Inbound & Digital Marketing Blog

How to Edit Content: 9 Copy Editing Tips

May 7, 2015, Michael Karp

Ernest Hemingway once said: “The first draft of everything is sh*t.” Despite his potty mouth, I think he’s right.

Copy_Editing_Tips_Image

Think about this: When you write an article and read it over for the first time, how many elementary mistakes do you make? Words are spelled wrong. Sentences don’t make sense. Commas are missing.

It’s chaos.

But after that first round of editing, the article becomes infinitely better. At least, that’s what you hope.

Well, hope no longer. I’m going to teach you 9 copy editing tips that will polish any content you edit.

You will learn how to edit consistently and effectively. Here we go:

1.  Don’t Forget The Purpose of Your First Paragraph

The purpose of the first paragraph is to get the second paragraph read. The purpose of the second paragraph is to get the third one read, and so forth.

When you’re editing, pay attention to how your article moves the reader along. Focus on how each paragraph compels people to read the next one.

2.  The 3 Parts of a Magnetic Intro

After the headline, your content lives and dies at the introduction. It needs to be as compelling as possible.

Here are the 3 parts to a magnetic introduction:

  1. Hit the reader early on with your most compelling idea.

  2. Break your intro in small paragraphs.

  3. Give the reader a subtle nudge towards the rest of your content.

Let’s break it down:

Hit the reader early on with your most compelling idea

At the beginning of this article, I discussed the mistakes we make in the first draft (and Ernest Hemingway agreed with me).

This is the most compelling idea: The first draft (usually) needs a ton of work.

Break your intro in small paragraphs

The first three lines of this article are one sentence each, and there are no more than two sentences per line.

Breaking your introduction into small paragraphs makes it easier to read. If it’s easier for people to read, they’re more likely to read it. Simple as that.

Give the reader a subtle nudge towards the rest of your content

I also included a slight nudge to keep people reading — with a benefit for reading and a call to action:

“You will learn how to edit content consistently and effectively.

Here we go:”

The three elements above make your intro work for you, rather than against you. It compels people to keep reading, rather than click the back button.

It’s really important to make sure these elements are present in your introduction.

3.  Don’t Be Afraid to Cut Entire Paragraphs (And Replace Them)

You’re not married to your first draft.

If a word, sentence, paragraph, or an entire section doesn’t fit well in the piece, remove and/or replace it.

4.  Watch Out For Words Like “Very” and “Really”

Are you very tired? Or are you tired?

Are you really hungry? Or are you hungry?

We use words like “very” and “really” in our everyday language to emphasize thoughts and feelings. However, in writing, they can actually diminish the power of the words that follow.

“I’m really happy you came. It wouldn’t have been the same without you.”

“I’m happy you came. It wouldn’t have been the same without you.”

As you edit, when you read a word like “very” or “really”, delete it and re-read the sentence. Then decide which sentence works best.

5.  Use This Simple Trick To Draw Readers In

Here’s the trick:

Break your paragraphs into fewer sentences.

Just like with the intro, this also improves the readability of the rest of your content.

Breaking up your paragraphs makes your writing easier to read. It’s easier for the reader’s eyes to identify words and stay on the correct line.

This is especially true of online content, because reading from a screen causes more strain on one’s eyes. A good guideline is no more than 3-4 sentences per paragraph, with most of your paragraphs at 2 sentences.

6.  Keep Word Choice and Your Topic In Sync

Our President, Clarke Bishop, demonstrates this very well in his Youtube video on editing content:

 

Word choice is important to both the flow and comprehension of your piece. You will find that as you read over your content, certain words will make you stop and re-read the sentence.

Odds are, those words don’t fit with the topic or they need to be replaced with a word that makes more sense.

7.  Simplify Your Sentences to Connect With More People

Studies indicate that the average adult reads at about a middle school to 9th grade level.

This means they might not understand (or want to read) complicated sentences and advanced vocabulary.

If you want to reach more people with your content, products, and services, simplify your sentences. Use words that are more common in everyday language.

The people with more advanced vocabulary won’t complain, and your content will connect with more readers.

8.  Use Subheadings to Break Up Your Content

Subheadings also make your articles easier to read. They give the reader’s mind a break every once in a while and help keep their minds from wandering off topic.

9.  Write In The Active Voice

Here’s an example of the passive voice:

“He was hit in the head by the ball.”

And the active voice:

“The ball hit him in the head.”

The active voice is easier to read and comprehend. But how can you tell whether you’re writing in the active or passive voice?

In passive voice, the subject (he) is being acted upon (was hit in the head).

In active voice, the subject (the ball) is performing the action (hit him in the head).

To identify the passive voice easily, look out for the word “by”. When you identify the passive voice, rearrange the sentence so the subject is performing the action.

Then decide which one sounds better.

10. Bonus Editing Tip: Don’t Be Afraid to Break the Rules Every Once In A While

While bad writing is distinct from good writing, sometimes it’s necessary to break a rule here and there. No sentence should be judged on its own, but rather, in combination with the sentences surrounding it and the piece overall.

If that means breaking a rule, so be it.

A Challenge For You

I have purposely left a few edits that could make the writing flow better.

Leave a comment below if you think you have found the mistake. Let’s see if you can get it right ;). If you can’t find the problems, leave a comment anyway, and I’ll send you the answer.

Takeaways

  • Good writing is a result of good editing.
  • Make sure to write a compelling intro that draws people into your content.
  • Refer to this list of editing tips whenever you need a refresher.

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Topics: Blogging, Content Marketing

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