Copy editing is an essential skill for the modern digital marketer. However, it is often forgotten as guides on writing steal the spotlight.
Despite its neglect, editing is important in a number of situations, including checking your own work, casting an eye over something a colleague has written or updating something that already exists on a website.
Good editing goes beyond proof-reading. Proof-reading is predominantly checking that the copy is error-free and makes sense, whereas editing involves proof-reading and other techniques designed to shape and improve a piece of writing. The six tips in this article are designed to give you a few key points to focus on when you’re editing so that you can come out of the task with some fantastic, fit-for-purpose content.
1. Use a grammar checker
Editing can be time-consuming, so make life easier for yourself. Grammar checkers like Grammarly will catch the obvious errors in a piece of copy so that you don’t have to worry about missing them. In particular, their spell-checking function will help you catch and resolve any silly errors.
As helpful as they are, grammar checkers are no substitute for the human eye. The changes that they suggest are not always necessary; there are often several ways to structure a sentence correctly and there are even times where you may want to break a grammatical rule for a particular effect.
Even though I’m recommending them, I think it’s important that copywriters and editors don’t feel like slaves of the tools.
2. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes
Every time you work with copy, either to write or edit it, the needs and expectations of your audience should be at the forefront of your mind. Editing the copy is your chance to make sure that it really fits the audience.
As you cast your eye over what’s been written, try to do so as if you were a member of the piece’s target audience. Ask questions as you go: does the copy give the audience the information they’re looking for? Does it move the user along in their journey towards whatever goals you have in mind?
3. Check the details
Outside of digital marketing, a ‘copyeditor’ is a person involved in the editing process for books. According to NY Book Editors, part of their job is to check for inconsistencies in fiction and to fact-check non-fiction manuscripts. Digital marketers should be doing the same when we edit our website copy.
It is important to resolve any contradictions and make sure that all the information you present is consistent. For example, you don’t want a sale page to advertise both a “50% off everything” discount and a “40% off everything” discount. Those errors will look unprofessional and could land the company in trouble.
Fact-checking is also important wherever you’re citing verifiable information in your copy. This is particularly important for guides and blog posts, but also applies to instances like ‘about’ pages where you’re mentioning details such as the company’s year of founding or the location of their HQ. It’s surprisingly easy to slip up and make a small mistake that will cause hassle later on.
4. Don’t be afraid to simplify
Many of us who enjoy writing copy are guilty of overwriting. I can hold my hands up and say that I am, anyway. It’s all too easy to use flowery language and complex sentences just because we can. However, going over the top is unlikely to make a good impression on your audience. Unnecessary language will only frustrate readers who are trying to skim read on a mobile device.
These tendencies mean that we need to be ruthless when editing. Cut out anything that doesn’t need to be there. Shorten overcomplicated sentences. Keep your text concise and easy to digest.
That said, not every piece of online content needs to be equally simple. Some brands and formats will allow for more linguistic expression. If you’re ever in doubt, however, choose the simplest option for a word, sentence or paragraph.
5. Nail the tone of voice
Every brand and author has a tone of voice, whether they mean to or not. Projecting a consistent brand image usually requires writing with a tone of voice that will be used consistently across a company’s website. When you edit copy, you need to make sure that it meets the requirements for tone of voice.
These requirements will change from company to company. They could involve anything from avoiding colloquialisms to sounding ‘relaxed.’ If you’re ever unsure how to get a brand’s tone of voice right, ask for guidelines. If there aren’t any in place, it could be a sign that you need to work some out.
Getting the tone right when editing copy normally involves substituting words for more appropriate synonyms, altering sentence structure and ensuring that you are emphasising the right things.
6. Take your time
My final tip supports all the others: take your time. Unfortunately, copy editing is not often seen as an important task. That means that it can be easy to forget to allocate time for it.
There is no hard and fast rule for how long you should spend editing copy. It will naturally vary depending on the length of the copy, its importance and the time you have available. However, it is always going to be the case that spending more time editing will lead to better results. You need to be able to read each sentence, not just skim it. You should also allow the time to think through the audience’s expectations and consider how the copy is likely to be received. Finally, you need to allow yourself the time to do any additional research that may be required and to actually make the changes.
If we give copy editing the attention it deserves, our work will be much more effective at wowing readers and winning new customers.