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Posts Tagged ‘copy editing’

Copywriting: A 5-step guide to a well-defined copy editing process

October 13th, 2015
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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.”

Copy Editor Quote

 

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.

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Copywriting: 7 more copy editing tactics to improve your content

January 24th, 2014
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In copy editing, there’s always something new to learn.

In the past few months since writing my first post on editing, “Content Marketing: 7 copy editing tips to improve any content piece,” I’ve had the chance to sit down with members of the Content Team at MECLABS and develop an updated company style guide.

Also, I was given the opportunity to move into the role of editorial analyst and have had the privilege of reviewing candidates for a new copy editor (we’re still looking if you’re interested).

All of these changes in my current role have made me reflect on practices and techniques I naturally developed over the past year. I’ve taken lessons learned from mistakes, tips from colleagues and from my own experiences in editing and found that you never really stop learning when it comes to perfecting your content.

 

Tip #1. Make a checklist

Sometimes, editing can seem overwhelming when there are so many things to check for accuracy:

  • Individual names
  • Company names
  • Job titles
  • Headlines
  • Links
  • Grammar
  • Punctuation
  • Bulleted lists
  • Images

Ultimately, anything used to create content needs to be vetted in the editing process.

To help keep your mind focused on the things you need to be looking out for, make checklists for yourself to ensure your editing covers all of the key elements in the piece.

Write them down and pin them to your cubicle wall or set reminders to refer back to while you’re editing, especially if you’re editing content that is particularly lengthy.

Checklists are also helpful when you’re implementing something new in your process. This can help you start remembering to include it in your daily routine.

 

Tip #2. R-E-S-P-E-C-T

As an editor, you have the power to change content as you see fit. The tone, context, word choices and everything else is in your hands.

But with great power comes great responsibility.

You should respect and consider two different groups of needs in order to improve your editing beyond simple grammar and punctuation changes:

  • The author’s need for a distinct voice.
  • The audience’s need for content that’s relevant to their interests and useful to their needs.

Respecting the author’s voice involves keeping it intact throughout. Good editors can spot who wrote an article without looking at a byline. Everyone has their own style of writing in the same way everyone has their own way of speaking.

While there may be changes for clarity or if something is just plain incorrect, editors should not go out of their way to remove the author’s unique voice from a piece.

This could mean removing an opinion if the article is not a subjective piece, but their style of writing should not be completely muted if it is not interfering with your editorial guidelines.

The second group you must respect is your audience, and the way to do this is to know them.

One way to do this is by reading the feedback you receive in your comments section. If people are expressing confusion or want to know more about a topic, address their needs by working those concerns into your next article or blog post.

As I’ve learned, one of the fastest ways to lose an audience is when using jargon. You may have a cozy understanding of it, but your audience doesn’t.

Do not include acronyms, terms or phrases that readers could be unfamiliar with. Instead, use a brief explanation and hyperlink to content that will help them gain a deeper understanding of the concepts.

 

Tip #3. Search engines are your best friend

Run into terms not in your stylebook?

Author using a phrase you’re not familiar with? Don’t just guess – search!

In marketing, there are quite a number of terms that don’t have standard spelling or punctuation.

Words like e-commerce, website, webpage, e-book and other Web terms (even the word “Web” itself) have different ways of being referenced.

You can set style standards for these, however, once in a blue moon, you will encounter something new that you need to make a decision on.

To help keep our decisions consistent, my team just wrapped up a revised version of our company style guide. In its 32 pages, we attempted to cover our usage of words that differ from how other companies typically use them.

We added some things and threw some things out.

For anything not covered in our style guide, we default to the Associated Press Stylebook to cover our bases.

My point here is instead of just picking guidelines at random, think of how your company uses certain words or phrases and search for those terms online to see how others are using them.

 

Tip #4. Make your bulleted lists consistent

Bulleted lists are great when you have a list of items too long for a sentence, or just need to separate thoughts to get your point across.

When making lists, be sure to keep your style in those lists consistent. This could mean choosing whether to make your lists complete sentences or not, ending them in punctuation or not, or maybe choosing a tense to stay in.

For example, I wanted to start by showing you one way not to do a list:

The top four goals our team has this year are:

  • Meet deadlines
  • Making sure the website is updated
  • We should be holding conference calls every week.
  • Email marketing

Here’s a way I would edit this list to be more uniform in style, grammar and punctuation:

The top four goals our team has this year are to:

  • Meet deadlines
  • Update the website as needed
  • Hold conference calls every week
  • Improve our email marketing efforts

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Content Marketing: 7 copy editing tips to improve any content piece

October 22nd, 2013
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Creating intriguing and relevant content is key to successful content marketing.

Webinars, webpages and ebooks were all cited in the 2013 MarketingSherpa SEO Marketing Benchmark Survey as “the most effective places to create content for meeting marketing objectives.”

Creating content is one thing, improving it through copy editing, however, is another step in the process.

I say this because content becomes less effective with each glaring error. Depending on the circumstances, those mistakes are perhaps even costing your organization revenue as customers look elsewhere to shop.

 

Think about it …

Do you want to spend your time deciphering information riddled with grammar and spelling errors?

Well, your readers certainly don’t and why should they? Why should they take their time to untangle a web of errors and inconsistencies in a content piece in order to understand the message?

