If you looked at my standardized test results from when I was back in school, you’d see I scored very high in math and very low in verbal — not exactly the marks you’d expect from one of the web’s most seasoned content editors.
It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world.
Your content needs to quickly communicate what your audience wants and needs, so my natural abilities are actually the perfect fit for content editing.
An unlikely place for content editors in-training
This story comes down to turning a “weakness” into a strength.
Most of my English tests in high school weren’t adorned with those coveted “A” grades because timed exams to test reading comprehension didn’t fit my reading style.
I read text passages slowly, studied each word carefully, and analyzed how the writer could have presented his or her message more clearly. Not unlike the actions a writer takes when proofreading.
It’s no surprise I’d run out of time before I finished every question. (It’s okay, 16-year-old Stefanie. The future looks bright for you.)
My poor test scores could have convinced me that the English language and reading comprehension were my weaknesses, but instead, I turned my way of reading into a career.
We’re in The Content Editor Age
The title of this interview on Contently’s The Content Strategist says it all: ‘You Need Editors, Not Brand Managers’: Marketing Legend Seth Godin on the Future of Branded Content.
When asked how he’d build a brand media property, Godin replied that brands often opt for playing it safe rather than thinking, “How can we be more interesting?”
Then, Godin concluded:
“That’s not what happens when you want to make a hit TV show or a website that people care about. You need editors, not brand managers, who will push the envelope to make the thing go forward.”
Content editors produce enjoyable experiences
“Enjoyable content” sounds a bit weak, doesn’t it? It’s less serious than “effective content” or “content that produces business results.”
But enjoyable content is a prerequisite if you want your content to be effective.
Editors produce the right content experiences with refined messages that help meet their business blogging goals.
For example, I enjoy painting, but I don’t always have time to paint on canvas, so I frequently paint my nails. It’s relatively quick, and I get to display my work every day for as long as the manicure lasts.
Essie is one of my favorite nail polish brand and the company’s YouTube channel has a collection of nail art tutorials. To communicate a persuasive message, each concise video required a focused vision and intentional refining.
Every aspect of these videos also form a seamless call to action — the instructive lessons make you want to buy the products used in the tutorials so you can try the looks yourself (see below for an example).
That is enjoyable content for a nail polish lover. I watched a number of Essie tutorials while researching this article and now have a long list of new colors I’m going to buy. 😉
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Pro content editors follow these 8 steps
So, by now I’m sure you see there’s more to becoming a content editor than just aiming to produce error-free content.
Let’s look at eight steps that professional content editors use during their content creation and production process.
Step #1: Research
Your content marketing strategy begins with research.
In addition to optimizing your chances of connecting with your target audience, research is also the foundation of captivating writing. It helps you stand out with unique content ideas your audience won’t find elsewhere.
Step #2: Prepare
I prefer preparing over planning because it allows for more flexibility when unforeseen circumstances arise.
If you’re prepared, you can easily adapt. Editors prepare their content schedules in advance and adjust them as needed.
Step #3: Write
Synthesize your research into a cohesive presentation, whether it’s an article, podcast, or video.
“Don’t try to do too much” is my favorite piece of writing advice.
While first drafts are certainly the place to let your ideas run wild, when you study how to be a copywriter you learn to stay focused on the message you need to communicate.
Step #4: Delete
Content editors remove repetitive and excessive content — only essential information should make the final cut.
For example, the videos on the Essie channel don’t distract viewers with statistics about how many people give themselves manicures each year. That information doesn’t directly match the video topics or serve viewers.
Step #5: Push
The argyle nail art tutorial on the Essie channel below shows how to create the pattern with diamond shapes.
If you take a closer look at the bookcase in the background, you’ll notice it has diamond-shaped compartments.
The producers of this video pushed themselves creatively beyond a standard plain background to construct a complete experience for viewers.
Step #6: Refine
Once your content is complete, how can you make it sharper? Is there a more succinct phrase you could use, or do you need to explain a point with more details?
To address a possible concern, about halfway through the nail art tutorial, Rita reassures the viewer, “This may look difficult, but don’t be scared. It just takes a little practice.”
Step #7: Polish (the most well-known job of content editors)
I’m not talking about nail polish this time.
Grammar and spelling lovers rejoice; this is the step where you check for bad writing mistakes — large and small.
