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Content Editing: How to Polish Your Writing for Publication

Content Editing: How to Polish Your Writing for Publication

All writing has a goal—whether it be novels, emails, or texts. We write to get our ideas across, to persuade, and to connect. Content writing is no different.

Let’s say you want to raise awareness of your brand on social media to pull customers in. Or maybe you’re focused on thought leadership to educate your peers.

So, you write a piece of content you’re proud of. But even if the first draft is finished, how do you know that you’ve achieved your goal? When is the piece ready to publish? 

Content editing answers these questions.

Let’s walk through the process of content editing. We’ll cover:

  • What content editing is
  • Why content editing is important
  • What makes high quality content
  • How to edit content (including the four key phases of a strong edit)

What is content editing?

Content editing focuses on improving a piece of online content for quality, correctness, and effectiveness. It’s a step in the content creation process after a piece of content is written that ensures content is ready for publication.

Good content editors offer a big picture perspective. They edit for grammar, readability, style, syntax, correctness, fact-checking, and brand voice. They offer input and suggest any changes needed. 

It may seem like an unnecessary step in the content creation process—why not publish as soon as it’s finished? But taking the time to edit is what separates content that’s just okay from outstanding content. Editing ensures your content is a part of the latter group—and that you produce the best content possible. 

Why is content editing important?

First drafts are rarely publishable. Without editing, content can be unfocused, messy, and even inaccurate. Ultimately, it fails to get the reader’s attention. This means it fails to achieve your goal.

However, a skilled editor can take a failing first draft and direct it to a successful, error-free final product.

When you edit, content becomes organized, clear, and engaging. Not only will the content pull the reader in, it’ll earn their trust.

How can editors achieve these outcomes? There are four main stages of a thorough content edit. Let’s walk through them. 

How to edit content: The four steps to a solid edit

The most effective way to approach editing is to take four passes over a piece of content. Meaning, read over the draft four times.

Each pass, or read, has a distinct goal:

  1. The general read
  2. Narrative structure
  3. Grammatical correctness
  4. The (second) general read

By reading through the piece and keeping an eye out for only one type of editorial criteria at a time, you ensure you won’t miss anything. 

Let’s walk through the content editing process to see how a first read turns into a polished final draft.

1. The general read

If you saw this content on someone else’s website, what would you think as you were reading it? Is it interesting? Engaging? Effective? Are you learning anything?

The initial general read aims to get a sense of what’s going on in the piece. Take a step back and imagine this is your first time reading this piece. View the content as it is. What is it trying to accomplish? 

If you notice anything on this read that stands out as odd to you or makes you pause, make note of it. This is the gut check phase, so trust your instincts as a reader. Those instincts will pinpoint where the writing feels off.

Ask yourself questions like the following:

  • Does one idea flow into the next? 
  • Is it easy to understand what the writer is trying to say?
  • After reading this piece, did you learn anything? 
  • Do you feel like you have a strong understanding of the subject? 

If the answer to any of the above questions is no, why? The answer tells you where you need to edit.

2. Narrative structure

During this pass, focus on making the message of the piece clearer. In other words, ensure the narrative is strong. 

Your reader likely has a question in mind. Maybe they’re a top-of-funnel (TOFU) reader wondering how to organize their plans for the new year. Or, maybe they’re a bottom-of-funnel (BOFU) reader wondering whether your project management tool would improve their business operations.

As an editor, you’re the content’s first reader. Make sure future readers who find your content with a goal in mind come away feeling capable of taking the next step to achieve that goal. 

The narrative is what guides the reader to a new point of view. While an article about the procurement process might not have a plot in the same way that a novel does, it likely still has a beginning, middle, and end. 

  • Beginning: In the introduction, is it clear who this content is for? Does it identify the ideal reader’s goal?
  • Middle: In the body of the content, does the writer clearly answer the reader’s questions? Does it bring them closer to accomplishing their goal?
  • End: In the conclusion, is there a clear connection to your product or service and a call to action (CTA)? Can the reader now take action to accomplish their goal?

When looking for the beginning, middle, and end of any piece of content, you’ll often find clues as to where you could strengthen the writing. 

3. Grammatical correctness 

This is often what folks think of when they think of editing. But only looking for grammatical correctness is called proofreading—and as we’ve covered, there are plenty of other elements to consider before reaching this point. 

Once you’ve nailed down the narrative and overall structure of the content and made any big changes, it’s time to focus on correctness and readability.

