12 September, 2019
One of the most effective quality-control and disaster-prevention tools ever developed is also one of the simplest: the checklist. Surgeons use checklists. Astronauts use checklists. Stage managers use checklists. And editors use checklists.
Unfortunately, a checklist can also be one of the most tedious things ever. And if that tedium causes you to rush through it and not thoroughly check every item, then goodbye effectiveness!
Because of this, checklists walk a fine line between checking too darn many things and missing important things. Here’s how to build one that’s right for you.
Why are checklists effective? For about the same reason we use egg cartons rather than juggling the eggs as we walk home from the store: If you have to keep too many things in the air – meaning, in this case, in your mind – you’re going to end up with a mess. Set everything down in order and you can be confident of not letting something drop.
There are many things editors can use a checklist on. For example:
And, of course, mechanical details such as formatting and preferred spelling are another thing to make sure of. Effectively, your style sheet becomes a checklist that you should go through as a final check to make sure you’ve handled everything consistently. You may think you caught all the deviations from it in the read-through, but would you bet your job on it?
There are many checklists already out there on various websites. They all have two important things in common:
You may have heard the aphorism “Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. (That way, when you criticize them, they’ll be a mile away and you’ll have their shoes.)” Well, before you use their checklist, just think about what it would be like to walk a mile in their shoes. Literally. Their actual leather shoes that they’ve worn every day for years. They won’t be worn in for your feet, will they? They probably won’t even be the right size.
The same is true with checklists. Other people may have similar priorities to yours, but they won’t have exactly the same problems. They won’t have the same branding and client names to check, for instance. Their content may be structured differently and serve different readerships. They will have different editorial processes, different corporate approval chains, different personalities involved. And beyond all that, they may actually not be very good at making checklists. Just because it’s on the web doesn’t mean it’s well made! So borrow and adapt as you see fit, but make it your own.
What should a good checklist cover? In two words: YOUR BUTT.
What that means is that a checklist should, methodically, accurately, reliably, go through every checkable thing that has a real chance of coming up that could cause you and/or your company embarrassment or could expose you and/or your clients to legal or physical jeopardy. Let’s break that down:
Checklists can be long. And they can be boring and tedious. Even just checking every specific term on your style sheet one by one using Word’s global search could take an hour or more, and it requires your full attention – you can’t tune out and watch YouTube videos. But it’s still an important task. If you don’t get every detail right, proposals may be lost or articles rejected. However, there is a way to cut the size of your checklist, cut the amount of manual labor, and actually increase the accuracy of your checks. Here’s how it works.
You can build editing checklists into PerfectIt. It checks them faster and more reliably than you ever could by hand. And it leaves you in control of every editing decision. What could have been an hour or two of checking can be zipped through in a few minutes. Here are just some of the things PerfectIt can check for you:
PerfectIt isn’t doing your thinking for you; it’s going down a checklist and asking you only about deviations, making it easy for you to apply your judgment as needed. The result is that you can have a smaller, more manageable list of things to check by hand, so you save time, and your work is more accurate than it ever could be otherwise.
A good checklist is an important tool for quality control. Making a good checklist may be time consuming, but it means that your documents will be as tidy and nice as possible and you will avoid disaster. So the effort is worth it.
You can make your checklist easier to go through and enforce with PerfectIt. It speeds up a lot of the most fussy, tedious, but still vitally important work. You’ll dramatically improve your efficiency and your effectiveness, and at the same time you’ll dramatically reduce your incidence of boredom. Once you have PerfectIt set up with your style sheet, you’ll have more time and attention for other elements, such as layout, URLs, photo credits, and the more ineffable parts of editorial judgment. Click to try PerfectIt for free.