Today, being a great copywriter also means being a great editor.
Gone are the days of simply tapping out a piece and sending it off to an editor somewhere, who will clean it up, polish it, and make it ready for publication.
Not only will this approach make your editors want to pull their hair out, but it also won’t do anything to help you grow your skills!
Instead, it’s critical for today’s working copywriters to hone their editing skills, so they can improve and strengthen their content as they write it, rather than simply doing a post-mortem when it comes back covered in red ink.
25 Editing Must-Dos for Smart Copywriters
To overhaul your editing game and write the best content of your life in 2017, follow these 25 smart editing tips:
1. Pay Attention While You Write
Great editing has its foundation in great writing. The more tuned-in and attentive you are as you write a piece, the easier it will be to edit later. With that in mind, start your editing process as you’re writing. Instead of writing with the television on, or in a loud area where you’re distracted by neighboring conversations, do yourself the courtesy of focusing entirely on the task at hand.
If you can work in a quiet office, that’s your best bet. If not, put on some headphones with some instrumental music that won’t damage your focus. Pay attention to every sentence you type and write like you’re going to go back and edit later. While you can’t expect your first draft to be Harvard Business Review-ready, you also aren’t doing anyone any favors by phoning it in.
2. Walk Away From All Your Content Before You Edit It
Want a recipe for terrible editing? Edit your content immediately after you’ve written it.
Writing is hard work, and forcing yourself to dive back into something with a fine-tooth comb after you’ve just wrapped up the writing process isn’t smart.
Instead, write your piece and then walk away for a few hours (at least), or a day.
This serves two important purposes:
- It gives your brain a chance to let go of the content and view it with a fresh perspective later.
- Secondly, it allows you to think about what you’ve written, and catch your own typos, misspellings, and grammar mistakes, which can be tough to identify when you dive right back in.
3. Read for Flow
“Flow” is an intangible thing that all great writing has to have. If you read through your content and find that it’s jolty, confusing, or broken, you’ve got a problem. One great way to identify flow issues is to read your content out loud.
Since you’re the person who wrote the material, and thus the one who is most familiar with it, reading it out loud should be a piece of cake for you. If you stumble over words or get stuck, though, you can bet the flow needs some adjustment.
Read all your material for flow, before you even evaluate it for grammar or structure.
4. Strive for Powerful Intros
Content without a powerful intro is like a cake without frosting: boring, dry, and unappealing. To make your content exciting for both your editors and your readers, it’s essential to pay some additional attention to your intro. Ideally, your introduction should “grab” the reader, and make him or her intensely interested in what comes next.
Again, this is a component of editing that requires you to walk away from your content for a while. When you come back to it and read the first line, are you interested? Do you feel compelled? If you have a hard time making this judgement call yourself, ask a friend to read the material for you and give you their opinion.
Since strong intros are so essential to the overall readability of your material, putting in the time and effort to get them right will help overhaul your material, in the long run.
5. Use Tools to Grade Your Headlines
Today, crafting a great headline doesn’t require you to rely solely on your own creativity.
Tools like the Advanced Marketing Institute headline analyzer can evaluate your headline and “grade” it according to its concentration of intellectual, empathetic, and spiritual words, as well as metrics like length and keyword inclusion. 40%+ is a great grade to aim for.
Instead of just rattling off a headline and calling it good, plug your next title into one of these machines and see what comes up. If your headline isn’t as strong as it should be, spend the time to fix it.
Remember: 80% of people read your headline, while only 20% read body copy, so investing in your headline is a smart decision.
6. Use Several Grammar Checkers
In the modern world, Microsoft Word’s spelling and grammar checker won’t cut it. To make sure your content is web ready, run it through a few different checkers, such as Grammarly and the one on your word processor, to catch any mistakes you didn’t see with the naked eye.
7. Use Hemingway to Simplify Your Content
Hemingway is an app that helps make your writing “bold and clear.”
When you plug a content segment into the app, it highlights sentences that are difficult to read, proposes simpler words, and highlights passive voice. Ideal for anyone who writes for the web on a regular basis, this app is a great way to lower the reading level of your content and make it more appealing for multiple audiences.
8. Clean Up Your Language
As a copywriter, it pays to know the difference between casual voice and being unprofessional. While it’s one thing to seem warm and approachable, it’s another to alienate readers or editors with sloppy language.
What’s more, the latter can actually cost your clients business. With this in mind, read through your content for any language that can be enhanced and made more professional.
9. Avoid Self-Aware Statements
Editors hate reading statements like this one:
“Today, we’re going to give you ten tips to clean your gutters faster. Read on to find out more.”
