One hopes the surgeon does it before removing an appendix, the pilot does it before taking off for DFW, the mechanic before rotating tires. It's the use of a checklist, that roster of items that reminds the surgeon, pilot, or mechanic of what must be attended to before pronouncing all systems go. Checklists are used in scores of disciplines or specialties—and with good reason. They separate steps, ordering them and calling attention to each, reminding the user to confirm each before moving on.
Effective writers use checklists, too, most especially in the revision stage of composing. A revision checklist helps divide the text or document into discrete parts that can be reviewed and modified. It begins with the largest concerns, those that may create a cascade of changes down the line. Then it moves toward matters that are more independent, ending with proofreading for correctness.
Here's a checklist to try. As you use it, do check off each item as you confirm that it has been accomplished. We think it will help you make sure that nothing is overlooked in your document—and that its final draft is a strong and emphatic go.
- The purpose of the document is apparent and consistent throughout.
- Audience characteristics have been identified and used to make appropriate rhetorical decisions.
- The text contains the right number of major messages, each clear and connected to the others.
- The opening grabs attention and is relevant to purpose, audience, and messages.
- Opening and closing connect.
- Text is arranged in a logical, clear fashion (deductive, inductive, sequential, chronological, etc.) appropriate to purpose, audience, and major messages.
- Each paragraph centers on one idea.
- Transitions within and between paragraphs guide reader comprehension.
- Paragraphs are of lengths appropriate to their function of explaining messages or providing support. No paragraphs are too long or too short.
- Messages are frontloaded.
- Evidence (data, examples, etc.) is sufficient, convincing, and provided within context.
- Visuals are used for support when appropriate.
- Text is readable, accessible.
- Document structure provides headings, etc., as needed to assist reader comprehension.
- Sentences are clear and varied; each places emphasis appropriately.
- Word choice fits both subject and audience.
- Tone is consistent and suitable for purpose, audience, and major messages.
- Figurative language enhances meaning.
- Grammar and punctuation meet standard conventions.
- The document meets demands made by company style guides or practices.
Let us know how it works for you!