Gina Edwards

September 29, 2016

If you had to go back to your high school English class, how much would you actually remember?

Do you know the difference between affect and effect, what an Oxford comma is, or how to spot a dangling participle?

Unless you happen to identify with the few, the proud, the grammar nerds, you’re likely wondering what all this hype about quality, expertly edited content has to do with more profits for your business.

Before exploring the connection between editing and profits, let’s do a quick self-audit.

Take a moment to make a list (or at least think of it, if no pens, computers, or stone tablets are handy) of all the tasks you do every day for your business. Don’t worry — we’ll wait.

Then, go back and rate each task according to the level of effort, energy, and attention that goes into each one on a scale of one (laser focused) to three (it’s probably ok to have Jeopardy on in the background).

Did editing your content make the list? What number did it get?

Those with ones, kudos to you, but don’t celebrate just yet –– you might be forgetting some of the key tenets to ensuring that your editing process is not only efficient, but effective.

Twos and threes, read on. Your bank account will thank you.

Why Should I Give a Damn About Editing?

The short answer to this question is simple: it makes you money.

In order to make sense of the nuts and bolts of a profit-boosting editing strategy, let’s start by defining where editing should fit into the writing process.

If you have been writing for a long time, you might think you know yourself well enough to self-edit along the way. You know the mistakes you usually make, so it should be no sweat to correct as you write.

One stream-of-consciousness draft and a quick skim afterward should do the trick, right?

Wrong.

The mistaken notion that one can and should get it right on the first go is one reason why people have trouble getting started in the first place.

To win the fight with the cursed blinking cursor, it’s typically easier and more effective to write first, albeit with specific goals in mind, and let perfection be damned. Here’s a little workflow that works well for lots of writers:

Determine your target audience if it isn’t already set, and define the message and desired outcomes of the content. Is it to inform? To sell? To educate? To opine?

Also, consider the role that this content will play for your business. Is it a 50-page e-book you will use for lead generation? A quick-hit blog post? A gif-riddled listicle? The next great American novel?

Defining these key characteristics will help you set a desired word count and appropriate lead time before you mark out the deadline. With established numerical goals (50-word blurb, 500-word post, 50,000-word masterpiece), you can wield your scheduled writing time wisely.

From there, do whatever you need to do to get words on paper. Brainstorms, lists, outlines, sticky note murals –– whatever.

Then, of course, comes the writing.

After you have spent hours typing away like an old-school journalist on a hot beat, or otherwise feel you have adequately addressed whatever it is you were aiming to do in the piece, then and only then should the editing process commence.

By reserving a dedicated time for editing at the end of your first writing surge, you remove the perfection filter, allowing yourself to be more creative, daring, and interesting with your writing. You free yourself from the nagging voice that tells you it’s a silly idea, the phrasing is bad, or stops to ponder how many r’s actually go in the word embarrass.

Without that voice, you can deliver your best work. Work that converts.

So, now you’ve got a draft. A living, breathing document full of your thoughts and ideas. It can be so tempting to run the spell check, throw up a post, and call it a day.

Resist that urge.

Without proper space and time, or another set of trained eyes reviewing what you wrote, you — as the author of the piece — are probably not fit to objectively edit it. You simply don’t have enough distance from it.

As a content provider, editing is your quality assurance –– treat it as such.

How Editing Saves Your Ass

One big mistake that writers often make is not giving their readers enough credit.

Authors assume that those reading won’t catch the typos, the jumbled last name, the wording copied from another page, or other inconsistencies in a text.

Bad news –– they do notice. And even the most seemingly simple of writing errors can interrupt the relationship between writer and reader, causing loss in potential profits.

Spelling mistakes alone have been shown to drive away sales.

Forgetting the ‘h’ in John Boehner’s name might seem like a silly reason to lose a reader or customer, but such mistakes can be a sign of lacking dedication and trustworthiness. It can start a whole spiral of concerning questions.

