Effective Content Editing – What You Need to Know

A strong editor is more than just a grammarian or proofreader. In fact, writing actually happens during the editorial process. Editing is a collaborative effort, and oftentimes requires more than one pass, by many different contributors. Depending on the type of editing you need, your editor may need insight into your:

Goals and objectives
Design and content requirements
Legal considerations
Brand and editorial style guidelines
Source materials for comparison

As editors, we consider it our responsibility to:

Safeguard the integrity of your brand
Brand trust is developed through consistency. Your customers know who you are, what you represent, and come to depend on you to deliver consistently every time, whether it’s a product or service, or it’s your brand presence in the market. Every single touch point should be instantly recognizable and affiliated with you.

Align all communications with your stated goals
Every communication you develop ties back to your business goals. And every piece is designed for connection – whether it’s an informational blog article, a targeted email campaign or a yearly report to stakeholders. Is the piece helping you accomplish those goals? If not, what’s missing?

Ensure legal considerations are followed to a tee
Legal requirements are in place to protect you from liability. During legal review, every last component is weighed and considered. Editorial reviewers should understand legal requirements and make sure everything down to the fine print adheres.

Look for consistency across all related communications
More often than not, we’re asked to edit a single piece that is part of a larger campaign. If the campaign or engagement strategy and accompanying communications are available for reference, we’d like to see them. Receiving an email, then a phone call with a script that have an inconsistent tone of voice is confusing for customers. Again, consistency is key.

Follow editorial style guidelines
You’d be surprised at how many organizations don’t have editorial guidelines. If you don’t have brand guidelines and editorial style guidelines, consider developing them. Associated Press Stylebook is a great place to start for editorial. You can use AP as your baseline, then build in exceptions. (Common for healthcare organizations: health care vs. healthcare.) As for MailChimp voice and tone guidelines, MailChimp developed a considerable content guide that you might use as a reference.

Copyedit and proofread
Of course grammar, context, sentence construction are important! Well-written content is the cornerstone of communication. Say what you will about Strunk & White, The Elements of Style is still the editor’s bible. Our copies are dogeared and highlighted.

Once you’re satisfied that all content meets your standards, read the copy backwards. When you’re skimming through copy, your brain generalizes, placing focus on higher level tasks, such as ensuring the content has meaning and is organized appropriately. Reading content backwards forces you to see each word exclusive of its context, allowing your brain to focus on the spelling itself.

It’s also good practice to self-edit, then share your content with someone who can read it through with fresh eyes. No matter how good a writer, everyone needs an editor. Just ask Isaac Asimov, who said of editor John W. Campbell:

“When I first met him I thought of him as ageless. He was a tall, large man with light hair, a beaky nose, a wide face with thin lips, and with a cigarette in a holder forever clamped between his teeth. He was talkative, opinionated, quicksilver-minded, overbearing. Talking to him meant listening to a monologue. Some writers could not endure it and avoided him, but he reminded me of my father, so I was perfectly willing to listen to him indefinitely.”
(First seen on The Writer’s Almanac, 2016.)