Copywriting: A 5-step guide to a well-defined copy editing process
In my four years at MECLABS Institute, the parent company of MarketingSherpa, I’ve held a few different roles on the Editorial Content team.
However, my very first role was junior copy editor. Having been there and done that, it provides me a unique perspective to manage our current copy editor, Shelby Dorsey.
It’s a unique role. No one seems to know you’re there until you mess up. I can still remember that first email forwarded to me after a director in the company found a small mistake I overlooked in a newsletter send. It was horrifying.
Recently, Shelby and I have set out to help improve some of the processes around the copy editing role, and I know we aren’t the only ones who need help streamlining this area of marketing.
First on the list was increasing the turnaround times for the various content pieces.
To start the presentation, I wanted to find a quote that embodied what a copy editor is. In my search, I found the copy editor description Merrill Perlman wrote in her CNN article, “Why ‘America’ needs copy editors.”
It’s with this quote that I started a simple, but detailed internal PowerPoint deck outlining the copy editing process, requirements and timelines. To help you implement or improve your own copy editing process and procedures, we’re giving you an inside look at that deck.
Step #1. Shed light on what your copy editors do
Because it’s such a behind-the-scenes role, you might start with bringing visibility to the tasks your copy editor does.
It can be a misconception that the copy editor just sits around, waiting for something to come in for editing. That’s not the case at MECLABS at all. The copy editor is kind of a jack-of-all-trades role with a daily list of tasks outside of editing.
We outlined the duties of the role early in the presentation because we wanted people to understand why the copy editor can’t provide edits at the drop of a hat.
While the MECLABS copy editor services both the content and marketing departments, most of the copy editor’s duties exist within editorial content, with morning deadlines to meet the editorial schedule. This allowed us to show why emergencies before noon are harder to meet.
Step #2. Be transparent about why the process is changing
Before getting into the finer details of what and when, you want to be clear about why you’re making the changes or implementing an entirely new process.
For us, there were two reasons behind our “why.”
First, we wanted to make sure there was a full circle in the editing process where writers had final say over what we publish under their names.
Due to a longstanding process and time restraints, writers didn’t see edits from the copy editor before articles and posts were published. To allow for this much needed step in the process, each piece of editorial content would have to be sent to the copy editor with enough time for editing and the writer’s review.
Second, for all pieces, not just editorial, we wanted to ensure there was time for discussion around edits. Occasionally, edits can cause debate. If time is pressed, it’s easy for writers to reject the edit and publish. The extra turnaround time will allow the writer and the copy editor to talk over the edit from both perspectives and find a solution that best suits the content and, ultimately, the reader.
Step #3. Indicate who should get what
You need to clarify to whom writers — whether in an editorial or marketing department, a graphic design in video or designers — should be sending edits. Do you have two copy editors, and one gets one type of content and the other gets a different type? Do all edits go through an operations manager who then sends them to the appropriate editor?
For us, all edits go directly to the copy editor. However, as the manager overseeing the copy editing process, I get copied all on items. We had noticed that some followed this process and some only sent it to the copy editor.
We took the updated process deck as an opportunity to clarify the importance of this step. If you have an emergency edit and the copy editor is out sick, your content is heading for a black hole without a second individual copied on it. It also allows me as a manager to see the queue and decide if additional editing assistance is needed.
Step #4. Break down turnaround times and required information by content type
Every piece of content is a little different. What resources does your copy editor need for each piece of content — whether to edit more precisely or publish if part of their duties?
At MECLABS, we publish under both MarketingSherpa and its sister company, MarketingExperiments. The audience for each differs some, and so does the way we communicate with them. That means it’s important for our copy editor to know who will be receiving the list so that she can edit accordingly.
Each content type spells out what is needed, from audience information to proper format for images.
The deck breaks down the turnaround times for each. We also took into account the times when requests are made for multiples of a certain content type. Editing one PowerPoint deck is completely different than editing five of them.
Step #5. Define approval processes
Within our department, there is generally not much to the approval process. The complexity comes in for us when working with other departments. When you have three or more people reviewing and approving a single email, there can be confusion over what the end product should look like.
To bring some simplicity and clarity to the process, we worked with the marketing team to define two of our most common approval processes.
By creating a formal order of approval, you do two things:
First, you allow the owner of the project or piece of content final approval of all the edits. Whoever is responsible for the end product should see and approve all changes.
Second, you avoid confusion for those receiving the edits, whether it’s email specialists, graphic designers or Web developers. You’re sending them one set of approved edits, instead of three separate sets of edits that could conflict with one another.
These are the steps that made sense for us. Depending on your copy editor situation, you might need to adjust or add to some of these. Leave any tips you may have below in the comments.
You can follow Selena Blue, Manager of Editorial Content, MarketingSherpa, on Twitter at @SelenaLBlue.
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