Part of being a good writer is being an even better editor. After you’ve created that fantabulous piece of content, you have two tricky questions to answer:
- What do I keep?
- What do I chop out?
So just how do you go about the task after all the blood, sweat and tears you’ve put into the piece?
Let me answer that for you with my no-nonsense guide on how to edit your content like a boss.
Keep your aims in mind at all times
Writing has to have some sort of point. To entertain, to inform, to persuade… It could even be a simple reflection piece you’re writing on your own blog and you’re just looking to get a few thoughts out of your head. It doesn’t matter what the purpose is as long you’re crystal clear on what your aims are in the first place.
Once you know what you want to achieve, you can start pruning away at all the bits that don’t work towards the end goal. Roll your sleeves up. You’ve got a bit of weeding to do.
Think about how you sound
We’ve heard the phrase so many times in so many different contexts: ‘It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.’
Think about how you sound. This is especially important when you’re writing for a brand, so check the project brief and any tone of voice documents available for recommendations. Reflect on what you’ve written, the language you’re using and how it all comes across. Does it sound like something you (or the brand) would say? If not, delete it.
Writing off brand conveys a whole heap of wrong impressions and really diminishes trust. For instance, a law firm could be the absolute business at what they do, but if they describe themselves as ‘hot shot legal eagle ninjas’ on their website, would you hire them? Not likely, but you might consider hiring them as clowns for your child’s next birthday party!
Check the structure
Read through the copy and check it’s structurally sound. Do the ideas follow each other in a logical order? Do you glide effortlessly through the content, or do you stop midway through, scratch your head and ask yourself ‘Where did that come from?’?
If you’re feeling confused at any point in the text, then it’s time to revise the structure, my friend. You could even get a friend or colleague to read the content for you. Just make sure you can handle the feedback!
Delete your first paragraph (and maybe your second)
One of my favourite tips when it comes to editing is what it says on the tin: delete your first paragraph.
In an ideal world, we’d switch on the computer, open up Microsoft Word and bash out gloriously majestic prose from the off. But you know what? The brain just doesn’t work like that.
Instead, we try to get our brains into gear and get our mojo working. As a result, our first paragraph shuffles furtively towards getting on with the task at hand, which is selling, persuading, entertaining, informing or any other purposes of your content. You could have lost your audience by then, so delete your first paragraph and, if it rambles as much as the first,- your second one too, and rewrite them. Watch the copy tighten up and get on with its job.
Feel the flow
Observe the flow of your content and ask yourself, ‘Does it read naturally?’
Check the punctuation. Does the copy read smoothly, or is the punctuation making it all convoluted and difficult to read and understand? How about dashes? Overuse of dashes can disrupt the flow of a text and make it sound jerky.
How about the length of the sentences? Too many short sentences strung together one after the other makes copy sound monotonous, so make sure you’re varying the sentence length and structure.
Copy must be easy to read, true, and the reader doesn’t want to stop halfway through a sentence for soup and sandwiches to make it to the end, but slightly longer sentences and different structures add inflection to the text.
Tone of voice, spelling, punctuation, list items, grammar… it all has to be consistent. Wander off the style or tone of voice path and you risk creating confusion. If the reader is asking themselves, ‘Why does one part of the text have “colour” and another have “color”?’, then they’re focusing on your grammar, not your message. Not good.
Stay consistent and the reader will stay with you.
Avoid complicating matters
The late, great George Orwell said it best when he advised writers never to use a long word when a short one will do. In other words, use simple words and phrases to make your content easy to read and understand.
Note, however, that this is not to be confused with jargon. If you’re creating content in a specific niche, then jargon is part and parcel of it. A doctor, for instance, will be most unhappy to spending their time trying to decipher whether by ‘a machine that uses magnetic fields to create images’ you mean an MRI scanner or not!
Strip out repetition
Strip your content of any redundancy of repetition if it sways you from the objective. Remember, there’s always another website to click onto, another video to watch, another tweet to read, so if you find yourself saying the same thing twice, something needs to go. You need to get to the point sooner rather than later.
Using the same words and phrases over and over again throughout the same piece of content will get your reader’s dander up to tremendous heights – and also makes you look like a bad writer. Describing every little thing as ‘nice’ or ‘pleasant’? It’s time to bring out the thesaurus and find something better. Better still, skip the adjectives all together and use a more original way of conveying your ideas (see my post on creating compelling content for more on this).
Don’t say it if it’s not necessary
Similar to the previous point, so I’ll cut straight to the chase with this one. We sometimes find ourselves writing things like ‘Needless to say’ or ‘It goes without saying’ or ‘It’s obvious that…’.
In all these cases, if you don’t need to say it, then what’s the point in saying it? Perhaps the exception to the rule is sales copy since spelling things out loud and clear is all part of making the sale.
That’s how I go about editing content. These aren’t the only ways, I’m sure, and they’re not hard and fast rules. But they’ll keep you on the editorial straight and narrow when it comes to shaping the content you desire.
How do you go about it? Don’t keep all the wordy wisdom to yourself, now. Feel free to share your tips with me.