Planning & editing

Create a production calendar

Even a simple publishing effort will benefit from a basic timeline and task-assignment list. This will help make the difference between a chaotic experience and a pleasant one.

Consider all the tasks you will have to complete during the production process. Group them in order under logical headings. Here is a basic outline of the production process for a newsletter or magazine. There are many sub-tasks you could also add.

  • Planning – budgeting & fund-raising, content mapping
  • Production– content gathering, editing & formatting
  • Layout & Design – proof-reading
  • Printing
  • Distribution
  • Evaluation

Make one person responsible for each task on the list; assign an additional person to be responsible if necessary as backup, or in case of emergency on more important or larger tasks.

Deadlines & time management

To fill in deadlines, pick your final deadline and work backwards from that date, allotting a deadline to each task on the list. Build in a buffer of extra time to allow for unexpected delays. The longest buffer time should be allocated for getting the articles from people who have agreed to write for you. Writers may need to be reminded of their deadlines and pressed for content, but not so hard as to lose their good will. Raise a red flag as soon as a deadline seems in danger of being missed and look for ways to catch up with the schedule.

Don’t forget to leave plenty of time for proof-reading before you print the final version. If you can’t afford to get a professional proof-reader to go over the whole text, ask someone who has good language skills and hasn’t looked at the publication yet to go through the final version for you. 

Gather your content

This section is mainly relevant to more complicated print publications such as magazines.

There are two ways to generate content: solicit it from other people, or write it from within your production team; many publications use both methods.

Gathering relevant good-quality content from the grassroots is one of the most important and difficult aspects of this job, and often the most neglected. Rather than speaking on behalf of people, community-focussed media should allow them to speak for themselves whenever possible. 'Expert' contributions can be included to frame and clarify subjects if necessary. Your editorial team can provide pieces to round out an issue or fill gaps.

In order to gather contributions and avoid writing the whole publication yourselves, you will need to:

  • Have a plan with clear deadlines and division of responsibilities.
  • Develop and sometimes train contacts who have an ear to the ground and can write, or are willing to learn.
  • Provide a clear brief to writers, including the length of the articles and their purpose, plus editorial guidelines. A page of text in an average magazine, with no photos, amounts to approximately 1000 words
  • Be clear about deadlines and follow the progress of each person's work before the deadline arrives.
  • Manage a respectful and skilful editing process.

Map your content

Regardless of who will be contributing, always start the process with a brainstorm session, working toward a 'map' of the content you want to include. Make a note of each article and graphic component separately, and of who is assigned to write it, recruit it (if relevant), and edit it, and what their deadlines are. It is best to do this in a spreadsheet format that can be updated as you go. What's more, consulting your content map and layout plan will help you give authors a clear idea of the length or number of words required.

It is important to establish a tradition of content mapping early in your production cycle, especially if you are producing a newsletter with multiple sections. Even a one-off poster or brochure will benefit from a scaled-down version of this process. Content mapping will help you to task-master and to appreciate how each component fits into your overall goal.

Make notes for:

  • Each article or image name
  • Who will do the writing/reporting
  • Who will liaise with others to recruit and supervise external contributions
  • Who will edit
  • Deadlines for each item

If the article or photograph falls into a cluster of related content in this issue, or is part of an ongoing section or column, note this also. As you go on, other options or angles may emerge for grouping your content thematically, and your content map can help you identify these themes early on. 

Don’t miss the story

Stay on the lookout for material that communicates the core messages of your advocacy work. If you are doing this regularly, it will be easy to fill your publication with relevant and timely material.

Always take a digital camera with you to actions and events. Build documentation into the day-to-day culture of your organisation. Make sure that you are recording and filing minutes of meetings, reports of trips and delegations, self-evaluations of actions, and summaries of research projects. You may find it useful to explore the possibilities of audio documentation, which can later be transcribed.

Your community should be encouraged to suggest stories to you, and to write them or provide good draft material, but you can also ask for what you want, by putting out a call for coverage of important issues and events. It may be possible to interview important figures who are unable to write articles themselves.

Brainstorming sessions will bring out ideas for the types of stories and items that will be relevant to your goals and audience. Make sure your texts contain a balance of 'soft' and 'hard' stories, factual and opinion pieces, human experience and statistics. 

Editorial policy

Having a clear editorial policy, with written guidelines, will help everyone stay focussed, on time, on task and on message. It promotes transparency and accountability within your community, and will help you handle controversial submissions. Your policy should outline:

  • Format – what language or dialect writers should use, what style (if appropriate), and what types of pieces you are interested in; for example, news items, reviews or interviews.
  • Exclusions & Style – what content, if any, is deemed to be unacceptable, such as politically offensive speech or gender-biased language.
  • Editing – what rights you reserve regarding the editing of submissions. Make sure contributors have clear expectations. Most publications reserve the right to edit all submissions for length and clarity.
  • Acknowledgement – whether you will give by-lines to writers. Some collectives have a political position against doing so but others deem it necessary.
  • Writers' Guidelines – if you publish frequently and rely on submissions, consider offering a broader document with updated information about the focus of your current publishing efforts, sometimes called 'Writers' Guidelines'. See the Carbusters website for an example of how one campaigning organisation accepts material.
  • Style – larger, ongoing productions, especially when there are a number of people working on them, might justify having a Style Guide, which should be included in Writer’s Guidelines. 