Why, you ask? In addition to being annoying and interruptive, these statements aren’t necessary. (See my post on refining for gold, for more on this.)
If you’re writing well, your title and meta description will tell your reader what they’ll learn from the content, so you don’t need to reiterate it again in the body copy. What’s more, the assumption is that, if you’ve crafted a compelling introduction, your reader will want to read on, so you won’t have to tell them to do it.
When you avoid self-aware statements like this, you keep the flow of your content intact and provide a more enjoyable experience for your readers.
10. Don’t get Attached
To be a successful editor, you have to release attachment to your work. If you’re editing correctly, you’re going to hack away a good deal of the content you wrote in your first draft, and that’s okay. If you can stay un-attached to your material, you can see it for what it really is rather than what you wish it would be, which also allows you to adjust it as needed.
11. Save the Things You Chop
As you remove content from your first draft, open another document and drop it in there, instead. Editing is a fluid process, and you may find later that the piece you removed from the first paragraph fits well in the fifth. By saving your edited-out material until you’re sure that you no longer need it, you can create cohesive content that reads and flows well.
12. Edit In Small Bursts
Unless you’re editing a very small piece of content, you’ll want to edit in several short bursts. In addition to preventing overwhelm, this will also allow you to maintain a clear eye for the content and support the flow throughout the piece.
13. Anticipate Your Readers’ Questions
The worst thing you can create for a reader is confusion, so it’s essential to anticipate your readers’ questions as you edit your material. If, at any point, it seems like your information or thesis may not be clear for your reader, re-evaluate and correct it. The simpler your content, the better.
14. Shorten Everything
Concise content is readable content. This is as true for a 6,000-word monster post as it is a 500-word micro blog. To make your content more readable and user-friendly, shorten your sentences and paragraphs. Look for places you can eliminate unneeded words and phrases and simplify your language. When you make it easy for your reader, they’re more willing to want to engage.
15. Be Consistent
Inconsistency confuses readers in blog posts. With this in mind, keep your voice, references, terms, and phrases consistent throughout your content. The more reliable you are, the more trustworthy you’ll appear to readers and clients. Simple things, like inconsistent capitalization or punctuation can ruin an otherwise good piece.
16. Develop a Process
Everyone edits differently, but maintaining a process is essential for a flawless execution. No matter how you prefer to edit your material, hone it into a process you can rely on an execute every time you sit down to evaluate a piece. This will standardize your editing and make for more consistent finished products.
17. Check for Spelling and Grammar
Yes, great editing still requires that you check your spelling and grammar. Be particularly aware of simple word mix-ups that word processors don’t always catch (such as “compliment” and “complement”), or words that you’ve added to your personal dictionary that may be incorrect.
18. Break Your Sentences into Individual Words
As you read through your content, ask yourself if that word fits where you put it. Is there a better option? Would an alternative word communicate your point more effectively? If the answer is yes, change it. This kind of micro-focus will serve you well as you progress in your career as a writer.
19. Write Yourself Notes
As you move through your content, use your word processor’s “track changes” feature to leave notes in your material. The next time you make a pass through the content, refer to these notes and ensure you’ve resolved any issues of quality, clarity, or flow.
20. Make it Specific
Vague pronoun reference will sink great writing every time. With this in mind, replace vague words like “it,” “they,” “them,” and “stuff,” with more specific alternatives.
21. Take Multiple Passes
Edit your finished piece two or three times before you turn it in. While this may seem like overkill, being as thorough as possible will decrease the legwork you leave for your editors and make your finished material more enjoyable.
22. Take a Walk in Your Reader’s Shoes
Before you submit your material, think about it from your reader’s perspective. Does it answer their questions, provide value, and come off as relatable? Make any last-minute changes you might need to check all the boxes.
23. Format it Beautifully
Great content is formatted well. Use a readable font, standard font size, H2 and H3 tags, and bulleted and numbered lists to make your material reader-friendly and simple to skim.
24. Do the Skim Test
If you had to read your material fast, could you? Today, many readers skim content rather than reading it in its entirety. If your material doesn’t pass the “skim test,” it might need to be re-worked.
25. Be Ready for Feedback
Once you’ve passed the content along to your editors, be receptive of feedback. Cruel editors are few and far between, and everyone benefits when editors and writers work together to create better content.
Better Editing Starts Here
While most writers believe that editing isn’t their responsibility, these 25 steps can make you a better writer, a better team member, and, yes, a better editor! All writing benefits from great editing, and honing your own skills is a fantastic way to become a more in-demand copywriter.
Need copy editing help? We have expert editors on staff ready to help you!