The Writing Process

Revising & Editing Checklist*



Take an Aggressive Fault-Finding Attitude

Consider whether you need to make major changes in your ideas, arguments, organization, logic



• Am I willing to attack vigorously my thinking, logic, and presentation?

• Do I recognize that I may have not accounted for audience attitude about the subject?

• Do I ruthlessly identify redundant passages?


Allow Incubation Time

It's difficult to thoroughly critique a draft shortly after writing it. Allow time before revising so that you will be more likely to approach your document as your reader would.




• Do I organize my work so that I take time -- even fifteen minutes -- between drafting and critiquing?


Assess the Communication Situation

Because new insights may have occurred to you when writing, evaluate how your perception of your purpose, audience, and tone has evolved. Have you changed your mind on any of these? Is your approach consistent?


• Looking at the whole, has new meaning emerged?

• Have I changed my initial purpose? What do I need to adjust because of changes?



Has my idea of who the audience is changed?  Am I addressing a communication situation involving two or three audiences? Is all the information included that the audience needs to understand an event or concept? Have I offended or patronized?

• Have I accounted for what readers need to know? Are there terms or concepts that need clarification?

• Have I needlessly complicated the issue? Will readers understand how precedents apply to the facts?

• What needs to change to help audience better understand?


Have I established my voice for this piece? Is there any place that I appear confused, pedantic, irritable, stuffy?

• Have my thoughts changed about the voice for this piece?

• Is the tone consistent throughout the piece?


Check Overall Organization

Readers generally expect you to sift through all of the facts and pertinent laws and state succinctly your interpretation and conclusions.

Does the overall organization of your document work well?


Will the reader be able to follow the sequence of ideas?



• What is my overall organizing principle? Will my readers understand why I have organized my document as I have?

Would another arrangement of the material be more effective?

• Are my logical appeals rock solid? Do my supporting points follow an effective, logical progression? What additional evidence or reasoning can I provide to be more convincing?

• Have I written a lead? Does it still work? Does it tell why my reader should continue reading, what's to be found in the paper, and why?

• Have I written a conclusion that shows the reader that I accomplished what I set out to do?

• Have I provided the necessary forecasting and transitional sentences that readers need to understand how the different ideas relate to each other?

• What changes in the format of my document will make my prose more readable? Should I use fewer or more subheadings? Can I use bullets or subheadings or lists to emphasize key points?

• Can I use a picture, a graph, or a table to visually represent my meaning?   



Check Paragraphs
Are your paragraphs in a logical order and of appropriate length?

Do topic sentences express the sense of each paragraph?



• Do my topic sentences express the sense of each paragraph?

• Are topics of each sentence related? Is topic flow consistent within each paragraph?

•  Should existing paragraphs be cut into smaller segments or merged into longer ones?

•  Should whole paragraphs be shifted in their order in the text?

•  Will readers understand the logical connections between paragraphs?



Check for Length
Have you cut out unnecessary substantive discussion?

Have you cut clutter, redundancies and windy phrases?


• What information can I prune or eliminate?

•  Have I eliminated surplus words -- compound constructions, word wasting idioms, redundant legal phrases?

• Do my sentences focus on the actor, action and object of the action? Are most sentences are arranged in subject, verb and object order?

• Are my sentences still too long? Can I divide some of them into two or more sentences?



Check for Clarity



• Have I removed lawyerisms -- legalese, Latinisms, pomposities, bureaucratese -- and replaced with concrete, familiar words?

•  Have I eliminated throat clearing?

•  Have I rewritten double and multiple negatives in the affirmative?

•  Have I replaced unnecessary nominalizations?

•  Have I removed passive verbs or justified them?

•  Have I removed noun chains?

•  Have I minimized the "there is" construction?

•  Review for grammar and usage issues, e.g.,
  - subject-verb agreement
  - pronoun references -- all pronouns clearly
    refer to definite nouns
  - modifiers
  - parallelisms



Check for Continuity


•  Do first references to persons, cases, and particular things fully identify them?

•  Do your transitions still make sense?

•  Are any references to something above and below still accurate?





•  Check spelling

•  Correct typos

•  Make style consistent-- Bluebook, California Style Manual, PAI/OCRA Stylebook

•  Punctuate



Read Aloud
Have you read your document aloud to help you improve your voice and the flow of the sentences?



Reading your work aloud highlights problems with your voice, content development, and grammar. Many writers mumble to themselves while they compose, and many successful writers read a final draft aloud to ensure that it is as effective as possible. Try it. You'll be surprised by its usefulness.



Get Feedback
A part of making meaning, feedback is essential to creating exemplary documents.  Criticism of a document is just that. Good critical readers are not impugning your character or writing abilities. Instead, they are criticizing a manuscript, one particular event.



•  Be careful who you ask to critique your work.

•  Let him or her know the kind of feedback that you want.

•  Do not argue with your critics or expect them to revise your documents.

•  When criticizing a colleague's documents, remember that authorship is ownership.

•  Try to limit the number of global, general comments such as, "I think the document is good."

2003 Benchmark Institute

Adapted from How to Write the Winning Brief. Frederic G. Gale and Joseph M. Moxley. Chicago, Illinois: American Bar Association, 1992 and Lawyer's Guide to Writing Well. Tom Goldstein and Jethro K. Lieberman. University of California Press, 1989.

Gale and Moxley view revising as major renovation -- tearing down walls, raising the roof, installing windows, even demolishing the entire structure. Unless a routine matter, expect to toss paragraphs around, experiment with new beginnings, chase down new thoughts and feelings, and even discard the first ten pages of an eleven page document. True revision asks, "So what?" and "Who cares?" and looks for places where you need to develop or clarify your thinking. Goldstein and Lieberman add that how you edit is important. You cannot do it all at once or wildly out of sequence. You would not paint your house before you sanded and then primed it.