Editing  & Proofreading Cheat Sheet





– A lot of questions I receive revolve around editing and proofreading, so I decided to make an extensive guide to editing your own writing. I collaborated with some amazing friends on this post so this is dedicated to them as well as all of you. I hope you find it useful. Enjoy!

Know The Difference: Editing vs. Proofreading

Editing is about the content, proofreading is about the technical detail and accuracy. Once you know the difference and you separate the two into different tasks, going through and actually doing it will seem less daunting. Deciding which to tacking first depends on what you’re like when you edit, but if you struggling with focusing on actually improving the content because you get distracted by grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, then proofreading first may be a good idea. 

Be Intentional With Your Vocabulary

  • Avoid adverbs
  • Be frugal with unique adjectives
  • Only use dialogue tags when absolutely necessary
  • Be mindful of overused words
  • Take the time to find the right words

The words you choose can make all the difference so pay special attention to them.

Just Keep Snipping

A basic rule to editing that people often forget it, if it doesn’t serve a purpose, you should cut it out. A short book that is amazing all the way through is better than a long book that is redundant. Don’t worry about leaving your readers in the dark or not having enough content. As you edit, you’ll find ways and places in which to input more information.

Flow & Rhythm

This is the part where you make sure the writing itself sounds how you want it to. It’s important to read your writing aloud during this stage. Some things to pay attention to regarding flow and rhythm:

  • sentence length/variation
  • sentence structure
  • syllables and how they fit together
  • how your writing sounds out loud


Say it once and say it clearly. Redundancy bores readers so quickly, so when putting information forward, be clear, concise, and don’t add fluff. You don’t need to write a whole paragraph about how a character feels in a situation. It’s important to give the reader just enough to read between the lines.


Common Grammar Mistakes To Look For

  • Subject-verb agreement errors
  • Sentence Fragments
  • Missing Comma After Introductory Element
  • Misusing The Apostrophe With “Its”
  • No Comma In A Compound Sentence
  • Misplaced Or Dangling Modifier
  • Vague Pronoun Reference
  • Wrong Word Usage
  • Run-On Sentence
  • Superfluous Commas
  • Lack Of Parallel Structure
  • Sentence Sprawl
  • Comma Splice
  • Colon Mistakes
  • Split Infinitives

List from here x {Explains these further and more in depth}

Improper Use of Phrases

  • “could have” not “could of”
  • “My friends and I” not “me and my friends” {If you take away “my friends” or “I”, or one of the nouns in a sentence in general, the sentence should still make sense}
  • “I couldn’t care less” not “I could care less”. This should be a no-brainer.
  • etc.. I could go on.

Familiarize yourself with these common mistakes and avoid making them at all costs. It’s also helpful to have someone read over it and let you know when they find issues with phrases you used. Please be attentive to these mistakes because making them can destroy your credibility as a writer.

Utilize The Senses

If you’re describing something in your writing, you should be slipping in words and little details that appeal to the reader’s senses, When editing, look for opportunities to slip in how a place smells, how a food tastes, how something feels to the touch, etc. It’s unbelievable how much this enhances your story.

Punctuation & Format

Punctuation Rules In English

Source x

When proofreading and marking up your manuscript, it can save a lot of time and energy if you use marks instead of actually write out everything, so here is a little chart I found that may be useful to you:


Other Things To Look Out For

  • Make sure you know who is talking
  • Keep tense consistent
  • Vary the tone from scene to scene
  • Run-on sentences
  • Inconsistencies in story details
  • Plot holes
  • Causes and effects of events are explained
  • Facts and technical details {Make sure you’ve researched them well}
  • Deviations from established background (know your story really really well and make sure your reader does too)

General Tips

  • Go in assuming that your work is full of errors. Maybe it’s not, but it’s better to be prepared for the worst and solve the issues now rather than when it’s too late
  • DO NOT BE SENTIMENTAL. Yes, easier said than done, but it’s possible. 
  • Make the text less recognizable to yourself in order to catch details you may not otherwise.
  • Print out your manuscript and physically write out the changes.
  • Read your writing out loud. Sometimes writing looks like it makes sense, but in reality sounds wrong. 
  • Do it in short periods over time so that you don’t inevitably get lazy with paying attention to little details
  • Keep in mind that editing usually takes longer than actually writing the draft because it is less fluid and requires more thought and problem solving.
  • Don’t rely on spelling and/or grammar checking software; they’re not always correct and can easily misinterpret what you’re trying to get across. 
  • Check for a single error at a time. It may be time consuming and tedious but it’s more effective than the alternative.
  • Give yourself time and read slowly through it multiple times
  • Split up large chunks of text to make it easier to handle. Don’t go through your whole manuscript page by page as if you were just reading it as a book. Go chapter by chapter or scene by scene or even sentence by sentence.
  • If something seems off, investigate it. Don’t take a chance and leave it be. If you’re stumped, highlight it and have someone else look over it.
  • Have a strategy. Maybe not at first, especially if you don’t extensively edit your work regularly, but with time you’ll find what works for you and what doesn’t. Create your own system and use it to save yourself some time and confusion.

Support Wordsnstuff!

I just want to add that I once proofread a classmate’s creative writing assignment and her character said “What in carnation?”

And she didn’t get it. She had no idea.

A very good list! Though I deliberately break a few of the grammar rules for style, because I want my writing to sound colloquial (me and my friends) and things like sentence fragments and run-ons do a lot for pacing and/or jokes. So … proofread within reason, yeah? Some books are going to be great if you follow these grammar rules, and some books will be less good afterwards.

I wholeheartedly support the rest of the advice, though.

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