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The Manuscript Makeover Checklist

February 13, 2018



Note From Rochelle


Dear Readers,


Are you ready to get serious about your writing? A critique group can help you. When you join a critique group, you commit to writing regularly and meeting deadlines. Your group members give you constructive feedback to help you improve your writing. And you sharpen your own skills as a writer by reading your colleagues’ writing.


If you think you might be ready to sign up for the Write Now! Coach critique group, do it now. I have room for just 3 more participants, and we start next Tuesday. If you’re interested, sign up soon.

Today’s tip will help you review and revise your own writing. 




Manuscript Makeover:

A Checklist for Nonfiction Content

By Rochelle Melander


Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear. —Patricia Fuller


Maisie, BEFORE

We always know when our dog needs to be groomed because she looks like she’s put on a bit of weight. It’s all hair, though—messy, frizzy, and somewhat dirty Bichon hair.






Maisie, AFTER

The dog salon works a miracle on our girl—and she comes out looking skinnier, cleaner, and quite spiffy. (Notice the fancy neck scarf!)






That’s kind of what I do as an editor. I take a messy manuscript and make it magnificent—or at least better than it was.


No one wants to turn in a mediocre manuscript. But when we’re facing multiple deadlines and juggling other responsibilities, we need to figure out how to quickly revise our rough draft so that we can turn in a stellar final draft. But how?


Over the years, I’ve developed checklists to help me revise. I’ve also created lists to help me makeover my own manuscripts. Today, I’m sharing my checklist for a nonfiction article or blog post with you.


Content Checklist


Does the content accomplish what I promised or what the editor assigned?

+Review the content with the query letter in mind: did you present the points you promised to explore?

+Review the content from the point of view of the editor: does the article accomplish the goals outlined in the assignment?

+Review the assignment from the point of view of the potential reader: will they appreciate the article? Will the story give them new information or a new perspective on the topic?



+Does the lead hook the reader with juicy language and one of the following: a great idea, good information, or a compelling story?



+Do I support my claims with adequate information from interviews with experts, anecdotal evidence, or research.

+Have I sufficiently explained difficult or challenging ideas?

+Have I left out any key information or points?

+Have I included any information that doesn’t fit?

+Does any of my content raise issues I do not want the article to address? (E.g., political or social issues)

+Have I adequately identified terms and people who appear in the article?

+Do I repeat myself unnecessarily?



+Does the article end in a way that’s appropriate to the medium?

+Does the conclusion adequately wrap up the piece?

+Does the conclusion offer the reader something helpful to take with them. This will differ depending on the topic and medium but it might include an idea, a challenge, or a new way of thinking about a topic.

+Does the conclusion answer the question, “Why does this [topic] matter?”



+Do the headers help the reader follow the information presented in the article?

+Is the content organized in a way that works for the medium? (E.g., in an online article, most editors want the juiciest information at the top of the article because readers don’t always read through. In a print publication, the requirements may be just the opposite.)



Technical Checklist

Does the piece meet the technical requirements of the assignment?

+Is it the right length (word count)?

+Have I provided all of the pieces the editor asked for? In addition to the article, that may include a sidebar, research links, headers, quizzes, author bio, photos or any other additional information required by the assignment.

+Is it in the format the editor asked for? (RTF, MSWord, etc.)



+Have I used any jargon? Is that acceptable for this publication, or do I need to change it?

+Did I write enough of the article in active voice to keep the information interesting and lively?

+Is my sentence length appropriate for the piece and the publication?

+If I’m using headers, are they parallel construction?

+Is the point of view consistent?

+Do my pronouns refer to clearly identified subjects?


The Nitty Gritty

+Have I proofread the article for grammatical, spelling, and typographical errors?

+Am I consistent in tone and voice?

+Have I checked the article for the mistakes frequently make? (Pro Tip: Create a list of your personal writing hiccups. It’s a great tool to use when checking your own writing.)



What else?

What else would you add to my checklist? Leave your comment below.

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