As a journalism student in college, I quickly learned the most important lesson to maintain my sanity:
Embrace the red pen marks.
I didn’t just embrace it, I felt grateful for it.
If you’re not used to receiving feedback on your writing, a piece of paper covered in red pen may feel daunting—it highlights everything you did wrong.
But in most cases, the red marks are an indicator of what you did right. Your content editor just makes it better.
Even James Beard Award-winning chefs need taste-testers to know if they’re on the right track. Maybe the dish just needs an extra shot of lemon or to be baked for a few more minutes.
Constructive criticism and smart feedback will transform your content from good to GREAT! Especially if your company’s goal is to drive leads with your blog content, you want to put only your best stuff out there.
An editor helps you…
Save time & meet deadlines
If you self-edit as you write your first draft and aim for perfection, then you’ll waste a lot of time.
Knowing that the first draft is just that—simply a draft—and that both you and your editor will review it, then feel free to play with any and all ideas, trusting your editor will help you fine-tune it.
I like to think of my favorite writing quote by Ernest Hemmingway: “Write drunk, edit sober.”
It’s probably not a good idea to pour a glass of wine at 9 a.m. before tackling your first post of the day. But try practice writing in an uninhibited nature without fear or self-consciousness.
Get out all of your ideas first. Then, after some time has passed, edit it yourself and then pass it to your editor for review.
Catch the silly mistakes
Definitely vs. defiantly. You know their different meanings, but it’s oh so easy to mistype, and Word or browser spellcheck won’t catch it!
Rachel Brougham, one of our copy editors at Brandpoint, says she often catches headlines that don’t match the article, “If something says it has 10 tips, that doesn’t mean it can have nine in the body of the article. It’s an easy mistake to make,” she says.
These “brain fart” moments happen. It’s easy for writers to oversee small mistakes, especially if they’re rushing to make a deadline.
Good editors have an eye for detail and can be trusted to make sure only the most best writing hits the web.
Though the small mistakes can hinder the quality of writing, an editor is more than a grammarian and spelling bee champ. An editor can also be a writing coach.
Not sure if your example makes sense? Wondering how to expand on a certain topic? Not sure how to begin organizing your monster of an e-book? Check in with your editor for guidance and suggestions.
Content editors are well-versed in the art of asking questions. It’s not their job to tell you how to write, but a good editor will ask questions to help you think differently and more deeply about your topic so you find the best solution on your own.
An editor WILL speak up to let you know if an idea is a total bust! Sometimes this can cause debate if a writer is determined to write about a specific idea. In this case, both should remain open to learning more about the direction a piece could take. What matters most is that a piece supports the overall content strategy and business goals.
Get out of a writing rut
Kate Ankofski, another one of our talented copy writers here at Brandpoint, says that editors get to know writers’ favorite words and phrases, so she makes sure that these don’t get overly used.
“Once you edit for someone enough,” Rachel adds, “you get to know their quirks and their crutches.”
The benefit of working so closely with the same content editor is that they can identify recurring toxic writing habits that writers may not even know they have.
This is where the red pen marks come in.
From my experience as a writer, it really does take time to break habits, but the best editors are persistent and encouraging when you’re struggling.
When you see red marks, use it as an opportunity to improve. Then, those red marks become positive and useful. To be a writer, this perspective toward feedback is necessary to remain confident and motivated.
Appointing an editor
If you’re without an editor and don’t have the resources to hire one, find someone else in the office to review your work. Even if that person isn’t a trained editor, they will have a fresh perspective of the content and may be able to spot a few of those silly mistakes.
If you need help mastering a concept or understanding who the piece is for, check in with someone on your marketing team. They will better understand the audience and the goals for that piece.
You can also appoint yourself as editor, though both of our ace copy editors Rachel and Kate recommended getting at least one other person to edit your content.
There are steps you can take to self-edit your work. First, take a day or two away from the piece so you can edit it with a fresher point of view. Reading aloud can also help you slow down to notice more mistakes.
Then make a checklist of all the details you wanted to cover and work through it. Start with a broader perspective of the whole piece and then narrow it down to the details like word choice and grammar.
Here’s how to get started:
1. Strategic alignment
Think back to your middle school English class when you learned the basic parts of an essay: intro, thesis, supporting arguments, conclusion.
Now look at your article. Does the topic and theme make sense for what your company wants to achieve? Do the supporting points relate to the thesis or are you just trying to hit key words and add fluff to lengthen the post?
The entire article should also reflect your company’s content marketing goals and voice with a topic that is useful and valuable to readers.
2. Reader appeal
Is the post interesting? In the case of boring content, Rachel says she often recommends finding someone with a personal story to tell that’s related to your product or service. “Emotion sells,” Rachel points out, and stories can help people relate.
Including examples or cultural references can help illustrate more abstract concepts in ways that people are more likely to remember and digest.
Also look at the readability. By bolding or numbering category headings, it will be easier for readers to find the information they’re looking for.
Does the post need MORE of anything? Adding examples, research, quotes from an expert, visuals, etc., contributes to a stronger and more valuable piece of content.
Kate says she always checks content for “flow.” Is the piece cohesive and do the points relate? Consider establishing an organizational method that makes sense, such as organizing by theme, chronological, didactic (easy to hard), problem-solution, level of importance, or process steps.
When looking at “flow,” you can also check transitions to see if there’s a sudden stop or pause between paragraphs without any topic connections.
Also, look at the format of the piece. What headlines should be in bold or use a Heading 2 tag? Would numbers or bullet points work best in the list? Are you using appropriate sentence- and paragraph-length appropriate for the content type? Scan through the piece and keep an eye how these elements may improve readability.
5. Fact checking
Click links. Do they go to the right place? Verify that sources are cited and include a link to the information. Also double check and verify numbers and percentages. A good rule to go by is to check all proper nouns–names of people, places and things for spelling and accuracy.
You can find this information from a simple Google search, but make sure to look at the most reputable site because the first link listed may not always be correct (here’s lookin’ at you, Wikipedia).
6. Line edits
Finish the editing process by looking for those silly mistakes and issues with word choice and grammar.
- Redundancies (You can tighten “There are 10 different kinds of mistakes” to “There are 10 kinds of mistakes.”)
- Adverbs (words ending in -ly; there’s usually a better replacement)
- Overly-used cliches (it’s better to demonstrate a cliche with a description or a story)
- Empty phrases
- Passive voice
- Word choice
Pro Tip: If you’re writing content on behalf of a client, subscribe to that industry’s online newsletters and print publications to pick up on common tone and jargon for their audience. Start your own dictionary to add to your client’s style guide.
Don’t skip the edit
Content editing is a step you can’t miss if you’re sending words to the web. Whether you’re able to work with an in-house editor or have to appoint an amateur, always have someone else read your writing before hitting “publish.”