“This author clearly isn’t worried about spelling… does that mean she’s also careless about the facts in the article? Is the site owner actually using a secure payment method? Maybe I should check somewhere else…”

Poof. Just like that, they’re gone.

Successful sites and companies use strong, clean copy as a confidence-building tool to gain trust and loyalty between readers and the business.

You guessed it, these emotions eventually lead to sales.

Now that you see the value in putting aside dedicated time and effort for the editing process, let’s get into some ideas about how.

Become a Better Editor

Good editing ensures that writing is focused and clear, as well as clean and error-free. Ideas, organization, phrasing, typos, and other minutiae are all within the scope of the editing process.

Whether it is yourself, someone on your staff, or a hired editor (more on this later), this person must first verify the proposed content’s value and purpose. They will reshape content that doesn’t meet the overarching goals and mission of the company itself.

Apart from these broad aims, strong editing yields clarity, prompting writers to craft and organize their content in a meaningful, understandable, and interesting way for readers.

After these larger scale adjustments comes the final stage of editing: proofreading. This is where the slightly sloppy copy becomes polished and new.

Editing Strategies

Let’s look closer at some strategies to become a more effective editor, as well as some common mistakes to keep an eye out for.

Think of editing as a funnel –– you start with big, broad ideas and eventually end with the tiniest of typos. In the primary round, you should focus primarily on organization and logical flow.

Put yourself in the same frame of mind as when you started writing the piece:

  1. What does the audience want?
  2. What is the purpose of the content?
  3. What is the main idea?

Depending on your site’s mission, some of these questions might always have the same answer — your audience might be relatively consistent, or the purpose of your written content may always be purely to drive traffic.

But just in case you’re angling towards a particular audience subset, or hoping to generate sales for a particular product, make sure to recall the overarching goal of the piece as you dive into the editing process.

You might ask yourself some questions along the way:

  • Can readers quickly understand what they should be doing with the information they are receiving?
  • Are the ideas presented in a logical order?
  • Is the main idea of the piece clearly stated, preferably at both the beginning and at the end?

If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, you should take necessary steps to — perhaps radically — adjust your overall structure. This may take time.

After reorganization, read through the content again to establish the flow:

  • Do the sections transition well from one to the next?
  • Are you left with any lingering questions that should have been answered?
  • Are you using insider vocabulary that this audience won’t immediately understand?

Again, this might require movement or reorganization, but at this stage, you should be more focused on honing the text itself: transitions, phrasing, and word choice.

As much as you can, try to read the piece from the mindset of your reader, not yourself. Of course, you know what you mean, but will they? Eliminate potential confusion or frustration by making your content flow smoothly.

Common Mistakes: Organization and Logical Flow

Seasoned editors have seen it all. Typically, even the best of writers break some cardinal rules when it comes to top-of-the-funnel mistakes.

Many of the following issues can be avoided by proper planning at the outset, so be sure to devote plenty of time to hashing out as much as you can from the beginning.

How many of these are you guilty of when creating content?

Not following an outline or plan

We know, we know. Outlines can feel boring or restrictive. They chain your creativity to bullet points and don’t let it roam free.

The hesitation in using outlines to organize your work is unfortunately misguided. Outlines are simply a way of taking that unbridled creativity (which you should unleash in brainstorming, mind mapping exercises, and the like) and putting it into a readable structure. They aren’t set in stone (at least they shouldn’t be!).

By following an outline from the early stages of writing, you can actually avoid much of the restructuring and reorganization that we mentioned above, freeing up precious time that you could spend doing other things for your business.

When editing a messy piece, try to identify the four or five main ideas to get a sense of what the outline should look like, and then move sections around to fit that structure.

Anecdote overload

Every now and then, personal stories or side tangents that relate to the topic serve to liven up a piece and humanize a topic.

Take a moment to ask yourself: what value is this story adding to the piece?

