Skinning the Onion: A Layered Editing Checklist/Layer One: Basic

I’m starting a new series on editing geared toward critique groups and critique partners. Again, I encourage you to find a good, solid critique group, or some good online editing buddies who get to know you, your book, and your style. Nothing beats the trust and relationships you can build in such a  partnership.

Skinning the Onion

Editing Series

Remember, everyone’s style is different. Respect that.

Don’t force your voice on someone else.

Encourage your critique partners to strengthen their writing.

If you edit and critique with others, making shortened edit notes can be helpful for you and for them.

In this series, Skinning the Onion, there are four levels. Let’s start with the first layer.

Editing Ideas: Basic

Circle, mark, and write these abbreviations. Offer suggestions, but leave it up to the author to change their own work.

AWK: Awkward

If a sentence is awkward, just mark it that way. If you have a great way to reword and the person you are critiquing likes the help, go ahead and give an example fix. If not, resist the temptation to rewrite.

PASS: Passive

Don’t use more than two passives per page if you can help it. Circle or mark passives in case the author hasn’t noticed them.

LY: Adverb

Adverbs are rarely needed. Mark or circle the ly and offer a better, stronger verb if you come up with one. Let the author decided which ones to take out.

ING: Ing opener when used as a verb (Sliding backward, she tripped.) Using ing as a noun is okay (Sliding backward was hard)

ADJ: Adjectives: Make them count. Are they’re too many?

REPEATED WORDS: Don’t use the same word close together. Highlight or circle and let the author fix. Make suggestions if you like.

VAGUE WORDS: it, that, the, this

EXTRA WORDS: the, that, had (if the sentence reads clearly without them, cross them out)

RED: Redundant words or phrases: Two or more descriptions of the same thing or words that mean the same thing. (mark it)

SDT: show/don’t tell: If the author is telling rather than showing an emotion. He was mad is telling. He threw the chair across the room is showing mad.

?: Questions Write questions in the margins if you have them so the author knows you need more info or further clarification.


If you reword, keep to the author’s voice and style. If there is an obvious grammar error or typo, fix it.


Track Changes

Use this feature on Word if you edit on the computer. If you have Word, find Review on the tab running across the top. Click it and find Track Changes. Click it once and everything you change will be in red. Deleted items will be crossed through in red.

Comment Box: Click Review and look for the New Comment. Highlight text in the document and then click on New Comment and a bubble will pop up that you can type in. If you want to change the comment click back on the bubble. If you want to delete the comment, click on the bubble and then on Delete by the New Comment button on the top.



  1. What a great post! I’m going to print this out and keep with it with my editing notes. Fabulous!

  2. I like the list – looks very handy! Thanks! I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

  3. These are all great tips. I have a checklist that I use where I can remember to look for things. I also use some online tools. I run an MS through a software tool that highlights all the overused words (more than industry standard). You should see all the highlights.

  4. Tremendous issues here. I am very satisfied to look your article. Thanks so much and I am having a look forward to touch you. Will you please drop me a mail?

  5. Great advice, as usual. I need to keep these tips in mind because I am often guilty of “taking over” someone’s work insted of just pointing out places where they need to improve.


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