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From the Trenches

Hold ‘Em or Fold ‘Em? When to Call Copy “Finished”

Yvonne Lyons | October 29, 2015
Hold ‘Em or Fold ‘Em_When to Call Copy Finished

I will never marginalize the effort that creating quality content requires. Unlike, say, accounting, the creative process, whether it’s writing, editing, or design, is very subjective. It requires you put things together in such a way that will elicit some reaction or emotion from your audience. But the choices involved — Is it like this or like that? With this adjective or that one? Laid out vertically or horizontally? — can sometimes allow the process to drag on longer than it should.

The opportunity, or desire, or even perceived need to change things and try things and re-do things is stronger in some creative types than in others. Some people can — and will — just keep noodling things forever if you let them. Maybe until you tell them to stop. Maybe until you insist.

But when it comes to business and moving your content effort forward, at some point you have to take a hard look at how long you (or your staff) really should be spending writing or editing (or designing) various types of content, regardless of what their natural work style is. Because whether you’re an agency like we are or a business moving your own marketing effort forward, time is money, right? The more time someone spends noodling something that actually might or could be finished, the less time he or she is spending doing something else that could be generating revenue. So how do you decide when projects are really done?

Here are some tips you can use (and offer to your team) to help identify the finish line and whether all the right pieces are in that finished product.

Answer the big question: Does the piece do its job? What was the original intent or goal of your piece, the question it was going to answer, the problem it was created to solve, or the advice it was going to give? Did it do the job? If you said you were going to offer three tips for setting up your home theatre, did you really offer three? Or two and a half? Are the tips really actionable or did you just tell people three interesting things, none of which can really be used to DO anything useful in their house?

Qualify your return on investment. If you are writing a blog post, does it make sense to work on it for 10 hours if you are doing another one tomorrow? But a piece of anchor content, like an eBook or a white paper aimed at prospects further down the marketing funnel — that should take some time.

I am not saying that you should skimp on the writing or editing of shorter pieces of content (or any content, for that matter). I am a huge proponent of only publishing the highest quality content. But do only what you need to on that post. Edit, yes. Proofread, most definitely. But as you’re editing, think about whether you really need to rewrite that sentence. Is it doing its job? If the answer is yes, then leave it. Don’t redline things just because you think you should as the editor, or because it might sound just a little better if you rewrote the entire section. Ask yourself if it’s good the way it is. Still high-quality copy? Is this just a preference move? Is it more about you than the work itself? Then leave it.

Edit only what requires editing. Are you editing or revising just to say you edited and revised? You don’t actually HAVE to change things if there really isn’t anything wrong with that piece. I know editors who like to see their red marks on the page to feel like they did something, and I think it’s possible that some people just feel better when things read the way they wrote them versus how someone else wrote them, but consider that something might actually be ok the way it is.

And also please consider your team of content creators. Are they a group for whom writing is not their primary job? Remember that someone who has volunteered to help out for the content effort might be a bit more sensitive about their creations than a seasoned journalist. Ponder this before you butcher his or her work.

Give it a rest. Do an edit or a revision (for design) on your piece and then walk away from it for a while. Take a break, or work on something completely different. Then return to it and review it again. How does it sound? Sometimes on the second round it might seem like a new piece — one that you can sign off on and move out the door. If you had continued to sit at your desk, maybe you would have continued to noodle and tweak … because you could.

Get help. If you feel yourself going down the revision rabbit hole, ask a colleague for a second set of eyes. Don’t ask for commitment, just opinion — a quick read or a review of the design. It won’t feel burdensome to them, and you might be released from the requirement to continue to edit or write or design when they give you the thumbs up.

Some people might argue that a creative project is never finished. I’d love to have that philosophical discussion — and I’d wager that there might not be a definitive answer. But since you have a content marketing effort to push forward, and probably some goals associated with it, you might not want to be philosophical about this. Figure out for yourself and with your team how to judge when you’re actually “finished” and have produced something that is remarkable, will bring you results, and will let you move on to your next project.

Need help getting a plan together so you can start on the creation part of your job (and actually GET to this problem)? Download our eBook, “Build Your Content Marketing Plan: A 10-Step Guide.”

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About Yvonne Lyons:

Yvonne Lyons is Right Source’s vice president of creative services, overseeing content and design for all of our clients. She ensures that all creative produced at Right Source is of the highest quality and is aligned with our clients’ business strategy and goals. Yvonne received a bachelor’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University in writing and literature and has more than 20 years of experience in marketing, branding, and communications.