Santa has his "naughty or nice" list, those savvy coupon ladies have their grocery lists, and what do we have as content marketers? An editing checklist, of course!
In most cases, editing is a lot more than just proofing for mistakes. Here at VIEO, it usually involves not only grammar and spelling, but fact-checking, internal logic, structure, tone, humor, and personality.
Content creation is a bit like putting on a shoe and editing is polishing that shoe. So grab a coffee and continue reading. It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s your go-to checklist for editing content! After all, editing can get pretty exhausting—so let’s get started.
1. Boring Writing Doesn't Reflect Well on Anyone
When I read a blog title, I decide instantly if it’s worth my time. Sound familiar? Remember, your readers are going to do this, too. If you can capture them with your title, then you need to keep their attention throughout the post.
Here at VIEO, I often end up editing blog posts written by coworkers, many of whom would tell you themselves that they're not very comfortable with writing. And that's fine, because they're experts at what they do!
But often, non-writers focus on the information they need to deliver and don't add a lot of color to their writing. When editing your peers' work, stop and think, “Am I bored out of my mind or do I actually enjoy reading this?”
If you're not exactly riveted, help your colleague out and spice things up. Make sure they’re engaging the audience and keeping the buyer persona in mind. Go ahead—add in some of that fabulous personality!
✓ Will the title grab the reader's attention?
✓ Does the tone match the content?
✓ How can I make the topic more interesting?
✓ Will it appeal to the buyer persona?
2. Organize the Content
Another problem non-professional writers often have is poor organization. Simply typing up all the information about a topic doesn't make for a readable—let alone compelling—blog post. Before you zoom in on the details, take a few minutes to examine the big picture. Does the subject matter flow well? Has the writer built a case for his or her point and supported it?
As writers, we often have all the things we want to say swirling around in our heads, right along with tight deadlines and grammar rules, causing us to lose focus and fail to develop our arguments. Other times, we think we’re making an awesome point, but it actually doesn’t fit in with the rest of the content. Hashtag. Writer. Problems. Sad face.
Before you publish, spend some time organizing the content to make it flow more smoothly, so that it will make sense to a diverse group of readers (instead of only the voices inside the author's head).
✓ Do the sections transition well?
✓ Are the points organized properly?
✓ Should I add bullets or a numbered list to make the logic more clear?
✓ Are sentences choppy, or too long and rambling?
✓ Do the section headers help the reader find the content they're looking for?
✓ Is the content natural and easy to read?
3. Find Helpful Resources
I know. At times, we all feel like Superman or Wonder Woman with miraculous editing powers. But even if you're usually invincible, a little bionic boost isn't going to hurt. Use a dictionary, thesaurus, or anything you need to be a proficient editor. There are tons of resources out there, but my favorite is Grammar Girl (alias Mignon Fogarty).
Grammar Girl offers quick tips on pretty much every writing topic. Anytime I stumble upon a punctuation I don’t understand or a word I would challenge in Scrabble, I Grammar Girl the heck out of it.
Research different resources and find ones that you can rely on. When in doubt, turn to them to make sure your work is on point. Then, if you ever come across weird subject-verb agreement issue or a variation in British vs. American usage, you’ll have a handy sidekick to help you out.
If your business or organization has an internal style guide or follows a style guide like the AP Stylebook, it should live on your desk. Whether it's your trusty-but-condescending butler or hated nemesis, you're stuck with it!
✓ Which spelling, grammar and fact-checking resources should I use for this content?
✓ Is there an applicable style guide I should refer to?
4. Keyword-Optimize Content & Social Sharing
Don’t worry. I’m not about to drown you with SEO stuff. I just wanted to note that editors often have to think about the SEO impact of content, including which keyword the blog post or page content is targeting. However, with Google's ongoing algorithm changes, you need to worry less and less about using exact keywords and more about keeping your content clear and relevant.
In fact, my best advice is about when not to use your keyword. When you mention your keyword more than five times in a blog post, it can seem a bit spammy, and extreme keyword stuffing can damage the page's ranking. You want the keyword to guide the content, but not so much that it ruins the reader’s experience. Just keep your content natural and valuable, and both readers and Google will love you.
You probably know all about using Google's Keyword Planner to do keyword research, but one tool I use to check my keyword for social sharing is Hashtagify. You can use it to research the usage of your keyword as a hashtag, and see related hashtags and a live stream of tweets using that hashtag. So if you wrote a post about social media marketing, you can compare #socialmediamarketing against #socialmedia, #marketing, #social, and #SMM. Using a version keyword in social media posts can lead to new readers, followers, and leads. Hooray!
✓ Does the keyword have sufficient traffic?
✓ Is the competition for the keyword at a level where my brand has a chance to rank for it?
✓ Are the keyword and its variants used throughout the content?
✓ Was the keyword used in the title, headings, and meta description?
✓ How can this keyword translate into hashtags for social sharing?
5. Commas Matter
...And so do question marks, exclamation points, and any other type of punctuation. Have you ever read a sentence in which a missing comma made the meaning unclear, like “Did you eat Amy?”
Oh dear, poor Amy! Nope. Amy’s fine, but a comma after the word “eat” would have helped there. As editors, it's our job to make sure that a reader isn't misled because the writer doesn't know what an Oxford comma is. While nobody would think you actually ate Amy, there are lots of comma errors that can affect clarity.
Say you're editing an annual report that refers to a panel consisting of "the department heads, Silvia Rodriguez, and Burt Moore" when it should be "the department heads, Silvia Rodriguez and Burt Moore." Just like that, Silvia and Burt got demoted, and anyone reading the report could misunderstand their status in the company.
Commas aren't the only punctuation mark that can cause trouble when misplaced. Consider the impact of a restaurant sign reading Local Fresh Seafood as opposed to Local "Fresh" Seafood. Sadly, these quotations-for-emphasis errors seem to be getting more common, even in business writing.
✓ Are there any missing punctuation marks that affect meaning or readability?
✓ Are there any unnecessary punctuation marks that affect meaning or readability?
6. Read Out Loud & Read Every Letter
This is probably the most important tip on this editing checklist. During your final proofing, take the time to read the content aloud to yourself or someone else. This will help you catch words you repeated and phrases that seemed normal as you wrote them, but actually sound funky.
Next, proof for errors by reading every word letter by letter. It sounds time-consuming, but you'll get faster with a little practice. If you don’t do this, you’ll skip over misspelled words. Guaranteed.
Try reading this: I cnat bleveie taht I aulaclty udnsetanrd waht I’m rdeanig.
Could you? Of course you could, smarty-pants! Our brains read not by moving from letter to letter, but by looking at a cluster of letters and unscrambling them based on the first and last letter. What do you think happens when a busy editor quickly reads through a blog post written by a busy writer typing at top speed? Exactly. Tehy msis thigns.
✓ Did I read it aloud to check for repetition and awkward phrasing?
✓ Did I spell check every paragraph?
Let’s face it—we can all sit and edit something for hours till someone makes us snap out of it! Having a go-to checklist while editing can help us manage content and focus in on what’s really important.
Now, start editing like a boss!