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From the Trenches

Not an Editor? 4 Tips to Hone Your Editing Skills on the Job

Right Source | October 13, 2016
Not an Editor? 4 Tips to Hone Your Editing Skills on the Job

I’m not an editor by education. Sure, I spent a semester of college as an English major (during which I studied “Women as Mothers in Asian American Literature” and promptly decided my career options would probably be pretty limited), but for the most part, my education was focused on business and management, not writing and editing.

But if you take a look at my bio below, you’ll notice I’m currently an editor at Right Source and spent the past several years in a few different editorial positions.

Why does this matter? Because I know a lot of people in marketing are tasked with editing in their day-to-day roles, even if their title or job description has nothing to do with that skill, and their college degree has nothing to do with communications, or English, or journalism. Editing is simply an essential part of marketing — especially content marketing.

So if you’re in that field — whether you’re a social media manager who doesn’t want to risk grammatical snafus in posts that will be read by thousands of followers, or an account director who’s in charge of finalizing every blog post before it gets published — you should know how to quickly and accurately edit your content.

You can take it from me — non-English major turned grammar enforcer — that becoming an effective editor doesn’t necessarily mean you need another degree. Here are a few of my secrets:

Read — a lot

When I applied for one of my first editorial roles, my interviewer and potential boss asked, “What are you currently reading?” At first, I was stumped. Why would he care? (And more importantly, how unimpressive would The Hunger Games be as an answer?)

He later told me that he firmly believed that reading was the key to becoming a better writer and editor.

Is one book going to magically instill in you a comprehensive understanding of how to use commas? No. (Well, unless you read this book.) But as you read more and more, you’ll start to subconsciously pick up on good writing style. You’ll notice the difference between clear, concise writing and long, drawn-out, overly descriptive writing. You’ll begin to understand which details add to the writing, and what could be cut without any consequence. And as you learn, you’ll be able to apply those concepts to the pieces you edit.

Realize you don’t need to know everything; you just need to know where to look

Don’t tell my boss, but here’s the truth: I don’t know everything about grammar. You could throw around some fancy terms like “intransitive verb” or “nominative absolute,” and I’d probably (er, definitely) have no idea what you’re talking about.

Fortunately, you don’t have to edit in a vacuum. There are great resources you can reference if you have questions about anything from whether to use “affect” or “effect” to when to use commas. (And you’ll notice they’re written in everyday terms with plenty of examples — no fancy grammar terms to interpret.)

Also check to see if your company follows a style guide — that’s the great source to reference if you’re not sure about stylistic choices, like which type of dash to use or whether you should capitalize someone’s title.

Edit everything you can get your hands on

Editing your first piece is intimidating. You can drive yourself crazy wondering if you’re doing it right: Do I really need to make this many changes, or am I just making them because I feel like I’m “supposed” to? Or am I not editing enough, because I’m worried it’s going to hurt the author’s feelings? Is that word spelled wrong, or am I just losing my mind because I’ve been staring at it for an hour?

I’ve been there. It’s a natural reaction, because you don’t have anything to compare it to. The solution? Volunteer to review more content. As you edit more and more, you’ll begin to notice patterns. You’ll see that people tend to make the same mistakes over and over (like capitalizing words they think are Very Important, when you know it’s not actually necessary). It’ll jump out at you when someone writes in a formal, scholarly tone, when you know your company prefers to communicate in a conversational style.

Plus, the more experience you have, the more knowledge — and, perhaps more importantly, confidence — you’ll gain.

Develop an editing checklist

Editing can feel very technical and precise when you think about things like sentence structure and verb tense. And while editing does involve those things, your main job as a content marketing editor is to produce copy that’s clear and communicates the message you want it to.  To do that, sometimes you have to think in broader terms.

Especially if you’re new to editing, it can be helpful to come up with a list of “must haves” that you look for in every piece of content you edit. For example, maybe you first look at the piece overall and ask yourself, “Does this fulfill its purpose?” (Hint: No one wants to read a piece of content that doesn’t deliver on what the headline promises.) Is the flow of the piece logical from beginning to middle to end, or is it confusing? Then, you look for redundant or “filler” language that isn’t necessary to get your point across. And finally, you look for any obvious grammar errors, like unnecessary capitalization or the infamous their/there mix-up.

While it’s not comprehensive, this list will help you stay focused on the factors that will make your content engaging. And as you learn, you can add more things to your list — until you don’t need a list at all to polish up a piece of copy. (If you need some help getting started, try this checklist.)

Now that I’ve spilled all my secrets, don’t come after my job, OK? If you’re really that good, you can check out the editor position we have open here at Right Source. On the other hand, maybe I’ve made you realize that you don’t want to be an editor, after all — and you’d rather have someone else help you create remarkable content. If that’s the case, get in touch.

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About Right Source:

The Marketing Trenches blog provides thought leadership from actual marketing practitioners, not from professional thought leaders. Designed to help business leaders make more educated marketing decisions, our insights come directly from our experience in the trenches. You can find more from Right Source on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and LinkedIn.