Editing for Grammarphobes: The Necessary Tedium


Okay, so you have completed your big-picture continuity editing (see last Wednesday’s blog, 6/8/11). Now it is time to put all of your grammatical ducks in a row. I know most of you hate this part, but it is crucial to your success. No novel is perfect. There will always be some errors; we are human, after all. But, as writers, it is our responsibility to use our tools of the trade correctly.


Do not trust spell check. Often, it misses homophones, and that is one of those mistakes that can make a brilliant storyteller look like a complete moron. Check dialogue and slang terms. Make sure character names are spelled consistently. Double check place names. Be on the lookout for our red flag words from the 6/6/11 blog, as well as common mistakes, such as your/you’re and to/too/two.


Make sure all of your periods, commas and apostrophes are correct. Remember, don’t make something possessive, if you want it to be plural.

Weather on the 5’s (the fives cannot have anything, right?)
Correct: Weather on the 5s
Wrong: Merry Christmas from the Brown’s (from the Brown’s what?)
Correct: Merry Christmas from the Browns

Also, double check subject and verb agreement. Plural subject=plural verb.

You cannot trust your computer’s proofreading function either. Computers only know the words on the page, not the overall context of the sentence. My computer was wrong about awhile/a while today while I was writing this.

Proper Paragraphing

Pay attention to this, especially for checking dialogue. When different characters speak, indent and start a new line.

Any extra spaces? If so, close them up. Don’t put two spaces after periods. It is not done anymore.

Karen’s Cardinal Rule: Never be too lazy to look something up. 

Once you have done this, let your manuscript sit for awhile and do something else until you can look at it with fresh eyes. Repeat the process, then let it sit again. And again. Believe me, each time you do this, you will see things you could have sworn you caught the first time. 

Now it is time to send your manuscript to an editor, whether that person is a professional or an English major you have bribed with Starbuck’s beverages.

Congratulations. You are on your way. Bring on the Beta readers.

These are just some of the things I do when editing, whether it is a novel, short story, piece of flash fiction, blog post or magazine article. What works for you? Please share your editing tips in the comments section.


A professional writer/editor for almost 30 years, Karen Wojcik Berner's wide and varied experience includes such topics as grammar, blog content, book reviews, corporate communications, the arts, paint and coatings, real estate, the fire service, writing and literature, research, and publishing. An award-winning journalist, her work has appeared in several magazines, newspapers, and blogs, including the Chicago Tribune, Writer Unboxed, Women's Fiction Writers, Naperville Magazine, and Fresh Fiction. She also is the author of three contemporary women's fiction novels and is a member of the Chicago Writers’ Association. For more information on Karen, please visit www.karenberner.com.


Kelly Hashway said…
I hate the spelling and grammar check feature in Word. As a former language arts teacher, I know that that feature is often incorrect. I hated when my students let their papers run through that check and applied all the changes it suggested. I used to warn them against that all the time.
R. Doug Wicker said…
It is far too easy to become over reliant on all these Word grammar/spell check features. There really is no substitute for careful reading with a critical eye.
Kelly and R. Doug, I totally agree. Thanks for sharing.

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