You’ve written a fantastic piece of content. You smile as you click on the “post” button. Now everyone else can read it. You sit back in your chair, feeling proud of a job well done.
A couple minutes later, there’s a notification. You’ve got a comment. “Hey. Just wanted to let you know that you said ‘Your going to love this’ and it should be ‘You’re.’ Have a great day.”
So you correct the mistake. You can’t believe you missed that one. Then more notifications come in and more copy editing mistakes are pointed out. Pretty soon your fantastic piece of content has become the largest headache you’ve had in at least a month. You decide to just take the whole thing down.
When content is crafted correctly, it really is a work of art. It can inspire people. It can create emotional connections. It does this because it is serving the needs of the audience.
With these copy editing tips from the pros, you’ve got a 3 phase process that will help you be able to clear up those errors so that your readers can focus on your experience instead of your typos.
First Phase: Creating a Pre-Editing Routine
When you’ve finished composing your content, the natural reaction is to publish it right away. If you write for a living, you might just attach the file and send it off to your clients or representatives. The problem you face in doing this is that your mind is fatigued from the creative process.
You have likely sought to correct errors as you’ve been writing. By the time you’ve finished, your brain is ready for a break. Trying to edit when you are creatively fatigued will cause you to miss a lot of errors. That’s why the creation of a pre-editing routine is essential to proper copy editing.
Here are the various actions you can take to make sure that you establish healthy editing habits that will be as effective as possible.
#1 Step away from your content for at least 24 hours. It takes about a day for the average writer to recover from the creative efforts that produced the content in question. Take a break and come back to your content after you’ve given yourself enough rest to be an effective editor. Now if you have a deadline that must be met, this step may be skipped, but try to structure your writing so that it doesn’t require immediate delivery.
#2 Put some distance between you and your content. Your content is your baby. It’s understandable as to why you’re committed to maintaining the integrity of your first draft. To properly copy edit, however, you must feel free to evaluate or even delete content that doesn’t work.
#3 Edit with a new document open. Sometimes an idea looks great when you first write it up, but then when you start editing, you realize that it sounds terrible. Don’t just delete that idea. Copy it onto a new document. You might be able to create some new content around that idea, so don’t let it go to waste.
#4 Treat yourself. Just about every writer has the urge to skim their content and then be done with the editing process. Treat yourself by allowing the option to skim when you first sit down to edit. Once you get that urge out of your system, it will become easier to focus on the details of your writing.
#5 Take notes. Editing is more than the removal of typos, spelling errors, or poor grammar. It requires a comprehensive look at the overall ideas that are being discussed in the piece. If an idea doesn’t make sense, then take notes as to why it doesn’t make sense. By taking notes, you can make sure to include the content you thought you had written, but ended up only writing in your head.
Notice that in phase one, you’re not actually creating a second draft of your content. Your sole focus is on yourself, how you feel, and what you hope to accomplish through the copy editing process.
By eliminating the need to instantly read your content line-by-line, you create an environment where editing success is easier to find. Once you’ve completed taking notes on the first draft of your content, you’ll be ready to proceed to the next phase.
Phase Two: Organizing Your Thoughts
When you were taking notes in the final stage of phase one, what you were doing was preparing your mind to begin an organizational process. You must be able to keep your thoughts organized as you copy edit so that the goals of your content can be met.
Organizing your thoughts also makes it a lot easier to keep the ego out of the editing process.
There are no specific guidelines as to how you actually organize your thoughts. Whether you’re a “folders” person, a “piles” person, or you have your own preferred format, it is simply necessary to prepare yourself. Then you’ll be ready to implement these actions.
#6 Create a summary of your overall goals. In 30 words or less, write out a summary of what you hope to accomplish with your content. Once you’ve written this summary, you’ll want to edit it down until you have a headline that is 65 characters or less. This headline must be useful, unique, specific, and urgent for it to be effective. Do not assume that your reader will understand the key points you’re trying to make unless you have explicitly stated them.
#7 Have the courage to take a break. Many errors tend to creep into the copy editing process because the entire content amount is edited at once. When you feel fatigued, you will not be as effective at catching and correcting errors that might be lurking in your content. This is one of the primary reasons why weak content appears at the end of many content items. If you feel tired, have the courage to take a break from the editing process.
#8 Always begin editing your favorite section of content. There are two schools of thought here. Some would say to edit your least favorite piece so that you get the toughest work out of the way. Copy editors who are pros at what they do tend to start with their favorite part because this generates momentum that can carry them through their least favorite sections.
#9 Give your readers what they want. All content should be able to answer this question: “How will this information help people? There must be a drive within each sentence of your content to keep readers engaged with what you have to say. To create this drive, your content must make a reader comfortable. It must also be memorable so that the information can be retained. It must also offer something to the reader that they can learn through verifiable resources.
#10 Look for viable alternatives. Remember the notes you took while reviewing the first draft of your content? Now is the time for you to incorporate your observations. You might feel that it is necessary to combine sentences. You might want to separate sentences. You can change descriptions. You can lengthen paragraphs or you can shorten them. Even changing the order of your paragraphs is a possibility. Keep going until you’ve gone through all of your notes.