Dedicate time to fact-checking (even if you think you already did) and hold every aspect of your content up to professional standards.
This step could be thought of as traditional proofreading and editing.
Step #8: Publish
You don’t have the chance to make a positive impression on your ideal prospects until you release the content you create.
Confident content marketers have overcome the false security of perfectionism and publish their best efforts. They simply stay vigilant about possible ways to improve in the future.
What do the most persuasive copywriters and content marketers have in common?
They’re also content editors who critically evaluate every aspect of their persuasive writing.
Strong editing skills help contribute to their distinct writing voices and knowledge of rock-solid content marketing strategy.
But when you want to do a good job, you tend to obsess over your work. Since it needs to be “perfect,” it never quite seems finished.
Careful and thoughtful content editors have to develop another skill … they have to learn to let go.
Content editors redefine “perfect”
To get past the goal of perfection, accept that your writing is never going to be perfect.
- There’s often something you’ll forget to include. (That isn’t always a bad thing, because you want to start a dialogue with your audience, don’t you?)
- Your knowledge will grow as you continue to learn.
- You’ll have more to say on the subject as time goes on.
“Good enough” not only feels a lot better, it’s actually an attainable goal that helps you start writing.
As I mentioned in 3 Critical Tips for Beginner Writers Who Don’t Have an Audience Yet, you can create new content later with your additional thoughts or update your original content if it’s crucial that an old post has certain details you didn’t include when you first published it.
“Perfect” now becomes “good enough to publish this week.”
I say “this week” because if you’re spending more than a week on a piece of content, you’re likely stalling, which will prevent you from becoming a professional writer.
How content editors know when they’re ready to publish
To help you aim for “this week’s version of perfect,” here’s a five-point blueprint of items content editors double-check after they’ve finished their standard editing and proofreading process.
These “checks” will help you gauge when it’s time to let your writing go.
Check #1: Paragraphs
When you’re done editing and proofreading, you’re extremely familiar with your writing on a micro level.
It’s almost like you’ve had blinders on.
Before you publish, look at your content one more time on a macro level to see it from a big-picture perspective.
Start with your paragraphs:
- Have you made them short and reader-friendly?
- Are they in the best order?
- Do your points flow together in a persuasive way?
These last-minute optimizations will boost your confidence about publishing.
Check #2: Sentences
Your sentences may be in tip-top shape individually, but how do they look next to each other?
- Is a certain word overused?
- Do multiple paragraphs begin with the same word?
- Are they engaging, with descriptive language?
Each sentence is an opportunity for content editors to offer their site visitors an incentive to keep reading.
Check #3: Grammar
You don’t always have to use proper grammar. (Yes, you can quote me on that.)
Any grammar, syntax, spelling, or language choices that aren’t 100% approved by Strunk & White should be intentional choices, though, not accidents.
This is a case of awareness and “knowing the rules to break the rules.”
If you go rogue with your grammar occasionally, commit to your irreverence in the face of criticism.
Check #4: Punctuation
I love punctuation.
It helps a reader easily comprehend your message and enhances your writing voice. Skeptics can ask me about the sheer pandemonium that ensured on Twitter a couple years ago when I forgot to include a comma in a Copyblogger tweet. 😉
There are two easy punctuation checks you should always perform.
- As you review your content, stop at every punctuation mark and decide whether or not it’s in the right place.
- Read your writing out loud to spot any instance where you might need to add a punctuation mark. (No judgement if you could use this refresher on how to use a comma.)
Geeking out about punctuation makes you a better writer.
Check #5: Faux pas (last, but certainly not least, for content editors)
I’ve saved the most important Check for last.
Eliminate any phrase that could be misinterpreted as ignorant or hateful. Even if you mean no harm, it’s not worth the potential backlash.
Showing respect in the first place is always more powerful than your explanations or apologies later.
This vigilance for precision and accuracy isn’t a call to walk on eggshells. You can have a point of view without making a gaffe.
Publish to attract the right people
If you’re spending a lot of time polishing your writing for your audience, you’re already way ahead of many writers.
Give yourself credit for your hard work and finishing a piece of content. But you also need to confidently make the judgment call that confirms you are done editing.
Delaying publishing only delays the time it takes to attract the right people.
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