Create a layout

Create a layout of your publication (section by section, page by page), poster or other project. This allows you to decide what goes where and how it will flow for the eye and mind of the reader. Think about the format you have chosen and how text will fit on the page while leaving space for images and headings. Remember to consider how it will be physically printed, cut and, if applicable, assembled. Always create a mock-up (a trial version of your document that you put together yourself), to see how your layout concept is going to look and work.

You can use Inkscape to design simple graphics or logos for your publication (Read more). If you do not have a talent for graphic design or access to a designer, it is best to stick to templates such as those provided in Scribus (Read more). You can even use Open Office for very simple layouts (Read more).

For all projects:

  • Sketch your layout on blank or grid paper before moving onto a computer
  • Consider how you can use images
  • Can you afford colour, in images, pre-printed header sheets or other design elements?
  • Think about the use of white space, an essential design element
  • How will the eye move across the design?

For publications 

Allow single pages for the front and back cover, and plan what will go on facing pages.

Remember that the pages are laid out in multiples of two or four, because of the way that the printing and folding processes work.

Style Guide

If your organisation is going to publish frequently, it is important to evolve a consistent communication style. A style guide is a document that details specific decisions which have been made as to how you will express things. 'Style' refers to the writing style, and may mean deciding whether to use full-stops in acronyms, or whether to capitalise 'Global South', or choosing between 'nonprofit' and 'non-profit'.

The best approach is to start with something simple (perhaps copied from another organisation you respect) and to develop it as you go on. Make decisions as a group, and then document these. Be aware of cultural conventions in the areas in which you are publishing. 


Once you have your manuscripts, the process of preparing them for production begins.

Make sure that you clarify your team’s division of labour and channels of communication before you begin the process of editing. One basic consideration is version control. Are you all working on the right document, in the right generation? Saving all work regularly and backing it up is another critical thing to remember. If you are not using computers, make photocopies.

This stage can get hectic and clear expectations and division of responsibility are important.

Top Tips for Editing

  • Read through – always read the whole document once through before making any changes.
  • Show respect for contributors, whether your organisation edits heavily to underline specific goals or lightly to favour authors’ voices.
  • Accountability – have a solid reason for any changes. Ask questions when you are not sure what something means.
  • Consistency – use your style guide and common sense to achieve this with punctuation, capitalisation, spelling, etc.
  • Humility – save time and be respectful by only changing what you must to achieve your goals.
  • Fact-checking – who is accountable for the factual information you are publishing? What are your sign-off procedures? Is information accurate and up to date? Use the internet or check with your author. Allow time for this.
  • Clarity & readability – break up long paragraphs and sentences. Use the active voice ('She brings home the bacon' rather than 'The bacon is brought home by her'). Avoid jargon. Does it flow logically?
  • Content – is all the information the reader needs included?
  • Tightening & cutting – eliminate redundant words, excessive adjectives and distracting detail. Fix vague language and repetition: use your thesaurus! Cut the least important information out but save versions in case you need to go back and retrieve anything. 

When to ask the author

  • If material is technical, specialised, or unfamiliar to you
  • When changes may alter the substance of the author’s point
  • When you don’t understand what is intended 

Copy editing

A few things to look out for:

  • Format – incorporate any necessary line breaks. Fix inconsistencies in heading style, font, bold face, italicisation, alignment, etc.
  • Misspellings and spelling consistency
  • Acronyms – state the term in full at the first mention with the abbreviation in brackets: Non- Governmental Organisation(NGO). Use the acronym after the first mention unless there are so many acronyms in the text that confusion might arise.

Editing and layout complement each other. Edit articles before placing them into the template. Once you have placed an article, you may need to edit it again for length. This can be a circular process depending on how your team and production process are structured, because your plans may change as the layout evolves; for example, if an excellent photograph becomes available or an article cannot be written in time for this edition.


This final stage of editing usually happens after layout, and almost always happens on hard copy. Use proof-readers' standard marks to ensure clarity, and use your style guide to ensure consistency. You can view the standard marks online by visiting the merriam-webster guide.

If you fix a lot of errors on the first round of proof-reading, you might need to do one or more additional rounds. TIP: use different coloured pens for each round.

It is also possible to edit on word processing programs such as Open Office using the 'Record Changes' function (Read more).