscript.***

Enjoy working on your book!

Line Editing



1. Tighten your wording – Practically every manuscript has areas that use more words than needed. Look for ways to express the same idea in fewer words.


2. Minimize modifiers – Anywhere you use an adverb or adjective, try to strengthen the noun or verb so that it doesn’t need a modifier.

Ex: “She happily remembered.”  -->  “She reminisced.”


3. Use strong verbs and nouns – Minimize the use of “is,” “has,” “gets,” “goes,” “says,” and “thing.”

Ex: “There was a worker who was right in saying that they needed to get a thing that does etching.”  -->  “One worker rightly insisted on ordering an etching machine.”

4. Minimize overused words and phrases – Press Ctrl + F to bring up the “Find” function in Word, and search for the root of the word.

Ex: Search for “pontificat” to find all instances of pontificate, pontificated, and pontificating. Consider replacing some of these instances with synonyms.


5. Leverage extended metaphors, aka “conceits”– If you find yourself repeating a metaphor several times, consider using each instance to build on the previous instance. This will come across as one instance of an extended metaphor, rather than several redundant instances of a regular metaphor.


6. Use active voice – A sentence is in passive voice if the main noun is being acted upon, rather than doing the acting.

Ex: “They were handed an award.”  -->  “The host handed them an award.”

7. Show instead of telling – Rather than saying that Jill loves Jack, describe the way she arranges his food on the plate in a design, dumps it back into the pot, grabs a fresh plate, and arranges it again. Rather than telling us that Jack is remodeling the kitchen, describe the sawdust stuck to his sweat when he rests a hammer on the microwave.




8. Follow a logical progression – Anywhere you refer to a concept, technical term, character, or place, make sure that you have already introduced and defined  this item somewhere earlier in the text. Also, a guide should explain steps in their real life sequence, and stories should be explained chronologically. Deviations from this (e.g., en media res) should be clear and for a good reason.


9. Improve unnatural phrasing or tone – Complicated syntax or unexpected tone can make some sentences confusing even if they are grammatically correct. Some examples are mechanical or formal words in emotional passages and flowery language in academic passages.


10. Improve flow – When your eye moves backward or you pause on a line, it’s usually an indication that you are automatically searching for clarification. Note all these areas of backward movement and look for ways to improve the syntax or word choice. At the end of editing, read your entire manuscript out loud to see where it rolls off your tongue and where it stumbles.




11. Verify facts and claims – Look up facts and include references if appropriate.


12. Internal consistency – If the same character has blue eyes on page 12, but brown eyes on page 97, pick a color and stick with it. If a music textbook defines the technical term “beat” and then later uses the synonym “pulse,” it may be unclear to the reader that the author is referring to the same concept.

Copy Editing


1. Serial commas – A serial comma is placed after the second-to-last term in a series, before the conjunction.

Ex: "The lion, witch and wardrobe" should be "the lion, witch, and wardrobe."


2. Quotation marks – Place commas and periods inside of quotes, but place semicolons and colons outside. Remember to put a comma before the first quotation mark of a mid-sentence quote, unless the quote is introduced with the word “that.”

Ex: “Why,” she asked, “are you laughing?”

Ex: The vice president of sales expressed that “efficient tools outshined elbow grease”; most of the senior management agreed.


3. Compound modifiers – Modifiers of two or more words require hyphens.

Ex: Red-nosed reindeer



4. Fragments – Many groups of words appear to be complete sentences because they contain both a verb and noun, yet are missing a primary verb or noun. Look up “fragments” and “subordinate/dependent clauses” online for more information.


5. Run-on sentences – Divide run-on sentences into two or more sentences, or remove unnecessary parts of the sentence.


6. Verb tense – The tense should be consistent throughout the book, changing only where appropriate.


7. Parallelism – Use the same word form for bullet points and items of a series.



8. Numbers – Spell out numbers from one through one hundred except even multiples of hundreds and similar.

Ex: Seventy-three elves built over 36 million toys in twelve days.


9. Point of View – If you switch from first person to third person to second person, the switch should be clear and for a good reason.


10. Formality – Use contractions in casual text to sound more relatable. Avoid using them to sound more formal. Prioritize being clear over being impressive when choosing between simple familiar words and big unfamiliar words.


11. Filler words – Avoid using “in order to,” “start to,” “that,” “really,” “very,” “thing,” “currently,” “there is/are.” Minimize modifiers. Minimize prepositions.

Most importantly, write what feels right, and have fun.
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