If the story somehow connects to the overall message, make that connection as strong as possible. If you’re having trouble seeing how it relates at all, throw it on the chopping block.

Trying to do too much

You’ve got a lot to say –– but you don’t have to say it all at once.

Passionate and eager writers tend to overexert themselves in their writing, attempting to deliver everything they know about a topic in one blog post or article.

This results in information overload, high word count, and confused readers.

Consider cutting down an overly wordy piece, or segmenting it so that you can use the chunks in different ways. Remember: additional or related ideas can always be utilized in future posts.
Leverage your enthusiasm wisely.

Common Mistakes: Grammar

These days, we have the luxury of spelling and grammar checkers that look out for us. We just have to wait for that red or green squiggly line, and suddenly we’re getting a lesson in punctuation or proper sentence structure.

Such tools are great, and have really cut down on the time writers need to take fumbling with dictionaries. However, they don’t catch everything.

As mentioned above, it’s important to keep in mind your audience and purpose as you’re writing, as that will guide the tone, structure, and ultimately, the grammar rules you choose to bend or break.

Many people writing for publications, be they online or in print, follow the AP Stylebook, but there are other options out there, too. Lots of online writers will use Grammarly or the free Hemingway app to catch more than simple spelling mistakes and typos. Choose whatever makes sense for your situation, and stick to it.

Despite this bevy of tools at our disposal, mistakes still happen.

The following list of typical mistakes is anything but exhaustive, but highlights a few common grammar mistakes that tend to creep up when we’re not looking…

Sentence fragments

Or, pieces of sentences that really shouldn’t stand alone.

  • Like this one.
  • When I ordered the burrito.
  • For example, that she should pay for the burrito.

All of the above examples do not stand on their own, and — from a grammatical perspective — they are incorrect.

But that doesn’t mean you have to leave them out altogether.

If your content leans toward the casual, evoking a friendly or conversational tone with readers, these can work quite well. If improperly used, they make your writing sloppy and unpolished.

Uncommon shorthand

ICYMI*, not everyone is on the up and up with abbreviations.

In many industries, there are acronyms or other shorthand terms that are understood by insiders, but leave laypeople out in the cold. You could end up insulting or shutting out potential revenue if people don’t know what you are talking about.

Determine whether your primary audience will be clear on such terms, then use them or incorporate definitions into the piece to clarify.

*in case you missed it

Commas, dashes, semicolons, and other punctuation

This is a big one. Punctuation can greatly change the meaning of your ideas, yet many use these vastly different marks interchangeably.

Here are a few of the most common offenders and their typical usage:

Comma ( , )
Pauses, items in a list (including adjectives), and adding phrases without a new subject

Ex: I want guacamole, beans, and extra salsa on my burrito, please.

Dash ( –– )
Interruptions, abrupt changes of thought, and emphasis

Ex: He eats a burrito –– a huge one –– every day.

Hyphen ( – )
Link words together

Ex: I only eat high-quality ingredients in my burritos.

Semicolon ( ; )
Connect two related stand-alone clauses

Ex: I typically get burritos at Chipotle; the ones at Moe’s are also decent.

Colon ( : )
Introducing a list

Ex: Here are some great occasions for burritos: birthdays, weddings, and bachelor(ette) parties.

Quotation marks ( “ ” )
Quoting someone’s speech. (Not indicating sarcasm.)

Ex: The cashier said, “Anything else with your burrito?”

Hiring an Editing Team

At this point, you may be thinking, “I don’t have time to pay attention to all of this.”

We’ve definitely said that before.

Whether you’re an online business owner, content marketer, professional blogger, or whatever your LinkedIn profile says, you are probably a busy person. Most likely, you’re balancing a lot of spinning plates, be they metaphorical or real (any circus readers out there?).

Let’s face it, when you are doing that much, some things fall by the wayside.