Take time to think about style and voice, too. Sentence structure impacts how easy content is to understand, just as much as correct punctuation. For example, if you come across a run-on or overly-complicated sentence, suggest splitting it up.

This is where helpful content editing tools come in. Here at Omniscient, we’re big fans of Grammarly to double-check spelling and how sentences are phrased. Hemmingway is another easy-to-use (free!) content editing tool that scans the reading level of your draft, highlighting areas to improve readability.

When editing for grammatical correctness, ask yourself questions like the following:

  • Sentence by sentence, does the content make sense?
  • Is the reading level appropriate? Is it too advanced to be easily understood, or is it too simple to convey the full meaning?
  • Are there any typos? 
  • Does this content follow the style guide?
  • Is the writer’s voice engaging? 
  • Can you swap out a word or phrase for something more specific? 

4. The (second) general read

This is the final editorial pass, and it takes the form of another general read-through. 

After digging in the weeds, zoom out once again to see the changes you’ve made with new eyes. Think about the effect those changes have had on the piece as a whole.

How does the experience of reading the content now compare to the experience of reading the first draft? Does it feel more effective? Is there anything you missed?

You may find that the content is in great shape and ready for publication. However, you may find areas for improvement. This is okay! Repeat the process and take as many passes through the piece as you need to get the content where you want it to be. 

4 questions every good content editor asks

A big part of editing is asking the right questions as you read a piece of content. Think about how you can be most helpful in this role and how the content can be most helpful to the reader. 

Try asking the following questions as you work your way through a content edit.

1. How can I be an empathetic editor?

Throughout all four editing passes, empathy is crucial. It’s the most important trait an editor can have.

This is because, as an editor, you must think deeply about what the writer is trying to say. Then, ask yourself whether they’re saying it clearly. If not, where is the disconnect? 

Your work, as you continue to read and reread a piece of content, is to bridge what the writer set out to communicate and what you understand reading it. Then, use comments and suggestions to communicate with the writer to close the gap as much as possible.

2. Does the content serve the publisher?

You can judge whether the content serves the publisher (meaning, the brand or organization behind the content) by looking at how the content contributes to your overall content marketing strategy.

The narrative pass is a good opportunity to check that any strategic elements you want to see in your content are present. When we think of “strategy,” we usually think of search engine optimization (SEO). But editing is also a good opportunity to look for strategic elements in language. Ask yourself:

  • Does the content direct the reader toward my product or service?
  • Is my product or service explained well and portrayed in a positive light?
  • Does this content refer back to other operations of my organization?

When all these elements are correct, narrative and content strategy flow together and play off one another. The reading experience is easy, informative, and helpful. The reader answers the question they had when they clicked on your content, and they’re more likely to continue engaging with your product or service as a result.

3. Does the content serve the reader?

Content editors determine the quality of content based on how well it can reach the target audience. 

You can tell if content serves the reader by judging its readability and overall correctness. If content is full of spelling errors, inconsistent formatting, and confusing phrasing, a reader isn’t likely to get much out of what they’re reading. 

On the other hand, if content is thoughtfully proofread, a reader can focus their attention on the value you offer—instead of your typos.

Ultimately, the more errors you identify and resolve, the better the experience will be for a future reader. And the better their experience, the more likely they are to continue engaging with your brand. 

Correctness builds trust. Editing ensures content is as correct as it can be.

4. Do my edits serve the writer?

When you’re editing a piece for a writer, take the opportunity to edit your own edits. It’s a bit meta, but if you’re offering feedback to a writer to ensure they’re communicating their ideas clearly to the reader, it’s only fair for you to make sure you’re communicating ideas clearly in your edits.

Look back over the suggestions you’ve already made. Think about whether they’re the most effective ways to solve the problems you’ve noticed. Could you rephrase something to more precisely reflect the problem and solution at hand? Could you think more deeply about what the writer was trying to say and how to coach them into expressing it? 

Take time to adjust. Your content writer—and future readers—will thank you for it.

Editing is the key to great content

By approaching the content with empathy—whether it’s your writing or someone else’s—you get to the root of what the piece is trying to say. Then, you can improve its message.

As an editor, act as a bridge. View the piece from both the writer’s side and the reader’s. Focus on narrative and grammar, and suggest any improvements.

From there, it’s out of your hands. But if you’ve done your job well, the writer will have plenty of inspiration to revamp the content. They can carry out your direction to turn their first draft into effective content that’s ripe for publication.

If you get your message across intact from the writer’s mind to the reader’s, you’ve succeeded. The goals you have behind your content will naturally follow.

Content Strategy