They will simply move on to something else that is polished, clear and professionally written. Luckily in the digital realm, minor mistakes can be caught after a blog post, article or social media post is published online and can be seamlessly fixed.

However, some diligent eyes can spot errors before critics take to social media and immortalize a glaring typo.

For example, the Mankato Free Press was not immune to criticism when a creative, but poorly designed page slipped past copy editors and startled readers while enjoying their breakfast.

As the copy editor at MECLABS, my job revolves around editing everything from blog posts, articles, landing page copy, marketing materials and many other essential pieces of content for MarketingSherpa and MarketingExperiments.

The insights in this post revolve strictly around copy editing to help you focus on improving the accuracy of your text, not editing, which is designed to help you improve the organization of your content.

Read on for seven copy editing tips you can use to improve the quality of your content.

 

Tip #1. Stick with a style

When copy editing, consistency is very important – so pick a style and stick with it.

Establishing style standards early on will help keep all the content you produce uniform across different formats.

At MECLABS, we devised a Stylebook that incorporates elements of AP style and stylistic preferences unique to our company.

For instance, some of the most common words and phrases utilized in our content appear in the Stylebook reflecting MECLABS’ usage.

Words like clickthrough, call-to-action, homepage, e-commerce, Web (always capitalized) and others have a specific way of being spelled or capitalized preferable to us that may not be used the same grammatically or contextually elsewhere.

Not everything can be covered in a company style guide, so having a secondary resource such as the AP Stylebook on hand is essential for finding those words and phrases you may not know how to utilize correctly in a piece.

For other aspects of writing, such as headlines, consistency is also extremely important.

Editors tend to decide what words are used in a headline, so your stylebook should include style preferences for headlines, to help editors keep those copy decisions consistent.

Also, try to make considerations in your Stylebook for any additional content you may have that will need formatting guidelines and make sure your content team understands and adheres to those standards.

 

Tip #2. Read aloud

The very first step of copy editing is reading through content to make changes.

Reading silently to yourself is a good way to start, but taking it to the next level and reading a piece aloud will help you catch more errors and hear how the words and sentences flow together.

It may also seem like common sense, but reading it aloud conversationally is not enough to catch mistakes. By reading slowly and articulating each word, you are more likely to spot grammar and spelling mistakes that your word processor might have missed.

 

Tip #3. Keep it concise

Attention spans are shorter than ever, so keeping length in mind while editing is also extremely important. By keeping sentences concise, you will captivate readers by making every word count.

When possible, delete extraneous words from sentences unless they impact the integrity of the overall meaning.

For example, the word “that” is often used as a crutch word and can be eliminated in most cases.

 

Tip #4. Do a final proofread after publishing 

Hitting the “publish” button is not the end of a copy editor’s work day. Even after a vigorous round of editing, mistakes can still fall through the cracks.

This is why taking one more look at your content after it’s published is a great idea.

As I mentioned earlier, digital publishing in most instances is a lot more forgiving than print. Once you publish content in a print medium, the words and any mistakes you may have missed are stamped onto the pages of your publication and into history.

One example I can think of recently was the misspelling of the word “Marketing” as “Makreting” on the spine of a printed publication. Luckily, the error was caught before a large pressing of the misprints was ordered.

Consequently, although something may already be published, some minor changes can still likely be made if needed before the majority of your audience engages the content.

 

Tip #5. Avoid proofing your own work whenever possible

(Most) copy editors love to write, but reviewing your own content can be problematic, and should be avoided unless there is absolutely no other option.

Therefore, having another set of eyes on your piece can catch errors you would probably miss as the writer.

If others proofing your work is not an option, putting the finished product aside for a few days can help you get out of “writer” mode and into “proofing” mode.

Also, the content isn’t nearly as fresh in your mind, so you’re more likely to catch mistakes.

 

Tip #6. Read through backwards

This may seem a little strange, but the best tips usually are.

From my experience, going through content one sentence at a time backwards is a surprisingly great way to catch problems in the copy.

Incorrect punctuation, extra or double words and other issues that might have been skimmed over normally, can be singled out quickly by reading it backwards.

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Content Marketing: Misstakes arr Bad

November 9th, 2012
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Content marketing is hot right now, but unfortunately won  very important stage in the process is often an afterthought, or even overlooked completely.

If “won” word in the opening paragraph didn’t totally give it away, that stage is editing the content before it goes out to the rest of the world.

And, although the tips in this blog post are geared toward written word content pieces such as whitepapers or blog posts, it’s just as important to edit slides in presentations or webinars, audio/visual content like video and podcasts, and other types of content in your overall strategic mix.

In my career, both here at MECLABS and as a freelance writer, I’ve been on both sides of the coin – edited by a variety of people when creating journalism pieces and writing for corporate clients, and I’ve worn the editor hat at other times.

To provide some insight into the importance of editing, and to offer tips on incorporating an editing stage in your content creation process, I reached out to two of the best I’ve worked with over my career.

During my freelance writing days, Amber Jones Barry, now a freelance editor, had the opportunity to wrestle with my monthly copy for a consumer magazine, and Brad Bortone, Senior Research Editor, MECLABS, gets his fingerprints on a lot of the MarketingSherpa and MarketingExperiments content you read, making all of us sound a little better in the process.

In fact, we have an excellent editorial staff here at MECLABS, with more than one person poring over every bit of content we publish.

  Read more…