You’ve got a decent content team (or maybe it’s just two of you), with a variety of good and talented people. But there’s a problem. Maybe some of them are just young or maybe they’ve just had really good editors in the past. But their work is a little sloppy, with simple errors that could easily be fixed with just a little guidance.
The easiest way to get your content writers up to tip-top shape is to make them editors. Every writer worth their salt knows how to edit to a point, but actually having them edit as part of their workflow is an important part of improving the quality of their work.
This is something that works in practice, when I was editing the school newspaper in college, we had a three-edit process that every piece of work was supposed to go through. The first tier would be the assistant and section editors, who may or may not have had a lot of editorial experience. Then they would go through the managing editor and the editor-in-chief who were more experienced. Then they would finally go through to a copy editor, who usually had the most experience in editing and writing.
In this process, the writers-becoming-editors were all of us, but most of all the section editors. They were new to editing and it was incredible to see their own work improve as a result.
There are a few methods to push your content writers towards becoming budding content editors.
Give Them a Stylebook (And Have Them Help Create Yours)
You know that in order to have good, consistent copy, it is critical for your content to follow a stylebook. Give your writers a leg up by giving them a stylebook (or at least an online subscription). If you haven’t picked a stylebook yet, I would recommend reading this post about picking and creating your own stylebook and stylesheet.
On that same topic, have your writers be on the lookout for words and usages that may differ from the stylebook you’ve chosen. Having them play an active role in creating the working document that is your stylesheet will keep them up-to-date on current changes and keep them better-versed on the guide in general. That means less mistakes that might slip through the cracks.
Give Them Web Tools
I’ve mentioned a variety of editing tools that will make you a better writer before, including the Hemmingway Editor and the Grammarly toolkit. These tools will go through your writing and point out what you did wrong, which promotes self-awareness in your writing. Even accomplished editors should use these tools occasionally, as they will help correct bad writing habits and errors you’ve become accustomed to reading (even though they are incorrect). They assess grammar and readability, while the Hemmingway Editor will point out your overuse of adverbs.
But there’s one tool I haven’t mentioned, that I was introduced to while in journalism school. I not only took this course on the brink of beginning to edit, but I also had other writers take it when I needed them to edit better in a hurry.
It’s Poynter’s Cleaning Your Copy. There are quizzes and lessons, teaching you about grammar, style (AP) and more. It works. This is intro to editing for those who didn’t even know they wanted to edit. I would recommend this to any writer and also recommend editor’s revisit it every now and then (I will be once I finish this article).
Give these tools to your writers. It will make your job infinitely easier.
Bring Awareness Through Your Editing
When you edit the work of your writers, it is important to ensure they can see the changes that you made to their work. Don’t just send back the neat, clean, edited version for them. Speaking from experience, it is very difficult for writers to look at a final piece of copy, with no marks and figure out what has been changed. Mark it up, write comments, explain to them what they did wrong and why. This means that they will be able to improve more rapidly than just guessing why your changed their opening sentence.
Your editing, combined with the web tools and lessons listed above, will help your writers become aware of the mistakes they make. That is a critical mindset for an editor. Without self-awareness, it will be challenging for your writer to pick out the mistakes of others.
Force Them to Self-Edit
Now that they’ve got the awareness, it is time to have your writers sit down and really edit themselves. There are a couple of ways to go about this.
I would suggest not allowing your writer turn in their first draft while they are learning to edit better (they shouldn’t turn in work without editing it anyways). Have them turned in a marked up (either on paper or using track changes) draft of their article, to prove that they actually reread their work before submitting it to you.
And I know that editing yourself is the hardest type of editing, which is why I suggest starting there (this also reduces the chance of a writer getting angry after being edited by an amateur).
There are a handful of good self-editing tricks that I’ve picked up over time, many of which you’ve likely heard.
Make Them Walk Away
Their first draft will always look perfect. The important word in that sentence is look. If they write something and then immediately look it over, they will likely miss a majority of their own mistakes. That’s because their brain knew what it wanted to say, so the tricky little guy will try to convince them that’s what it said.
The only way to combat this is to make your writers give their drafts some space. At minimum, have them go to the bathroom, maybe chat with a coworker or have them take a walk around the building. If they finish with it early enough to let it settle overnight, encourage them to do that.
The more distance you put between the writer and their copy, the better.
Read it Out Loud
This is advice that was given to me and most likely many others while in school and then again when I was an intern in radio. When writing content and other promotional copy, reading copy out loud might be the only way the writer realizes that it is unclear or confusing.
That’s why radio copy usually sounds so good. It was designed to be read out loud. It’s why my coworkers will often see me staring at my screen, mouthing words. It works.
Read it Backwards
When I first got this advice, I wasn’t really sure what to do with it. What do you mean read backwards? I figured out a method that works though, and that is reading each sentence, starting at the end. The advantage of this is it takes away the context, so the writer’s brain can’t fill in what it thinks was supposed to be said.
Finish with Less Words Than You Started With
It always amazes me how many words inexperienced writers use. It might come from our education systems, where it is often more about the word count or page number than the quality of the words on the page.
That being said, unless there is a critical gap that needs to be expanded on, a writer should always cut words from their initial copy.
Try to have your writers come back with less than they started with. Simple, straightforward language will beat wordiness any day.
Have Them Start Editing Others
After your writer has been working on their own stuff for a while, have them start editing the work of others.
This requires some trust on your part and the part of whoever is being edited, but it is worth it. Editing the works of others is much easier and arguably more educational. Other writers make different mistakes, which will teach your budding editor how to fix them. It will force them to look up the answers to questions they wouldn’t even think of in their own work, therefore cementing that rule into their minds.
Just make sure they aren’t the last set of eyes and that you check their work carefully. And after a time, you’ll be able to trust them more and more.
It’s a natural progression for a writer to turn into an editor. But it doesn’t happen overnight. With the right tools and guidance your writer will first become a better writer, then a good editor. You may be thinking something along the lines of, “Why should I train someone to edit? We already have a good editorial process?”
To those who may be thinking that, I would say this. You can never put aside enough time to train your writers. Writers who can edit will be better writers and a more valuable asset to your organization. Working this sort of training into your current editorial process is worth it. Your brand, your content and your writers will be better for it.
Are your writers competent editors? Were they when you hired them or did you need to train them? How did you train them? Let us know in the comments section.