Companies are spending thousands of dollars creating free content. Together, we are making a positive change in how we reach out to consumers.
But this poses a problem.
When everyone does content marketing, how do you stand out? Create better quality content. Neil Patel spends more than $30,000 to create content, which he gives away for free. With each new content getting published, the barrier for entry goes up.
That’s why you cannot afford to make silly mistakes with your content. This guide aims to help content creators who create and edit their content.
The evolution of content roles
In print publishing, several teams get involved in the content creation process. There are reporters, proofreaders, line editors, copy editors, chief editor, and photo desks.
Reporters do the initial research and write the story. Proofreaders correct spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. Line editors check for writing style and language use. A copy editor checks the facts, writes headlines, and provides captions for images. They also have to ensure consistency in style and usage. Photo desks provide the images and captions for these pictures.
That’s more than five teams working on making a piece of content ready for publishing.
Today brands are becoming publishers. Content teams have to create low-cost content as quickly as possible. The various roles have condensed into two- a content creator and an editor.
In smaller organizations, there are no editors. Content creators are responsible for proofreading and editing their content.
How to proofread content without letting errors slip through the cracks?
Once you create content, the first step is to proofread it. The proofreading process removes grammatical errors and spelling mistakes.
Proofreading should always be a separate process
Modern word processors like Microsoft Word highlights errors as you type. Many writers rely on Word to identify errors. When an error gets highlighted, they stop writing and try to fix the error.
Stop doing that. Right now.
Writing and editing require two different parts of the brain to be active. Writing is a creative work while editing is analytical. It’s never a good idea to keep switching.
Use a distraction free writer while creating content. Alternatively, turn off the spell and grammar check on your word processor while you write.
The first pass: Use your word processor grammar and spell check
Most word processors come with a grammar and spell check functionality built-in. Microsoft Word is powerful enough to catch most common grammatical errors and typos.
As a first pass (a machine level read of your content), let the software do the grammar and spell check. Check the errors and see if it requires a fix.
Know your grammar rules
While you don’t have to be a Grammar Nazi, you need to have a basic understanding of grammar rules.
Good writers break rules on purpose to make their content livelier. But you need to know the rules first to break them.
Take some time off
Once you complete writing, get away from the content for a while.
Our brain turns letters into words and words into sentences even without all the letters or words. This ensures that your brain does not waste time focusing on the mechanics. Instead, it can quickly arrive at the meaning of a sentence.
Next time, after you read a sentence, take a pause. Did you understand the meaning of the sentence without having to think further? Were you able to connect this sentence with previous sentences?
When you try and edit your writing, the brain does not have to process words to create meaning. It already knows the meaning because you wrote it. So it replays what you already have in your mind, making you skip errors in your writing. That’s why other people can spot your mistake, but not you.
The best way to deal with your brain playing tricks on you is to become unfamiliar with the content. Introducing a gap between writing and proofreading helps your brain become less familiar with the topic.
A day’s difference between writing and proofreading is good. Depending on the length and complexity of the content, add more gap.
Get a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. Listen to music. Do whatever it takes to get focused on your work.
Proofreading is a task that requires a great level of focus. You are battling with your brain to find your mistakes. An unfocused mind will often miss the obvious.
Can you read out loud?
Read content out loud.
Listening to your content helps you identify misused words, missing punctuation, and odd-sounding sentences.
Here’s a simple hack. Most computers come with text to speech software. Use it to read out your content. This way, you won’t have to juggle between reading and listening. You can focus 100% on listening and finding mistakes.
Change the medium
If you write in Word and proofread in Word, your brain adapts to the environment. Change the medium for better results.
- Take a printout
- Use a different word processor or text editor
- Modify the font size and font family
I often write with iA Writer, edit with Hemingway App and finally do a second pass with Word.
Practice reading one word at a time
Reading word-by-word will help you spot the not-so-obvious mistakes. To make it easier, use your finger as a pointer. Keep your finger on top of each word as you read them.
During interrogations, psychologists recommend using a technique called backward storytelling. The interrogator asks the suspect to narrate an incident. They’ll keep notes of the event as the suspect tells the story.
Once the suspect finishes the story, the interrogator asks them to narrate the story in reverse. People who lie, take more time or make mistakes while telling the story backward.
Even if you speak the truth, it’s not easy to narrate an incident backward as our brain remembers a story as it happened, in a linear sequence.
You can apply the same technique to proofread content.
Read backward, either sentence-by-sentence or word-by-word. Reading backward breaks the flow of your thinking and focus on each word.
Ask for help
The best writers know their limitation.
If you want to make your content better, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can ask your friends to have a look at your content. Make sure they are not overly familiar with your topic.
A fresh set of eyes will help you identify:
- Awkward sounding sentences
- Content digression (drifting off the main subject)
You can also hire professional proofreaders. A quick online search will give you access to hundreds of professional proofreaders. Fiverr is also a good place to find proofreaders if you are on a tight budget.
