If you’re like most people, editing probably sounds about as much fun as having a cold.
Even many writers don’t enjoy editing – and that can be a problem. As the world moves firmly into the digital era, traditional ideas around “publishing” are changing.
Marketers and other content experts are often expected to proofread, craft, and edit their own work.
Sure, some larger teams might have dedicated editors. Startups, though, will be “DIY.”
Luckily, Web writers have two major advantages:
- You don’t have to write like Chaucer to be effective at digital marketing and sales.
- It only takes a few really quick editorial tips to bring your work up to the next level.
We’re going to share some of those editorial tips today.
But before we launch into this, just remember:
Everyone you meet will have different advice on writing and editing. You can go anywhere and find huge lists of rules, editorial tips, and more. You could visit another website and find someone who’ll contradict almost every point here.
Even we don’t follow every single point every time.
Why? Well, it’s simple.
Writing for the Web means breaking the rules whenever it can help you make your point.
But it doesn’t mean never following the rules, and it sure doesn’t mean not knowing them.
Before you can be creative with the written word, you have to know its conventions. Then, based on the audience you’re speaking to and the point you’re trying to make, you can decide what the best approach is. The best copywriters in every field have figured this out.
So, let’s look at some of them right now:
1. Make Your Work Scannable
People don’t usually read on the Web: They scan.
They’re looking for specific information and that’s what they care about most.
Three tools are most effective at making text scannable
- Bulleted lists.
- Short paragraphs.
Subheading are most useful in the widest variety of situations. They let people zoom down to whatever topic interests them without having to search. So, if you’re concerned your blog post or page looks too unwieldy, add more of these.
Keeping your paragraphs short makes each chunk of text more digestible. Of course, there’s no rule for what counts as “short.” Every piece of text will look different based on your display, so it’s helpful to double-check in mobile view to ensure they’re really short enough.
Bulleted lists are perfect for step-by-step processes.
And, of course, one-sentence paragraphs underline a point and stand out on their own.
2. Read Your Work Out Loud
Basic spelling mistakes are easy to find with spellcheck. There are even programs that highlight grammar errors for you. That means most issues will be harder to notice – poor word choice or a stilted sentence.
You can catch both problems more easily when you read work out loud.
The best Web copy reads like you’re having a conversation with a friend. It uses contractions, punchy sentences, and language that paints a picture. Just as importantly, it addresses the reader – putting “you” at the center of the universe.
Of course, most B2B decision-makers don’t want to be addressed like your best friend, either. It all comes down to context.
A blog post might be fast-paced and talky, while a whitepaper would be more structured and formal. The more you know about your audience, the easier it’ll be to strike the right balance.
3. Work in Three Short Bursts
Marketers have to balance the need to produce content quickly with the imaginative power of getting a new perspective on what they’ve written. When you have the chance to take a break from something and come back to it, you’ll often bring back insights that make it even better.
Even a short breather can be enough to give your subconscious a chance to work. However, it’s best if you can set a piece aside and go to work on something else, putting the writing in progress completely out of your mind. So, how will this play out in a modern team?
- First, write out a rough draft in an hour or less. Then, put it aside.
- Early the next morning, add any new ideas – don’t cut anything.
- The next morning, trim it, optimize the structure, and proofread.
This gives you the chance to look at the same piece of work with three perspectives: Fresh and ready to create without restrictions, ready to improve on the existing text with some momentum, and ready to “craft” the piece and make it as good as it can be.
4. Put the Most Important Ideas First
You’ve probably heard of the inverted pyramid, the idea that most “newsworthy” info should always come first, followed by the details that make sense of it, and then the more general stuff. That’s great for the structure of an entire article.
But, you can actually do this in every sentence – a concept called front-loading.
Front-loading sentences helps you avoid two major editing problems:
- Passive voice: “The ball was kicked by the boy” vs. “The boy kicked the ball.”
- Complex sentences: “Because the soup was too cold, I warmed it in the microwave.” vs. “I warmed the soup in the microwave because it was too cold.”
You’ll notice that a passive sentence puts the object, the thing that was acted on, first – not the subject, the one doing the acting. Likewise, complex sentences usually put causes before effects. This is how logic works, but it’s not the way people usually talk.
Note: I can spot a couple complex sentences in this article. Which detail is the “most important” is a judgment call when it comes to individual sentences. Sometimes, it’s the reader’s goal (“Before you can be creative with the written word ...”)
Share your favorite editorial tips below!