How To Edit Business Copy
If you’re reading this article, you already understand the importance of proper editing — how it strengthens conversions and brand image for your company or your client’s company. These tips for editing business content will hopefully improve both the quality and the process of editing within your organization.
1. Procedural Business Editing Tips
- Separate the editing function from the proofreading function. They are two different things. Editing involves checking for clarity, conciseness, voice, proper sentence structure and other qualitative elements. Proofreading is more technical, dealing with the details of grammar, punctuation and style. You may have the same person do both types of work, but the timing of the two functions is different — keep reading.
- Don’t turn over copy to clients or internal reviewers/approvers until the content has gone through a thorough editing. This way, client/internal reviewers can focus on what you really want them to — factual accuracy, proper use of terminology and proper representation of the brand. If you make it clear these are the areas you want reviewed, you’ll save them time and save yourself time by not having to deal with issues of clarity, conciseness, etc., that are better left to the professional editors and content marketing team.
- Proofread content at the end of the creative process, after the copy has gone through all rounds of editing and review. Ideally, the proofreader is the last person to touch the content before it goes to the graphic designer, web designer or developer for conversion into a PDF, HTML page, infographic, etc. The problem with premature proofreading: If further edits are made after proofreading, chances are good new errors will appear with no opportunity for correction before publication.
- A common hole in the editing process is when content is changed/updated after publication. For instance, a company decides to update its website’s product pages and sends updated content directly from a product line specialist to the developer. People often don’t think to edit these updates, especially if they are small, piecemeal changes. However, the cumulative impact of this oversight is content that was once nearly perfect and now full of mistakes.
- A common point of friction in editing is when graphic or web designers need copy changes to accommodate line-length/character limitations in their design templates. For instance, an infographic with columns of a particular width may require a subtitle to be reduced from 30 to 25 characters. These types of issues are almost unavoidable, but it’s a great help when the editor understands the design requirements for the final copy in advance.
- Always edit to an accepted standard. Without a standard, there will be no final arbiter of editing decisions, lengthening the decision-making process and making consistency impossible. For most businesses, the AP Stylebook works wonderfully. Some enterprises or types of content require other, more specialized editing standards, for instance:
2. Qualitative Business Editing Tips
- Subject matter experts should review content (see item No. 2 in the first section), but not edit it. Editors should be trained in editing! Look for people with a journalism degree and/or on-the-job editing experience.
- Writers, even great writers, aren’t necessarily competent editors. In fact, most great writers rely on great editors to maximize the quality of their work.
- Editors must have an understanding of the company’s business, industry and audiences (customers, prospects, employees, etc.). Without a feel for these things, the editor will be helpless to identify flaws in the content’s brand presentation; degree of complexity/simplicity; and descriptions of products, services and customer issues. True, internal/client reviewers can catch these mistakes, or many of them, but this slows down the process and excessively burdens people with many other priorities. Clients will also become irritated if they are continually seeing a need for extensive editing in content their agency is submitting — the problem here, of course, is that the agency may end up getting fired.
- For large assignments such as 50 new website pages, edit and submit a sampling of pages to reviewers before writing the entire job. This way, if there are fundamental approval issues, they can be resolved by the writer(s) and editor before too much work has been done. And, once again, this approach makes it easier on the reviewers as the project moves forward.
- Along the same lines of making the job easier, work with and hire writers with the ability to learn. From an editing and approval standpoint, the job should get easier and easier as the writer continues to produce content for an organization. If the writer turns in content with the same errors over and over, frustration will set in.
- To help writers with their learning curve, editors should show them all of the edits. This is extremely important. If writers lack feedback, they won’t know where they went wrong, and have no way of improving their work.
Editors are in a tough position. They have to make difficult decisions, often under deadline pressure, and have to hash out occasional emotional issues at both ends (with writers and reviewers) while maintaining healthy working relationships with all parties. Having a well-thought-out process and approaching quality issues in a way that makes it easy for all parties to succeed helps enormously. The payoff is content that rises above the norm, catching the attention of prospects and turning them into customers.