Don’t Fear the Editor: 7 Keys to Editing Success
Does the word editor conjure an image of the bespectacled newspaper guy, red pen in hand, tearing up the draft you worked so hard to create? If so, you’re not alone.
Editors strike fear into the hearts of many. Yet the job of an editor is to make your draft better, not worse, and to polish your story so it comes across as professional and aligns with your organization’s bigger story. When that doesn’t happen, then by all means, question your editor. But also remember that editing isn’t personal — it’s a job.
Whether you’re submitting a draft to an editor or editing someone else’s work, it saves time and frustration to know what a good content editor looks for in a piece of writing. What warrants revising, and what doesn’t? How do editors make the call?
Here’s a look at the seven content elements editors should pay attention to, and why.
Spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors
No organization wants to publish content with spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors. But it happens all the time, either because no editor exists and the writer didn’t proofread for typos, or the rules are murky, and no one took the time to look them up.
As a rule of thumb, good editors confirm what they don’t know for certain. Not sure if the question mark goes inside or outside the quotation marks? Look it up. Wondering whether to write whet your whistle or wet your whistle, or if you need to capitalize the job title of the colleague you mention in your post? Look it up.
Many “rules” are confusing, and plenty fall into gray areas, but a good editor does not rely on what looks right. An editor’s job is to look up anything that seems questionable. If there is any doubt about spelling, grammar, or punctuation, the editor is the last stop to do the double check and make it right.
Don’t publish one case study that describes your company as “a national leader in cyber security,” and another calling it a “regional leader.” Also don’t one day specialize in “data warehousing solutions” and the next day “Data Warehousing solutions.” Inconsistencies like these can make a company look unprofessional.
Consider: does your company use the serial (or Oxford) comma, meaning you have offices in Maryland, Minnesota, and Maine, or are your offices in Maryland, Minnesota and Maine? While one isn’t right and the other wrong, it is wrong when you’re inconsistent.
An organization should settle on a style guide and stick to it. We use AP style (the Associated Press) at Right Source and check rules and usages as we write and edit. Another good one is the Chicago Manual of Style. Many organizations will ultimately need to add their own list of company rules to create an internal style guide, as well.
Word-focused editors can get so caught up in the way a piece “reads” that they overlook an essential part of editing: fact-checking. Here, ask yourself these questions: is the information accurate? Am I uncertain about any of it? The other day, for instance, I assumed a writer’s reference to an ice hockey team, “the Detroit Redwings,” was right, but decided to look it up at the last minute. Turns out the team name is two words, “Red Wings.”
The lesson? When in doubt, a good editor does what it takes to confirm even small facts.
Audience and purpose
Audience and purpose can get tricky in content marketing, especially in B2B. Audience should be identified as part of your company’s content marketing planning, and each piece should have a purpose that is also part of the content plan.
The editor should always ask these questions: Does the writer identify and engage the audience? Do you know who the writer is speaking to, and why? Concept editing versus true copyediting is just as important to creating remarkable content. As you edit, make sure the draft speaks to the right audience and achieves the right purpose.
Transition and flow
Transitions are like breadcrumbs — they guide the reader along, bit by bit, and serve as navigation cues for the story. Transition words and phrases can signal a sequence (“in addition,” “to start,” “previously,” “in the end”); connect and introduce similar ideas (“likewise,” “indeed,” “on that point,” “for example”); and alert the reader of a conflict or contradiction (“even so,” “however,” “though,” “still”). They can do other things, too, like summarize your points (“on the whole,” “to put it briefly,” “all in all”); notify the reader of a digression (“by the way,” “incidentally,”); and mark a return to a previous topic (“at any rate,” “to get back to the matter at hand”).
Without transitions, readers get lost and give up. The story lacks flow. Part of the editor’s job is to pay attention to transitions (or the lack thereof), and give readers what they need to move smoothly, not jarringly, from one sentence and paragraph to the next.
Readers shouldn’t get hung up or sidetracked as they make their way through a story. A good editor makes the reading easy by pruning the piece of clutter and clarifying parts that come across as confusing.
Sometimes a lack of clarity stems from too much jargon or unexplained industry terms, while other times it’s the way the sentences are written or the introduction of information too early, too late, or without the necessary context.
Part of this task is reviewing for clear story organization. Does it have a defined and captivating intro, a body with depth, and a well thought out conclusion? Every piece needs to be compelling and engaging to the audience it targets.
Alignment with your organization
The concept-editing portion of the editor’s job dictates that he or she must have an eye for the organization at large. Does the story fit with the organization’s overarching story and goals? Does it reference and build on other stories? Tone and voice can be important here. For example, if a company brands itself as a no-nonsense, straight-shooting firm, then the editor’s role is to maintain a professional tone throughout the story.
If a content marketing plan exists, then alignment with the organization should be mapped out already. Good editors consult the plan and do what it takes to match the content with the company.
Need more editing guidance? Right Source has a talented team of editors and can help. Reach out to us to learn how.