Chapter Three: How To Edit Your Content
The best authors in the world would be nothing without editors. Editors offer an essential, impartial perspective on written content.
When we write for a long time, our “voice” becomes familiar to us. We can fail to notice small errors, awkward flows, over-repetition, and so on. An editor can show you lots of points to correct that you might not notice by yourself. We all have our blind spots; an editor illuminates them.
Appoint someone on your marketing team to be the main editor. This person should have a strong understanding of your company’s written brand standards. They should also be absolutely solid when it comes to grammar, syntax and language conventions.
Set up a system where all written content is reviewed by the main editor. An example setup could be:
- Content writer creates content
- Editor reviews content, makes notes and corrections
- Content writer implements corrections
- Marketing manager reviews content to ensure all the main ideas are expressed correctly
- Content writer makes final adjustments
- Editor reviews the final piece of content and suggests minor changes to grammar, word choice, etc
- Content writer implements these edits
- Content is complete
Important: There is such a thing as over-editing, and over-brainstorming. Make sure you only have the necessary people involved in the content creation process. In the example system above, only the writer, the editor and the marketing manager are involved.
The more people you pull onto a task, the more opinions fly around. While it’s great to have a diversity of opinions, not everyone will actually take on the accountability to contribute to your project until it’s finished. It’s easy to pipe up in a meeting and make a complaint, but it’s not so easy to accept responsibility for the finished product. If you listen to too many opinions, your content will veer away from it’s original point and become confused in tone.
George Lois calls this phenomenon “Group Grope”. I’ve fallen victim to it in the past. It’s important, as a writer and marketer, to set boundaries when it comes to your projects. Have your designated framework for project participants, and don’t solicit feedback elsewhere. Your content strategy will roll out in a much more consistent, peaceful way.
How To Edit Content
If you have been selected as the main editor in your company’s marketing department, congratulations! Being chosen as the editor is a huge testimony to your writing and analytical skills.
I wish I could tell you that you’ll only be editing content written by Pulitzer winners. The reality is, people’s writing capabilities vary wildly. Sometimes you’ll be editing content that is…rough. It’s your job to work that rough stone into a shiny diamond that’s worthy of being distributed to customers.
Here is a checklist to think of when editing content:
- Voice and Brand Standards
- Fact Checking & citations
It goes without saying that good content must be created in accordance with grammar rules. Pay attention to:
- Subject-verb agreement
- Use of prepositions (starting or ending a sentence with a preposition)
- Contracted words (two words joined by some form of punctuation, such as they’re or wasn’t)
- Hyphenated phrases (real-time, well-known, low-effort, etc)
- Run-on sentences
- Capitalization of proper nouns
Some common grammar mistakes I’ve seen include inconsistent capitalization, overuse of commas and sentences that either don’t have a subject or predicate. Inexperienced writers will often write run-on sentences under the pretense that long sentences seem more intellectual. Avoid run-on sentences like the plague!
A tip to keep in mind: writing is not like talking. If you’ve ever looked at a transcription from a voice-to-text app, you’ll see how erratic the content looks. Don’t construct your content from voice notes, or from stream of consciousness. The resulting grammar of your content will make it unreadable.
A common trap writers fall into is repeating themselves, either with a particular word or by reiterating the same point over and over again.
Remember writing essays in high school? Your teacher gave you a minimum word count to achieve. If you forgot to research for this essay, you might milk a single idea for all it’s worth. This results in a higher word count for your essay, but it doesn’t make for a good essay. It’s bloated, boring and repetitive.
The same phenomenon can happen when writing business content, especially if the writer is inexperienced.
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.When communicating with a potential customer, don’t make it too complicated. Say what you want to say, clearly, and then move onto the next point.
Don’t hesitate to delete entire sentences or paragraphs during the editing process. If it has to go, it has to go.
Be aware of overused buzzwords in your company’s content. Every company has it’s own unique culture, and with that comes a unique lexicon. Maybe your salespeople can best express the benefits of your product by using the words “innovative” or “connective”, or maybe they rely on words like “targeted” or “leverage” to strike the right tone. These buzzwords should be used like scotch bonnet peppers: fine in small quantities, but disastrous as your main diet.
Buzzwords tend to be very vague. They communicate a quality, but not a concrete idea. They’re style without substance, and they provoke eye-rolls from customers. Call attention to often-repeated words so that your managers and colleagues know that they’re relying on them too heavily. Create a thesaurus of words that can be substituted instead.
We talked in the last chapter about how the number one goal when writing content should be clarity. If your writing is not clear, people will not read it. They will also lose trust in your business; maybe you’re a scammer, or selling vapourware. Clear communication is everything.
When editing for clarity, make sure you have these questions answered up-front:
- Who is the intended audience for this document?
- At what stage in the pipeline will this document be shared? Over what medium?
