You’ve worked hard to craft the perfect piece. You’re excited, confident that your client will love it. It’s going to be immaculate once the design is done and everything gets published, it just has to go through your editor first.
Fast forward a few days — your piece is back from the editor, and whoa, it’s filled with line edits and copious comments in the margins. Not to mention, there’s an email or comment in the project thread outlining their suggestions.
Your first thought may be, “Yikes, I didn’t think it was that bad,” but trust me, your editor doesn’t think that either. They’re on team Great Content right along with you and they just want to help make this piece be the best it can be.
We’ll focus on content editing, the mother of all editing strategies and one of the best tools for creating exquisite content. We’ll also cover how it compares to other editing styles, why it matters and my process for editing content.
What Is Content Editing?
Content editing is an editing style that takes a comprehensive look at content — from big picture concepts and content architecture to smaller elements like sentence structure, syntax and punctuation — with the ultimate goal of crafting the most impactful piece possible. It includes the basics of copy editing and takes them a step further to include brand voice, adherence to a client’s style guide and even strategic decisions about information design and delivery. Content editing encompasses the importance of all editing styles and turns them up a notch.
Example: Say you’ve written a long-form guide on “how to make a bouquet” for a wedding industry client. It’s a straightforward keyword that gives you plenty of room to outline a step-by-step process, plus it has a search volume of 600 and a keyword difficulty of 11. Not too bad, right?
Any editor you work with will check your spelling, grammar and punctuation — those are the basics. But if you work with a content editor, they’ll also check your strategy, evaluating the strength of each sentence and paragraph to ensure your piece delivers what the reader needs in the most efficient, effective way possible. They may even suggest pivoting your keyword to “how to make a wedding bouquet,” which has a search volume of 800 and a keyword difficulty of 8.
Some of the questions they’ll look to answer while editing include:
- Will readers actually learn how to make a bouquet?
- Are the tips and tricks useful, actionable and digestible? Bonus points: Are they easily shareable?
- Is the order of steps logical and are the guidelines easy to understand? Would it make sense to rearrange anything?
- Are there any sections that could use more elaboration? Less fluff?
- Do the visuals fit well with the copy? Should anything be tweaked?
- Are there any obvious keyword pivots or ways to make it more accessible to readers while still satisfying ranking needs?
Content edits can be anything from basic punctuation fixes and in-post suggestions to comments in the margins. Suggestions can include tweaking ideas (“maybe try wording this concept as XYZ”), adjusting the flow (“this paragraph/idea/section may work better under its own header because of ABC”) and offering clarifications (“this is confusing, can you simplify/reword/elaborate?”).
Your editor is your crash test reader. They’re a fresh set of eyes with plenty of perspective on content strategy: It’s a great opportunity to button things up, from the tiny wording missteps to the bigger ideas that could use some extra love.
As a writer, you may be thinking, “Aren’t all editing strategies the same? Aren’t they all here to fix my mistakes, make me sound smarter and make the client sound good?” In the simplest terms, sure. Editors, no matter their official title, are here to help brush up your content and give it a polish, from adding in a missing comma to streamlining that clunky paragraph. Let’s see how all the different types of editing overlap and stand out.
Types of Editing
You’ve probably heard about various types of editing, especially if you’ve worked in PR, publishing or marketing for some time. Some common types of editing include:
→ Proofreading. Get out your red pen — this is typically the last stage of editing before publishing for last-minute grammar, spelling and punctuation fixes. If you can never remember if it’s “compliment” or “complement,” your proofreader has your back.
→ Fact-checking. This important job focuses on ensuring all facts in the piece are correct, like dates, citations and references. Nothing tanks the credibility of your piece faster than a misattributed quote or incorrectly cited study.
→ Line editing. Most commonly used in book editing, a line editor goes line by line and analyzes every last detail, with the ultimate goal of tightening everything up for the final publication. They analyze things such as word choice, sentence length and meaning, and may offer more nitpicky suggestions like, “a semicolon would be more impactful than an em dash here.”
But what about copy editing? Let’s go over the differences and similarities between copy editing and content editing.
Content Editing vs. Copy Editing
As mentioned, content editing focuses on creating comprehensive and productive content that’s useful to the reader, optimized for the web and satisfying to the client. So a content editor evaluates the overall structure and quality as well as sentence composition, quality sourcing, intuitive flow of ideas and adherence to brand voice and style — all while keeping an eye on copy basics like spelling, punctuation and grammar.
Copy editing, on the other hand, just focuses on the copy itself. Spelling, grammar, punctuation — the basics. A copy editor isn’t there to question the argument of your piece or make higher level suggestions; it’s assumed that the overall structure of the piece is already pretty solid. They’ll also check the design, title, meta, author bio and other details of the piece to make sure everything is buttoned up, but only in terms of typos and mistakes.
|Content Editor||Copy Editor||Proofreader||Fact Checker|
|Checks grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax, etc. (in both copy and design)||✓||✓||✓|
|Edits with the audience in mind||✓||✓|
|Edits for readability||✓||✓|
|Edits according to style guide, brand voice, tone, etc.||✓||✓|
|Verifies citations, quotations, accuracy of the copy, etc.||✓||✓|
|Offers SEO feedback||✓|
|Applies content marketing strategy best practices to evaluate content quality and effectiveness||✓|
Why Is Content Editing Important?
