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Aaron Dalton

Checklists: Sharing Knowledge

Editorial checklist. Hand holding clipboard with checklist and pencil. to-do list and planning project with office supplies. flat icon modern design style vector illustration concept.

I’ve spent most of my career in-house. Currently I work with dozens of individual authors from all across the organization on a diverse array of document types. Though our editorial team works as a pool, a certain degree of specialization is unavoidable. We need to be able to record and share institutional knowledge amongst ourselves and also bring new editors up to speed quickly. Whether you’re in-house or freelance, one way of sharing knowledge is through checklists.

Editor checklist for knowledge sharing
Dmitry Rogatnev ©

General checklists

These are your basic proofreading and line editing checklists as well as document-specific style sheets. Items might include things like “page numbers are continuous and appear on all appropriate pages,” “all citations appear in the reference list,” and “captions are sentence case and end with a period.” You’re usually checking all these things as you go and not looking at each item in isolation, but having such items in a list can be helpful in a couple of ways:

  • Nobody can think of everything all the time. After a pass through a manuscript, taking a look through the checklist may remind you of something you forgot or need to check again.
  • These checklists can be given to other people. When we have a really big document and not a lot of time, we will often enlist the help of non-editors to do some proofreading. They really appreciate having a checklist to work from.

Context-specific checklists

This is where the bulk of the institutional knowledge gets stored. These are checklists for specific document types, clients or audiences. In my case, we focus on document types.

For example, directives are our primary regulatory instrument. They are quite technical and are intended for specialist audiences. There are best practices that direct how they should be structured and worded. Bulletins, meanwhile, need to be short and widely readable — comprehensible for the general public and media. Items on context-specific lists may look like the following:

  • Directives — Number every unique requirement.
  • Directives — Be sure the desired outcome is clear.
  • Bulletins — The title of the bulletin must be self-standing.
  • Bulletins — Don’t use acronyms, and avoid or clearly define all jargon.

These lists are most useful for bringing new team members up to speed, but they’re also great for keeping everyone on the same page in case someone is asked to review a type of document they don’t see often. Checklists can also be useful as educational tools for the authors themselves.

Personal checklists

Finally, everybody is unique. My colleagues and I joke that we can often tell who looked at a document by what they “missed.” That’s because we all come from different language and educational backgrounds. What is obvious to one may not be obvious to another. If you know your particular quirks, you can create a checklist of your very own to help you do better in the future. I, for example, never learned to differentiate between “practise” (verb) and “practice” (noun). It simply does not naturally jump out at me. On the list it goes.

Of course, checklists are not the only way to rein yourself in. Every editor should learn how to use an exclusion dictionary and would be well served by investing in some editing software.

How do you use checklists? Tell us below!

Previous post from Aaron Dalton: The Ethical Imperative for Plain Language

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