- What file format will this document be?
- Will this document be shared in a package with other documents?
- What is the desired word count or page count for this document?
- Will this document contain any visual or graphically designed content? How will the text and images work together?
- What is the desired outcome from sharing this document?
Clarity often ties into grammar. Content written with poor grammar is inherently unclear. Repetitive content can also become unclear, as the writer attempts to say the same thing in marginally different ways. Editing for grammar and repetition will go a long way towards achieving crystal clear content.
After you’ve marked up grammar and repetition, take a look at the remaining text. Is it clear what product or service you’re selling? How it will help the customer? How it will fit into their lives? There are lots of beautiful, well-produced adverts that fail to communicate what is actually being sold. The customer may be intrigued, but they have no idea how to act on this newfound interest. They probably won’t put in the legwork to investigate the matter further; they’ll move on to a competitor that has made the path easy for them.
Take out any “ten dollar words”. Words like extraordinary, consequently, incongruous, plethora…you get the picture. Keep your vocabulary in layman’s territory. You shouldn’t need high-fallouting language to get your point across, if you have a real point to make.
Don’t be afraid to get rid of text! Short word counts (100-500 words) are generally preferable to longer word counts (500 words to 1000+ words). Don’t expect a reader to settle in with your content as if they were reading a novel by the fireplace.
Remember the quote “the reader is always in danger of confusion”. Scan the content you’re editing for any potholes where the reader might get confused. Either remove those sections or rewrite them. When in doubt, simplify.
Voice and Brand Standards
In the first chapter, we talked about how to define your brand’s voice. Have these brand-standards handy while you edit content.
Keeping a consistent voice is a challenge for any writer. There will probably be minor voice errors in the content you’re editing. Maybe the writer used first-person pronouns when your brand standards say only third person should be used. Maybe the content was written in a casual tone when your brand standards dictate content should be formal and solemn. Make sure that your content brand standards are adhered to at all times.
Most of all, a good voice makes it so customers enjoy reading your content. Reading is meant to be a fun activity. If you can help your customers have fun, you’re doing your job as a marketer.
Think of flow as the “velocity” of written content. How fast is information being presented to the reader? Do sentences and paragraphs connect together naturally? Does the experience of reading the content feel “smooth”?
Flow is a fairly subjective criteria to edit for. Every book in a library has a different flow of text, but they’re all worth reading.
Flow ties into grammar and clarity. Text that is written with poor grammar won’t flow very well. Fixing your text’s grammar will make it much easier to consume.
Edit your content for grammar, clarity, repetition and voice. Then, read the edited text back to yourself a few times. Zero in on any spots that seem awkward, and delete or rewrite those sections.
Fact Checking & Citations
The aim of content marketing and SEO is, at it’s core, about improving the internet. The content you publish should be accurate, up-to-date and backed by evidence. There are a few reasons for this:
- Your brand authority will improve with accurate content, but will plummet with inaccurate content
- You will earn more backlinks if your content is correct and contains the most recent facts and evidence
- You may run into legal trouble if you put out incorrect content that turns out to be harmful
- You may run into copyright issues if the original author of a source you used claims ownership
Make sure the research sources you use for your content are credible. By linking to another website, you are associating your business with that outlet. Choose the sources you link your brand to carefully.
Citing your sources is basic internet and intellectual courtesy. Someone else has gone and done the initial research and made it publicly available for reference. Credit that source by linking back to them.
If you are managing a staff of writers, it’s important that they cite their sources so you can verify them. There are lots of careful, conscientious writers out there, but there are also writers who are trying to get away with the bare minimum. Some writers will make things up in their content, or accept a non-credible information source. This type of ethic is unacceptable for a professional writer, and should be dealt with during the editing process.
There is a LOT that goes into the editing process! It’s one of my favourite parts about working with content. To me, editing is like the equivalent of finding a rusty old car and shining it up into a stunning roadster. Editing is a great job for someone who is detail-oriented and gets personal gratification from finessing a piece of content until it’s clear, compelling and crystallizes your company’s brand message.
Can you tell I love editing?
To recap, pay attention to these factors during the editing process:
- Make sure content has good grammar throughout; this will make it readable and professional.
- Notice repetition, either with ideas or specific words. Say what you want to say once, then move on. Take note of buzzwords that you’re using too often in your content, or in your sales scripts.
- The greatest goal of a content marketer should be clarity. Is your main point getting confused? Are you using language that is accessible to your audience?
- Voice and Brand Standards
- Does the voice of your written content adhere to your company’s brand standards? Are you assuming the role of teacher?
- Does your content have smooth transitions? Does it pull the reader in?
- Fact checking & citations
- Is your content accurate and up-to-date? Have you referenced all your facts?
Next week we’ll be covering: Looks Matter: Nailing Your Brand’s Aesthetic.