We’re Only Human: 4 Ways to Become a Better Editor
- February 28, 2022
- Content, demand generation
We’ve all been there – sent that promotional email with a missing word or realized your e-book had a formatting error. after sharing it with your audience. It’s incredibly frustrating to have put so much work into something, only to have missed a single mistake – and it could actually ruin an entire send.
In addition to the personal embarrassment these errors cause, they also have greater implications for your organization. Like death by a thousand paper cuts, over time they can add up – making your business look a little less professional and causing your audience to take negative notice. It’s probably extreme to go here, but what if your audience started to think that because you have typos in your documentation, maybe your technology solution isn’t as up to date. bulletproof?
Now we know that we’re never going to be error free all the time – even with the help of spell check we’re not going to catch all the bloopers – but we’ve found that by creating a review process and by following it methodically, we can more consistently avoid common mistakes in our work. Here are some practices we rely on that might be useful to incorporate into your own work.
Separate editing from proofreading
Although often confused, editing and proofreading are two very different processes. When editing, you look at structure, tone, clarity – substantial stuff. Proofreading reviews for spelling, grammatical and other inconsistencies – pitfalls. They cover very different issues. That’s why, to become a more perfect proofreader, it helps to separate the two processes.
First comes the editing – go through the piece and make your factual and stylistic edits. Personally, if it’s something I haven’t written, I like to do an initial read to “treat” the asset as a complete piece – story arc, content, and takeaways – before I really put on my editor’s hat. Unfortunately, editing is often the time when new errors are introduced, so it’s essential to wrap this stage up completely before moving on to the proofreading that allows a piece to be ‘final’.
In an ideal scenario, if you’re playing both roles, you’ll take some time to create a clear break between editing and proofreading. This important discipline helps reset your mind, essentially allowing it to forget what you’ve read before. This saves you from glossing over mistakes that you have already seen and “corrected” (in your brain) but not yet implemented on paper. A short walk, working on a different project, or even getting up to make a cup of coffee can all do well.
Lean on your style guide
Mistakes aren’t the only thing that can make your work look unprofessional – little things, like using em and end dashes interchangeably, can create micro-negative perceptions. This is where having a documented style guide to refer to can help you stay on top of all the little things. Your style guide serves as the single source of truth for all things style and grammar in your organization – it saves you from having to remember whether using one or two spaces after a period is the way to go. to follow (a space is now the accepted standard)!
If your organization doesn’t have a style guide, now might be the time to champion one — or start creating one yourself. Most of these documents, including ours at TechTarget, are evolutions of commonly available classics such as the Chicago or Associated Press (AP) standards. You might want to choose a guide as a starting point and then point out areas where your brand’s style deviates from it. Be sure to add common terms from your industry and tips for your colleagues on how you’ll use them. For example, do you use an industry acronym first or do you have to spell the word and put the acronym after it in parentheses?
Have a clear process
Depending on the size of your team, your written content may go through a few handshakes before reaching its final form. We find this process critical to achieving our quality goals, as having another look helps ensure core content expectations, structure and clarity. Of course, this process can also increase the risk of inconsistencies.
In our team, our content is created by a writer, who then hands it over to an editor, who then hands it back to the writer. In this process, the author is responsible for final edits and editing. In a large organization, you may have a proofreader as the last person in the process. Whatever your own process, it’s essential that everyone involved knows their roles and responsibilities, especially who is responsible for the outcome at the ‘end of the line’.
To slow down
When we miss mistakes, it’s not because we’re lazy or stupid. This is because our brain has learned to make predictions and hypotheses about the word or piece of information that will follow.
Example: Read this sentence: “Yuo cna porbalby raed tihs esaliy desptie the msispeillgns.”
This brain skill is very useful when we read quickly, but it has a negative impact on editing because it can cause us to miss obvious problems. If you find yourself skipping words or even sentences, try reading the paragraph aloud. Doing so will force you to slow down – literally taking it word by word – which helps catch errors and check sentence structure and flow. Sometimes it helps to read or parse a particular sentence backwards – to check that everything is working.
There are many other practical aids that can help you with your revision. Choose a handle that you will use. The key to increasing success and decreasing errors is to set up a rigorous process and stick to it. Never forget that we most often make mistakes when we are in a hurry. So even with urgent projects, follow a good editing process and then take the time to proofread effectively.
B2B content creation, content development, content marketing