Editing Tips 101: Actionable Steps to Clean up Your Copy

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By Caleb Liptak

Have you ever been scrolling through a news story on your phone and come across a run-on sentence that never seems to end? What about a misspelled name or incorrect use of their/there/they’re? Catching an error like that throws you off, doesn’t it? Suddenly, your focus shifts from the content of the story to the credibility (or ability) of the writer or news outlet. Thankfully, examples like this are rare and most things we read are well-polished – but that doesn’t mean they started out that way. 

Editing is an integral part of the writing process. However, some people in the marketing and PR arenas (and beyond) do not have the time or formal training, meaning editing is often done in haste or without a clear strategy. This can lead to inconsistent formatting, messy copy and frustrated clients. Although it can sometimes be overlooked, always remember that quality editing separates good work from great. There is power in polished, concise writing, which can be achieved through strategic editing.

Even when you have a good chunk of time to dedicate to it, editing can seem daunting. There are a few things that I have found to be very helpful when simplifying the editing process. These tactics aren’t one-size-fits-all editing tips, but they have proven helpful to me for years.

Five Editing Tips to Simplify the Process

  1. Print your document – Make a tangible version of your piece and, if possible, change your scenery. Go find an empty conference room or a lounge and mark up a hard copy with some good old-fashioned red ink. I have found that printing my document and editing it away from my desk helps me minimize the constant distractions of email and phone notifications so I can focus on the task at hand.
  2. Don’t edit cold – Before you break out your red pen, read through the document to simply absorb the content. Don’t worry about editing just yet. This will allow you to become familiar with the content before getting bogged down in the details. Having this baseline knowledge of the information before you start to mark up your document will help you to make every edit count. Diving into a piece and editing right off the bat can lead to unnecessary editing of issues that often resolve themselves later in the document.
  3. Stay on brand – Make sure your edits align with the brand. When editing, we can run down rabbit holes that steer us away from our key messages. With every edit you make, try to ask yourself, “Is this still on brand?”
  4. Keep it consistent– Whether you are following AP style or internal brand guidelines, be sure to stick to a consistent style. Especially in an agency, it’s important for your clients to see cohesiveness across all content. This is another thing that can be taken for granted when it’s done right, but it will stick out like a sore thumb if it’s not done properly.
  5. Look at everything with a critical eye – Just because you pulled some copy from a company’s website or an old press release doesn’t mean that it’s accurate. And just because something was approved a year ago, doesn’t mean it is approved today. Always approach content with a healthy skepticism that can be improved upon.

Now, you may be thinking, “This all sounds great, but I rarely have the time to be this detailed in my editing.”

I hear you! The editing process can be extremely time consuming and tedious, especially when there are multiple parties involved. As marketing and PR professionals, editing is one of the most important aspects of our jobs. But let’s face it, no matter the intentions, we don’t have unlimited time each day to commit to proofreading. We’ve all seen that email pop into our inbox at 4:45 p.m. titled “FOR REVIEW: DEADLINE EOD.” For times like these, there are a few things that can make your life easier. 

Three Tips for Editing in a Pinch

  1. Check your facts – If you are truly in a time crunch and only have five minutes to review a document, make sure the information is accurate and names are spelled correctly. A capitalization error or misplaced comma can be forgiven, but getting someone’s name wrong, misspelling a company name, or stating inaccurate facts is unacceptable. 
  2. Stick to your deadline, but be flexible – If you know you are going to be running up against your deadline, send a quick email to your boss or client and let them know that you are finishing up editing the document and will have it to them in the next 15 minutes. Nine times out of 10, a short delay won’t be an issue. I always prefer to return a corrected document a few minutes late than a sloppy document on time.
  3. Check your facts, again – Giving the document one last once-over before you click send can go a long way. I can’t tell you how many mistakes I have caught this way.

As with most skills, the more you edit, the more comfortable you will become. As my high school volleyball coach always said, “Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” Learning strategies for quality editing is a critical first step, but those strategies must be implemented daily for positive results. 

Remember, you are responsible for everything that comes across your desk. Whether you drafted the document, provided a peer review, or just forwarded it along, don’t be afraid to call out a mistake when you see one. Your teammates, clients and readers will all be glad you did.

Happy editing!