Content editing is crucial to ensure your piece is effective, digestible and fun to read. It’s also critical to ensuring client satisfaction and performance results. It should go without saying, but in order to be a strong content editor, you also need to be a solid copy editor and fact checker. In content marketing, it’s important to cover all your bases, and content editing can do that for whatever you’re writing — it ensures that all elements are addressed.
Let’s go back to that example about how to create a bouquet. If the article is riddled with spelling errors and missing punctuation, and doesn’t teach you how to make a bouquet, that takes away from the core of the piece and surely won’t make your client happy. It definitely won’t help a reader out either. A content editor wears multiple hats to help bring together all the loose ends of a piece and take it to the next level.
My Editing Process
First thing’s first: Caffeine. Just as you probably write better when you’re wide awake, I’ll definitely do a better job of editing with a mug close by.
Once that’s settled, it’s editing time. My overall editing process has the same key components for every project, but there are a few considerations and adjustments I make on a case-by-case basis, which I’ll cover below.
Be sure to check out our printable checklist to help you get the most out of your content edits.
Step 1: What Am I Working With?
Before getting started, I take stock of what I’m editing. Is it a short SEO post focused on ranking for a particular keyword? Is it a long-form guide with an infographic? Are we showcasing proprietary survey findings? This helps me understand what to expect and keep an eye out for. I also take note of the word count. While the amount of time it takes me to edit a piece depends a lot on things like the subject matter, style guide and writer, I can usually edit 1,000 words in half an hour or less.
Back to our bouquet piece: I want to be sure that the “how to” aspect is achieved — if I still can’t answer the question, “how do I make my own wedding bouquet?” by the outro, that’ll be my number one point of feedback. Having a general idea of what I’m editing at the start makes for more effective content editing than jumping in blind.
Step 2: Style Check
Next, I note which client I’m editing for. As a content marketing agency, we have a wide array of clients — from lifestyle and wedding to finance and insurance agencies — and they each have their own unique voice, branding and style guidelines. Some clients opt for the classic AP style, while others provide us with their own in-house guidelines. I’ve seen 15-page style guides come across my desk before, with preferences on everything such as number usage and their preferred sentence length.
Hefty style guide or not, I always take time to get my head in the zone for that client. If they have a long style guide, I review everything, even if I’ve worked with them before. I’ll also note specific preferences and keep an eye out for those once I start. Similarly, if a client is new to the agency or new to me, I take extra time to get familiar with their guidelines. I’m also a huge fan of using sticky notes to remind myself of a client’s preferences.
Step 3: Dive Into Edits
Armed with a style guide and an idea of what I’ll be reading, I start editing. Typically, I’ll do a quick sweep of the piece to get a feel for everything, keeping an eye out for:
- Glaring, obvious errors right off the bat
- The length of the piece and the number of design elements
- Correctly and consistently formatted headers
- Readability of text (i.e., are there large blocks of text that could be broken up with bulleted lists, design elements, etc.?)
- The main editorial considerations of the client (for example, do they love the Oxford comma or only want headers to be formatted in sentence case?)
Once that’s taken care of, I’ll do a more focused edit. Some sections get an extra read or two to make sure they really fit. I frequently make notes for myself to come back to — sometimes a section takes a couple of reads in the context of the whole piece before I can provide constructive feedback. If a piece needs some extra love in terms of writing quality, I’ll often take care of those edits first and then do an additional read to address the overall structure and comprehensiveness of the piece.
I often have to decide how picky to be. While I will make sure you’ve used a semicolon correctly, I won’t spend my editing time deciding whether an em dash would be more impactful in that one particular sentence. It’s all about balance and keeping the ultimate goal of the piece in mind.
Step 4: Take a Break
As an editor, it’s important not to get burned out. If I’m working with a long piece, a client that has a complex style guide or a particularly complicated (or boring — we’ve all been there) subject, the last thing I need is to be rushed or feel like my editing skills are dwindling. I often take a breather before finishing edits — get that second cup of coffee, answer emails for 20 minutes, take a stretch break, whatever helps me refresh. Coming back with fresh eyes does me a lot of good, not to mention, it benefits the finished product and my feedback for the writer.
Step 5: Summarize
Once I finish edits, whether I needed a break or it was smooth sailing, I take a quick look back at my work. If a piece warranted a lot of edits and comments, I’ll do my best to distill everything into a high-level look at my edits for the writer. I’m also a writer and know it can be stressful to get a piece back covered in tracked changes — being able to send a few bullet points to the author summarizing my notes is the least I can do to help a piece be successful. I also make myself available to talk through any edits or particular sections. Every writer can use an extra set of eyes and a sounding board to perfect their work.
Content Editing Is Your Best Friend
Content editing is an integral part of writing a good blog post and crafting an effective content marketing strategy. While it may look a little different for each piece you write, it helps reinforce your writing and make it work even harder. And don’t stress too much if it feels like your editor is shredding your work. Take it from me: Your editor is your number one cheerleader.
Need more content editing inspiration? Don’t forget to download our printable checklist to make all the nitty-gritty details of editing a breeze.