Medical Editing Checklist: An Essential Tool for Success

    Medical-Editor-Checklist-blogChecklists are popular these days. And for good reason. 

    Ever since surgeon and author Atul Gawande published The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right  in 2009, checklists have proliferated in many fields, and revolutionized the way we conduct business and practice medicine.

    A checklist isn’t a crutch; it’s a useful tool for people with busy brains, schedules, and responsibilities.

    As Gawande writes, “In a complex environment, experts are up against two main difficulties. The first is the fallibility of human memory and attention, especially when it comes to mundane, routine matters that are easily overlooked under the strain of more pressing events…. A further difficulty, just as insidious, is that people lull themselves into skipping steps even when they remember them.”

    Checklists are a way to override our tendency to “glaze over” when performing repetitive tasks such as medical editing.

    A checklist won’t fill in where essential skills are needed, but many medical editors find that a checklist “gets the dumb stuff out of the way,” as Gawande puts it.

    Checklists for Medical Editors

    Some medical editors use checklists to perform their daily tasks, and many publishing professionals use them to make sure that every detail is taken care of. When editors are juggling multiple projects and tasks, a checklist is an efficiency booster that allows you to pick up where you left off. 

    What are some of the reasons why editors are using checklists?

    • Memory aid. Editing checklists help when editing short documents or documents that have strict format requirements, and when responsibility for editorial tasks is shifting and changing.
    • Structure amid chaos. Many editors experience frequent interruptions and have to quickly pivot from one project to another. A checklist helps ensure that you can pick up where you left off.

    When Gawande first published The Checklist Manifesto, some doctors felt that their jobs were too complicated to be reduced to a checklist. However, it’s important to remember that a checklist is not taking over our work—it is helping us keep track of details for a better result.

    Why Use a Checklist?

    Just as it has been proven in other fields, using a checklist for medical editing helps us do a better job. 

    Medical editors are trusted with ensuring that every detail in a piece of writing is accurate, clear, and consistent. Errors or typos could lead to rejection of a manuscript. Authors’ and editors’ reputations are at stake.

    We want the documents we edit to represent the best in our field. Every document gets better with editing, and many benefit from several stages of editing.

    A thorough checklist will help an editor keep track of the myriad details that go into creating a polished document.

    A Checklist Reflecting 3 Stages of Editing

    AMWA’s Medical Editing Checklist is divided into these broad categories: macroediting, microediting, and proofreading, which correspond with the 3 stages of editing. Before editing any document, it is important to check the guidelines for the journal or publication; a checklist can be customized to address specific style considerations.


    Macroediting is the process of looking at the big picture, or the architecture, of a scientific document. A checklist can ensure that each part of the document communicates the author’s message, that the parts are well organized, and that there are no gaps in information, logic, or perspective.


    Microediting examines the function of the language to determine whether it supports the author’s intention. It takes place below the paragraph level and improves grammar, syntax, style, tone, clarity, and credibility. A checklist can remind the editor to look at details such as the page numbering and numbering of figures, tables, and graphs; references and citations; and patient‑sensitive language.


    If the editor and the checklist do their jobs well, the proofreading stage is a final check to make sure that you didn’t miss anything or introduce any errors. 

    It’s always a good idea to step away from a document between editing sessions so you have “fresh eyes” for the project.

     A Tool for Busy People

    Just as a medical checklist is not a replacement for a good doctor, you can’t just hand a checklist to a layperson and have them edit a medical or scientific document. A checklist is most useful when someone already has the skill and experience to get the job done.

    However, medical editors are often tasked with editing many documents in a short amount of time while juggling multiple responsibilities. 

    Good editing can’t be rushed. That is why a checklist is an essential tool for the overworked brains of medical editors. 

    You could argue that using a checklist makes you a better medical editor.


    June 6, 2022 at 9:00 AM

    American Medical Writers Association

    AMWA is the leading resource for medical communicators. The AMWA Blog is developed in partnership with community members who work every day to create clear communications that lead to better health and well-being.