Copyediting Content: How to Become an Expert
December 4, 2015
Many inbound marketers are strong at crafting blog and e-book content that attracts, converts and delights. They also recognize the potential of co-workers, including managers, execs, and front-line employees in producing such materials. Or, these marketers turn to freelancers to ghostwrite content for their company’s website.
Unfortunately, the one area of expertise most inbound marketers don’t bring to the table is copyediting. They write content or take a look at the content someone else has produced, see that the post or e-book has hit the mark in terms of message and keywords, and then publish. The content makes it online without a good (or any) edit and may be riddled with grammar mistakes—errors that immediately diminish your thought leadership. The worst online comment you can receive to a blog post is “You have a misspelling in your headline.”
Hiring copy editors and content specialists to review your blogs and e-books is one solution to this conundrum. However, some marketing departments may not have the additional budget, thus leaving the editing to the marketers themselves. Although you may never reach the mastery required of copy editors at major publications and websites, you can improve your editing ability to a decent level that will ensure the content you publish is consistently as clean as possible. Here are some expert tips that will boost your copy editing skills:
Focus on Display Type
Display type is any text on a page that isn’t normal-sized, plain copy. It includes headlines and titles, headers, picture captions, and linked text. Display type draws the audience’s attention first, and often, a reader will look at this more noticeable text and decide if the rest of the content is worth his or her time. Subsequently, if there are mistakes in display type, the natural inclination may be to click away. With a blog post, look at the title and headers first and then delve into the copy.
Don’t Blow Off the Spellcheck
Many word processing programs automatically highlight misspelled words and faulty grammar. This is great, but it can also give you a false sense of security to not run the spellcheck once you have concluded writing the content. Before you submit or publish, the last thing you should do is spellcheck the post or e-book. And if you are writing in one application and copying the text to another application (say, from Microsoft Word to HubSpot’s blog function), run the spellcheck again—you will be surprised what errors one program catches that another one doesn’t.
Copyedit with Style
Readers likely will not care if you hyphenate “e-mail” or capitalize people’s work titles. What they will notice (and studies have proved this) is if you are inconsistent with how you use and spell terms. An array of style guides—AP, Chicago, APA, MLA—offers a blueprint for using words a certain way time after time. Pick one, or come up with your own style that makes sense for your business and industry.
Got a Question?
If you come across something in your editing that doesn’t quite make sense to you, and you can’t find the answer on your own, don’t automatically assume the author was right, either. Follow up with a phone call, an email, or even an embedded comment in the file. Asking never hurts, and a comment that starts “Just checking:” demonstrates that you are choosing diligence over blind acceptance. Experienced writers will appreciate that diligence.
Read It Out Loud
Even with a thorough copyediting pass, you might not catch every mistake. In the way we develop reading skills over our lifetimes, we learn to speed-read through text to quickly absorb the message. However, this approach also means that even the best-trained eyes can miss something. Therefore, after your first pass, read the copy again, but this time, out loud, almost as if you were reading a bedtime story to kids. Go slowly, and pay close attention if the words are making sense when strung together. You aren’t looking so much for misspellings as you are for extraneous, missing, or misused words. And if you are in a place you can’t speak out loud, imagine a voice (either your own or someone famous—how about Morgan Freeman!) in your head reading the copy to achieve the same effect.
What kind of copy editing process does your department have?
About the author
Joe Gillespie is Director of Inbound Copy for SmartBug Media. He graduated from Marquette University with a B.A. in journalism and, before coming to SmartBug, was a two-decade veteran of the newspaper industry. Read more articles by Joe Gillespie.
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