A checklist for copy editors

Steve Buttry, the Lamar Family Visiting Scholar at Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communication, wrote a good article Feb. 2 for PBS MediaShift about “Why Journalism Professors Should Teach Accuracy Checklists.”

That led to a Twitter discussion about using checklists and the kinds that are out there. I noted this one from the Detroit Free Press that covers every area of the newsroom: DetFreePAccuracyChecklist (The list is focused on newspapers, but can be revamped for any type of publication.)

Following a checklist when copy editing is like using a recipe to bake. Everything might turn out just fine without the recipe, but it’s best to get the ingredients and proportions right.

I have a checklist of my own for copy editors. I admit that I co-opted parts of the above checklist and some others I’ve read in developing it. It’s broken down into the types of editing you might be doing on the copy desk.

Here it is (and re-edit it to fit your needs if you like it):

COPY EDITING CHECKLIST

Critical editing

  1. Does the story make sense?
  2. Are all of the major questions answered?
  3. Is the story fair? Who or what might be missing?
  4. Is the background complete enough that all readers will have a sense of relevance?
  5. Are there any sensitivity issues in either individual word usage or description?
  6. Do links go to something that is relevant to the story and that answers the questions raised? Are the links from a trusted source of information? Are there any bias issues with the links?

Accuracy checks

  1. Are the names correct? Are they spelled the same in every instance? (Check against headlines, cutlines, other display text.)
  2. Are the ages and dates correct?
  3. Are the titles correct — check for people, but also for businesses, institutions, books, works of art, etc.
  4. Are the locations, addresses correct?
  5. Did you check the phone numbers against directories or call the numbers?
  6. DID YOU DO THE MATH?
  7. Did you check website URLs to make sure they work?
  8. Did you check the links to make sure they work?

Grammar and spelling

  1. Did you do a spell check? (1A: Have you checked the spelling of any foreign words?)
  2. Did you check major grammar points: subject-verb agreement, pronoun use, antecedents, parallel construction?
  3. Did you check word usage?

Display type

  1. Is the headline accurate and balanced?
  2. Have you checked the headline, cutlines and display type against the story copy?

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