Marketers market, copyeditors edit. However, this delineation of duties doesn’t mean marketers can’t become decent copyeditors.
This isn’t to say editing is easy. Expert, professional copyeditors are skilled at rewriting and improving copy, spotting the smallest of errors, and sniffing out problems the writer may not have even considered. But hiring an editor with, if I may quote Liam Neeson, this “particular set of skills” isn’t always feasible, so marketers often must rely on themselves to edit the content that is so crucial to inbound success.
That said, you don’t need a lifetime of editing experience to handle this responsibility—and handle it well. You might not be able to edit content to the level a career copyeditor would, but you can get it to a place where it’s relatively error-free, flows well, and is reader-friendly. Here are seven tips to help you improve your copyediting skills:
1. Don’t rush the editing process
When you have a complete written piece of content in front of you, the natural tendency for marketers is to post, share, promote, and use it for lead nurturing as soon as possible. Although this instinct is good, you don’t want to blow off the editing process. Error-riddled content that is difficult to read is clicked away from faster than you can say “run-on sentence” or “Liam Neeson.” You are trying to impress prospects, but unedited, poorly written copy has the opposite effect: Readers think you don’t know what you’re talking about or can’t be bothered to form coherent sentences.
Therefore, take the time to diligently edit and re-edit content. A second pass through the copy helps you catch anything you might have missed the first time, as well as any mistakes you may have inadvertently inserted (and trust me, that happens to even the best editors).
Also, if you feel like you need an extra set of eyes to look at a piece of content, ask someone else to read and edit it. Better for you to wait a day or two to post than to risk snarky messages in the comment section on how you misspelled something in the first sentence …
2. Strive for consistency
When writers really get going, the words flow from their minds through their fingers to the keyboard and onto the screen. This feels great, but it also can result in inconsistencies that writers don’t realize they are inserting into the copy.
Switching between past and present tense, flipping from first to third person, using spelling and grammar in inconsistent ways, and other copy fluctuations that aren’t exactly errors can muddle otherwise good content. Readers don’t necessarily care how you present things, but they will get confused if you aren’t consistent in your approach. Pick a copy style guide (such as Associated Press or Chicago, or one you create yourself) and stick with it throughout the content as you edit.
3. The internet is your friend
As you copyedit another’s work, if any names or job titles seem odd, if you aren’t sure how a company’s brand name is spelled, or if you aren’t sure if a word is being used correctly, look it up! A quick internet search can clear up any confusion about proper nouns, correct spellings, or questionable facts.
Don’t hesitate to consult the web—even on terms and names you are fairly confident about. Taking one minute to quickly Google something can save time and prevent embarrassment later.
I know what you’re thinking: The spelling and grammar checks on most writing/editing applications stink. They miss problems they should be flagging, flag problems that aren’t actually wrong, have no clue what to do with hashtags, are inconsistent—I could write a whole article about this. Despite all of these annoyances, the final thing you should do before sending a piece of content onward is run the spellcheck.
Don’t rely on the spellcheck to catch everything, but don’t blow it off, either. Consider this step a last line of defense—and remember that you are better off dealing with the check’s shortcomings than not running it and letting a mistake slip by.
5. Agree to agree
Subject-verb agreement—using the appropriate verb depending on whether the subject of your sentence or clause is singular or plural—seems straightforward, but you would be surprised how often it trips marketers up. Consider these two sentences: Which do you think is correct?
- Creating e-books and blogs that captivate prospects are essential to inbound marketing.
- Creating e-books and blogs that captivate prospects is essential to inbound marketing.
If you said No. 2, you are right. The subject is “creating,” which is a singular noun (and a gerund for you grammar nerds). Nothing between “creating” and the verb (including all those plural nouns) matters when achieving agreement.
Note that, in both examples, the phrase “e-books and blogs” is plural and “captivate” agrees with it in the subsequent clause. This shows that agreement isn’t just limited to pure subjects and predicates, but also to clauses and nouns that agree with pronouns.
6. Say it out loud
One of my favorite editing tips is to read the copy out loud on your last editing pass. You don’t even need to wait for that last pass—if something just doesn’t look right as you edit, reading it out loud can help you sort out what’s wrong. This also helps you catch duplicate words, misspellings that spellcheck doesn’t catch, and other tricky errors. This is not only great advice for editing content, but also for writing it: That out-loud read helps you make sense of what you just created.
7. Be a fixer
Oops, an error slipped by your eyes as well as everyone else’s who looked at the content before it went live. This happens: Multiple people read and edit the same story and don’t see a mistake, then the first person who reads it online catches it right away. A missed error is frustrating for sure (and for professional copy editors, it can feel like a little piece of our soul dies …), but what’s important is for you to fix the mistake quickly and move on.
Finally, don’t let big errors (e.g., misspellings, bad links, factual errors, design problems) linger, thinking someone else will get to it or readers won’t notice or won’t care. Take action as quickly as possible, and be comforted in the knowledge that, as you become a better editor, this unfortunate occurrence will happen less and less frequently.