It can be tempting to let proper editing become lost in the shuffle, but, for the sake of your brand, you should maintain high-quality editing, even if you can’t be the one to do it yourself.

That’s where an editing team can come in –– a staff of trained professionals whose sole mission is to make your content into polished masterpieces, leaving you the time to focus on other aspects of your business.

So, when is the right time to hire a content editing team?

1. When you have a clearly-defined brand and message

As we saw above, a huge part of editing is not the nitty gritty, but the bigger-picture messages you send to your audience. Without clearly defining this vision for your editing team, content creation becomes an exercise in frustration for both parties.

Those you hire to edit your work should know exactly what you need from them. Unless you also hire them for this specific purpose, they shouldn’t be telling you how to strategize and determine these targets.

2. When you are ramping up your content load

More content means more to edit. If you’re a one-(wo)man-band, the increasing amounts of work will begin to take a toll.

Outsource this task as soon as you’re starting to feel the heat.

3. Before you start missing deadlines or putting up low-quality content

A byproduct of number two, falling behind on your publication schedule or producing mediocre content can be damaging to your business. Editing teams can ensure that you stay focused and on schedule, because they are constantly following up about pieces and deadlines.

Managing an Editing Team

Now that you have a group of editing enthusiasts at your side, how can you make sure to utilize them well, and make sure that the editing process is a smooth one for both sides?

First, be clear. Thoroughly define the content’s mission, appropriate tone, desired word count and the like for the editors. Give clear instructions as to whether you want them to focus only on organization and flow, only grammar, or both (recommended option). Set both preferred and hard deadlines.

As you work with these editors over time, you will form a relationship and build understanding, but at the outset, they may require a little more guidance. They might be good, but they probably aren’t mind readers. For this reason, it is a much better idea to work with one person or team rather than hiring one-off individuals every time you need something done.

While building these relationships, don’t be afraid to ask questions about the edits to try to learn and thereby develop as a writer. The more you can identify your typical issues and work with editors to resolve them, the more you will streamline both the writing and editing process.

Speaking of processes, do keep in mind that editing is not a one-and-done activity. Your editors cannot wave a magic red pen and turn a poorly-written piece of content into a masterpiece. Along the way, content will likely come back to you one to three times so that you can rewrite or reword sections and approve changes.

It helps to develop a standard system to use with your editing team so that you always understand where work is in the editing funnel. A potential workflow might look like this:

First Draft Submitted > Content edits > Author Changes > Logical Flow Edits > Author Revision > Proofreading > Final Author Approval

You can use sites like Trello to manage these writing stages and communicate with your team and move content along the pipeline.

Let’s Recap

For busy business owners, putting a lot of time and attention into editing can feel like a waste.

However, when it comes to building a trustworthy brand with loyal readers, and ultimately converting them into customers, attention to detail in the form of clean content makes all the difference.

Strong editing creates excellent content, which supports quality in all aspects of a business.

Most editing is broken down into two major types: content and copy.

Content editing focuses primarily on ideas, organization, and logical flow of the piece. The first step of editing starts before the piece is actually written, when the author answers important questions like, “Who is my audience?” and “What is the desired outcome of the content?” After the content is written, it can get reorganized, restructured, and smoothed out with a series of changes.

Finally, copy editing is the fine tuning. This step takes care of all the tiny details that can fall through the cracks when you’re focused on the big picture. Learning how to use some of these basic punctuation marks can save you a lot of time in the long run.

If all of these things seem like too much to focus on, there is always the option of hiring an editing team to take care of this job. Electing to build an ongoing relationship with an individual or team of editors can help make the process a smooth and efficient one.

Where will editing take your content?

Luckily, going back to high school English class is not required in order to write strong, clean content that converts into sales.

You don’t even have to memorize a style guide or every grammar rule about commas.

By recognizing the value of editing in the content production process and implementing strategies to maximize its effectiveness, you can ensure that your copy is taking you and your business as far as possible.


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