So you’ve just wrapped up that awesome piece of content that’s been days or weeks in the making. It’s a great feeling, right? While most of the hard work is behind you — the topic ideation, research, dedicating all your time and effort putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) — you’re not done just yet. In fact, polishing your own work and making final edits before publishing can be one of the most difficult parts of writing. Not only are you feeling confident about the work you’ve just created, but after being in the trenches for so long, it’s tough to have a clear perspective on where changes need to be made.
One of my main jobs at YEC is overseeing final edits, so I’ve gained a lot of experience making last-minute revisions and syntax changes. It won’t take you that long — when it comes down to it, spending 30 minutes making revisions to a piece that took you hours to create is nothing, and it’s those final finishing touches that will take your piece from great to outstanding.
Here are my top tips for being your own best editor (and actually enjoying the process).
Make Length Adjustments
Once you’ve wrapped that final thought on your piece of content, you’ll run into one of two problems: either you’ll 1) like me, have too many tangents you’ll need to cut down, or 2) not have enough substantial matter, despite your best efforts to make your piece a meaty one.
If your writing is too wordy, try this tip: go back, give it a read and look for areas where you can remove any redundancies. Surely you don’t need two whole paragraphs explaining one concept — if you can sufficiently explain something in one or two sentences, that’s all you need. While it may be tough to delete some of those brilliant sentences, you’ll be glad to shave off that excess fluff and create room for your most important messages to shine through.
On the contrary, if you think you’ve put it all out there only to have a few paragraphs to show for, look back at what you’ve written and highlight three of your most important sentences. How could you expand on those ideas? Maybe you cite an eye-opening statistic — what are its implications? How will these trends affect the future of your business? Or, let’s say you make a bold claim: how are you going to back that up? Why should your reader look to you as the expert? It’s all about highlighting these sorts of components that make your piece stand out.
Nail Your Formatting
You’ve got some great ideas on paper, but if they’re convoluted and difficult to extract, chances are your reader is not going to want to spend their time making sense of your writing. In this Content Marketing Institute article, marketing guru Neil Patel points out that the average visitor is likely only going to read 20 percent of the words on the page. Make it easy for your audience to get their money’s worth by following an easy-to-read article format. This includes:
- Solid intro. Warn the reader what you’re going to tell them.
- Three or four main ideas, categorized by subheadings. Subheadings make your content easy for the reader to pinpoint the areas they’re most interested in. It also saves them the headache of staring at one huge block of text.
- Solid conclusion. Tell the reader what you’ve told them.
Resist the Urge to Use Big Words
As I mentioned in a previous Boston Content post, marketers (or just experts in general) like to use buzzwords or other big words in their writing to appear more knowledgeable and credible. This can backfire for two reasons: First, you risk alienating your audience if you overuse industry jargon that goes right over a layperson’s head. Who wants to suffer through a 1,000-plus word article that is riddled with words you have to Google every other sentence?
The other problem you’ll run into is easy for anyone to fall victim to, and that is simply misusing the word. Trust me, this happens more often than you’d think. Even if you’re confident you’re using it properly, it’s best to stick with language your audience will understand.
Do a Final Spelling and Grammar Check
This goes without saying, but there’s no quicker way to lose your credibility than to publish an expert article that showcases your voice...and a few glaring typos. You’ll likely catch most of them after an in-depth re-read, but for some of the trickier ones, download a tool like Grammarly or Hemingway to call attention to any areas that may need a closer look.
The most common mistakes I see are: “it’s” versus “its,” “affect” versus “effect” and any style guide violations. (At YEC, we follow AP. Confirm which style guide you should be using, or whether the place you’re writing for has its own.)
Have Someone Else Review It
Once you think you’ve gotten as far as you can with your piece, the last step is to put it in the hands of someone else for unbiased feedback. While it’s great if you can hand it off to a colleague who knows the angle you’re aiming for, it’s even better to give it to someone who has no affiliation with the subject or your industry — perhaps it’s your roommate’s boyfriend Stan, who’s a busker by day and hasn’t a clue what the term “growth hacking” means.
After spending this long on what you’ve just created, your tunnel vision can easily be reprieved by giving it to someone who’s reading it for the very first time. Stan may know nothing about marketing, but his ability to follow along will indicate whether your piece has achieved its goal: teaching your audience something new, based on your experiences.
What other editing tips did we miss? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @BostonContent.