Posted by: nancyisanders | October 22, 2013

Highlights: Self-Editing Checklist

Now I’m going through the process of self-editing the nonfiction article I wrote to submit to Highlights magazine. I know it’s going to take me a little bit to gather photo research and my expert’s review, so in the meantime, I’m planning on putting on my editor’s hat and sitting down for various sessions of self-editing my manuscript.

My husband Jeff teaches fourth grade. I’ve written writing curriculum for kids from preschool through fifth grade. Even from the earliest grades, kids are taught to self-edit their stories and read over them multiple times to check for mistakes.

Hey, if kids can learn how to self-edit their manuscripts, you can, too!

I have a self-editing checklist I’m following to make sure I cover all the bases. I posted it online at the site of my writing buddies, Writing According to Humphrey and Friends. Just scroll down to the section:


Click on the link to the Nonfiction Article Self-Editing Checklist.

Download the free pdf and print it out. Then put a second copy of it in your Writer’s Notebook for future self-editing sessions.

Here’s how to use this checklist:

Go through your beginning, middle, and ending and check to make sure the information goes from Point A to Point B. I had to rearrange a few of my sentences and section breaks to make the progression smoother. This is also the time to include details, descriptions, and anecdotes if you haven’t yet. There’s a delicate balance of this in nonfiction, depending on what your publisher likes, so be sure to refer often to a sample article similar to in structure to yours that’s already published in your target magazine.

If you’ve written all boring narrative that just tells your reader about your topic, kids won’t want to read it. (Or adults either!) This is the time to check that you’ve used fiction techniques to spice up your information while keeping 100% true to facts. Read David McCullough’s John Adams as a great example of creative nonfiction.

How do you know if your bibliography is formatted correctly? Follow the same format your target publisher uses. And if they don’t show a bibliography, then visit my site, Frederick Douglass for Kids, where I list a bibliography of books I used for research. This is the format my publisher uses. It’s a very common one used by many.

How do you properly cite a quote that you use? Insert a footnote at the bottom of your page or end of your article. Include the same information you put in your bibliography. But this time, if you’re citing a book or other multi-paged source, also include the page number. Like this:

Sanders, Nancy I. Frederick Douglass for Kids. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2012, page 84.

And if you don’t know what a primary source is or how to find one, learn all about primary sources at my buddies’ website, Writing According to Humphrey and Friends.

Want a tip to make it easier to spot grammar and punctuation mistakes? Read over your manuscript backwards. Yup. That’s right. I do this all the time. It makes you stop and read each sentence. Your brain can’t skim ahead and miss obvious mistakes.

This is where you want to check how kid-friendly and age-appropriate your information is. Also, get out the submission guidelines for your target publisher and check off their list here to make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row. And of course, compare it to a published nonfiction article in your target magazine.

There! That’s it! Okay…I can hear you wondering…just how long does it take me to do all that?

It depends. Sometimes I move at a leisurely pace and can take days and weeks to do this. Right now I’m moving full speed ahead on this article because I’m going to hear from an editor early next week about starting on my very next book deadline. So I’m working on this article and revising and editing it as many times as I can right now, following this self-editing checklist. I’m not doing every single thing on my list, but I’m doing most of them. I’m hoping to wrap this project up in the next few writing sessions and send this puppy in.

How about you? When do you think you can get your self-editing checklist all checked off?

And be sure to stop in on Irene Roth’s blog today to help celebrate the re-release of my how to book for children’s writers! Plus, you’ll find out about the Triple Crown of Success and how it can benefit your own writing journey.


  1. Nancy, these are great rubrics. I normally go back to some tips I learned from Melissa Stewart, which are mostly language-related, but this is much broader. Now I’ll use both.

    • Thanks, Kirsten. I’m so glad you find these helpful!

      • I used your list today. Very helpful.

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