How to copy edit your content like a pro?
The first step when I copy edit someone else’s work is to check for plagiarism. Since you are going to edit your content, you can skip the plagiarism check.
Keep a style guide with you
A style guide helps you be consistent in your writing. Do you write ecommerce or e-commerce? While both are correct, you should choose one style and stick to it.
Enter, a style guide.
There are several style guides available online. AP Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, and The Elements of Style (PDF Link) are some of the most popular style guides available. Big companies and publications have customized style guides.
Choose a style guide that is closest to your natural style of writing.
Look for common grammar mistakes.
Using contractions isn’t bad. It depends on your audience. Some people consider using contractions unprofessional, while others find it OK. Choose one style depending on your audience and stick to it.
Apostrophes show possession of nouns or omissions in contractions. Ever used it’s instead of its, or the other way round? Relax, a lot of people get it wrong.
Need help? Here’s a guide to finding and fixing issues with apostrophe usage.
Homophones are words that have the same sound but have different spellings and meanings. Example: meat and meet. Homophones sound the same, but when used interchangeably, can create awful sentences.
Here’s a big list of homonyms (includes homophones and homographs).
Subject and Verb Agreement
Subject-verb agreement is one of the most basic grammar rules. The subject in a phrase must agree with a verb in the same sentence. A singular subject takes a singular verb. A plural subject takes a plural verb.
Unfortunately, this is one of the mistakes I make a lot. Being a non-native writer, I sometimes miss this seemingly innocent mistake.
There’s a simple trick to cut these errors.
Make a list of common verbs (is, are, etc.) and use the search functionality in your word processor. Now, identify the subject of that sentence. Do they agree? Now move on to the next occurrence of the verb. Do this until you exhaust your list.
There are 14 punctuation marks used in the English language. Most common are a period, comma, question mark, exclamation point, apostrophe, quotation mark, and hyphen.
While I don’t intend to give you grammar lessons here, pay special attention to the usage of a comma. A single misplaced comma can completely alter the meaning of a sentence. Imagine saying “Let’s eat kids” instead of “Let’s eat, kids.”
Check proper nouns
I always get miffed when people misspell my name when quoting me. I mean, how hard is it to copy and paste my name?
Make sure you correctly spell proper nouns.
Ruthlessly edit your work
When you sit down to copy edit your content, have no mercy. Your writing should be only as long as it’s required. Not a word more.
- Edit for clarity and consistency
- Tighten your copy
- Remove content that doesn’t add real value
- Cut down on descriptive scenarios. You are not writing a novel
Relook at the entire sentence after making edits
Sometimes, when you make partial edits to a sentence, you’ll introduce unwanted issues. Whenever you modify a sentence, take a second look at it after some time.
Abbreviations and jargons
If you create content for businesses, it most likely contains jargon or uncommon abbreviations.
As a rule of thumb, avoid jargon and abbreviations as much as possible. If you must use them, make sure to define them in simple terms the first time they are used in the content.
Cross-check against list of your common errors
After editing your content for a while, you’ll have a better idea of the common mistakes you make.
Sometimes, you might not have time for a thorough grammar check. Instead, compile a list of the most common mistakes you make and check for only those errors.
Do a fact check
Big publications have dedicated fact-checkers. But you are running a lean content marketing team. You don’t have the luxury of hiring a fact checkers. So the only option is to buckle up and do the fact checking yourself.
Whenever you see quotes, research citations, statistics, dates, etc. do a double check. Did you misquote someone? Did you make a mistake when copying statistics?
Create several headline variations
On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar. -David Ogilvy
Most people never see beyond the headline. That’s why you see most content mills using click-bait titles to make people click.
If you are writing for businesses, don’t use clickbait headlines. How would you feel if I title this article “10 Insane Ways to Edit Content Like a Mad Man. #4 Will Blow Your Mind.”
The problem is, you don’t know which title will work for your audience. So create several title variations and test them inside newsletters and social media posts.
Triple check the math
I read an article by an entrepreneur challenging the business model of a rival. The article went in-depth and had lots of charts and figures. Ultimately, the report concluded that the competitor’s business is destined for failure.
There was one small problem, though. The whole premise of the article was based on the increasing cost of user acquisition for the competitor.
Our entrepreneur made a silly mistake in calculating the increase in cost. Based on one-year data, the increase in cost was only 1.1%. Instead of 1.1%, the entrepreneur mistakenly used 11%.
Imagine the embarrassment.
That’s why you should check all the math in your content several times. If possible, get someone else to check it for you.
Add necessary attribution
Does your content make reference to original research to make your point? Then link to the actual research. Attribution is not just for your arguments. You should also make sure images and any other assets are licensed for use and carry attribution.
Writing perfect prose is impossible. You are bound to make mistakes. Grammar Nazis might laugh at your writing. And that’s OK.
You are not trying to win the Pulitzer Prize. Your goal should be to write content that solves your customer’s problem. As you keep working on your craft, your skills will improve.