#11 Remove any words that you tend to repeat. In the book 50 Shades of Grey, there has been a lot of talk about the number of adverbs and descriptors that were used repetitively throughout the manuscript. As you’re editing your text, if you see that you tend to use the world “smiled” a lot, then you might want to fix that.
#12 Get rid of the roadblocks you’ve thrown up. Small words can create big detours for some readers. It’s a lot like having a small pebble stuck in your car tire. As you drive, all you hear is click-click-click as that stone hits the asphalt or concrete. Our little words and phrases we like to throw into sentences, like “just” or “really” can cause a reader to lose track of your key point. Once that happens, a reader is much more likely to click the “Back” button on their browser. Really.
#13 Find your generic descriptors. We have some really nice, bland, generic descriptors that can be used in our content today. Words like “good” or “nice” or “lovely.” These generic descriptors make it difficult for a reader to visualize content accurately. What is “good” for them might be very different than “good” for you. So find and then replace any generic descriptors with more specific alternatives.
#14 Eliminate any lingering questions. It is easy to be vaguer than you intend to be when you’re creating content. This creates an issue of clarity for the reader. They begin to wonder what your intent happens to be. Are you trying to say this? Or say that? If your message is difficult to understand, then it won’t be shared. This is why the final action in this step of copy editing is to remove any lingering questions that your text may provide.
One hidden problem that tends to get missed by even professional copy editors are words that mean the same thing, but are used within the same sentence. Let’s go back to 50 Shades as an example of this. Anastasia says this to Christian Grey.
“I haven’t made any plans, Mr. Grey. I just need to get through my final exams. Which I should be studying for right now, rather than sitting in your palatial, swanky, sterile office, feeling uncomfortable under your penetrating gaze.”
Swanky and palatial mean the same thing. It’s sort of like saying the long form of the LA Angels name in English: “The The Angels Angels of Anaheim.”
Once you’ve completed all of these actions, you’ll be ready to start the on the final phase of the copy editing process.
Phase Three: Creating Sharpness with Precision Verbiage
The final phase of the copy editing process is also the one that is the most labor intensive. This is where you will be performing the line edits of your content. You are looking for the small mistakes that are lurking within your text.
You’re looking for spelling errors, grammar errors, and typos throughout the entire body of your content. You’ll also want to look at your sentence structures one more time to make sure they read correctly. Did you put the comma in the right place? Are you using the Oxford comma consistently or consistently not using it?
The tense of your writer’s voice is also important to check during this final phase of the process. When you’re writing content, it can be very easy to change from past to present tense or present to future tense and then back again without even realizing it. You might also shift from first-person writing to third-person writing and then back again.
And maybe some second person writing might lurk in there too. It’s been known to happen.
So find a quiet place and begin to read. You might even consider printing out a paper copy of your content so you can make corrective marks on it. Then you’ll have these actions to take.
#15 Finish your project. You must decide that you’ve finished the final composition draft of your content before you begin the final copy edit. If your mind is still in creative mode, then it becomes difficult to notice errors because you’re still thinking about arrangements, wording, and other writing structures.
#16 Go slow. Take each sentence on its own merit. Read line-by-line. Do not overlook a single word. If you find that you’re thinking about what happens later on and if that makes sense to what you’re reading now, then you need to go back and repeat phase two and the actions there until you are satisfied. Slow reading also helps you to catch more of the typos that your spellchecker won’t catch, like swapping out thorough with “through.”
#17 Double check your transitions. Transitional words will create a certain “smoothness” for your reader. You can use them to connect two concepts in one sentence, as sentence-to-sentence connections, or even to connect paragraphs in some instances. When your transitions are working right, they will cause the reader to be curious about what comes next and hook them into reading more of your content.
#18 Read difficult sections of content out loud. Read these sections to your computer. Read them to your wall. Read them to your cat – assuming Kitty cares to stop and listen. When you read content out loud, it changes the mechanics of how you are absorbing the content. It becomes a foreign element, allowing you to catch even the toughest spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes.
#19 Polish it up. Polishing up your content means checking your wording and writer’s voice for consistency. This means your word styles must be consistent throughout the entire content item. A good example of this is “website.” Before 2010, “web site” was more common to see. You’ll still see with conservative editing techniques. You might see some international editors preferring “web-site” instead. And, to add more confusion to the matter, you’ll also see “site” or “domain” used in its place. Whatever you use for style must be maintained throughout your content. Switching from “website” to “web-site” will give your content an unprofessional feeling to the reader.
#20 Keep track of your progress. One of the biggest struggles for copy editing is to be able to track your work. When in the middle of an edit, it can seem like it goes on forever. If you’ve read a part of your content and it’s good to go for publication, then highlight it in green. If you’ve partially finished your edit and need to stop or take a break, then highlight that section in yellow. And if you have a section that needs to be fixed through the actions of phase two, highlight that in red.
Once you have finished all of the actions in this final step of copy editing, there’s one more task to complete. You should read your content out loud one more time. This will guarantee that you have eliminated all of the mistakes that are in your content. If you find a mistake, then stop and correct it.
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