You’ve poured your heart out into that content or copy you wrote.
You took days or weeks to research and type it up.
Then comes the hard part — you have to pick everything apart to put it back together again. You have to edit till it’s flawless.
But let’s be honest, though, editing is a pain sometimes.
Whether you’re self-editing or you’re editing your writers’ content, it’s still a lot of work.
But the most successful content writers, copywriters, agencies, and companies know that it’s an important part of content creation.
So I’ve finally decided to pour out my “editor mind” as best as I can in this blog post so you know the questions you need to ask when you’re editing.
This way, you’ll be sure you’ve covered all the bases when editing your content or copy.
So here’s what you’ll get in this guide:
- 4 key elements of your content you need to know BEFORE you start editing.
- 4 steps to take when editing any content or copy.
- 38 questions to ask throughout your editing process — from the copyediting to the proofreading stage.
- 13 tips to help you edit better and faster.
Let’s get right into it!
4 key elements of your content you need to know BEFORE you start editing
These 4 keys are the foundation of your content or copy. They determine how you edit — what you keep and what you remove, how you phrase your sentences, etc.
And you’ll see later in this post that every question you need to ask when editing revolves around these 4 keys. For each key element, I’ll note a few questions you need to ask.
Why so many questions, you may be wondering? Because editing effectively is really about asking the right questions. And these 4 keys determine what the right questions are.
- Content goal: What’s your endgame for the piece you’re writing? Is it to educate your audience while developing thought leadership? Is it to get them to fill out a form to show interest in a service or product?
- Audience: Who are they? What type of English do they speak? How familiar are they with the topic?
- Tone of voice: How do you want to sound? Authoritative? Casual and informal? Formal? Friendly and warm?
- Customer research results: What are their biggest pain points, struggles, fears, and desires? What are the other methods they’ve tried and the solution they’re seeking?
Now that you know these 4 keys, you can start editing.
I group the questions you need to ask into 4 steps. The first two steps are for copyediting, and the last two steps are for proofreading.
With copyediting, you need to do a detailed check of your content or copy. That’s why you need to dig deep with the questions you ask at this stage.
But for proofreading, you mostly check grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. And that’s why proofreading should be the last stage of your editing process — after you’ve done several rounds of edits already.
STEP 1: THE BIG PICTURE
The big picture is the main, overarching idea in your content or copy. Every piece of content should have that one main idea that governs the other ideas. You shouldn’t try to fit in too many main ideas in one post. It makes it cluttered and confusing.
With this post, for instance, the big picture is to help content writers and copywriters ask the right questions to edit effectively. So everything I write here revolves around this.
You need to be laser-focused on your goal and making sure your content aligns with it.
So your first step is to correct any big picture issues and address structural problems.
I know it’s almost impossible not to notice little errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation, but don’t let it be your focus at this stage.
Questions to ask/resolve:
1. Can you summarize your content in one sentence and does that sentence align with your headline?
Take this guide, for example. If I were to summarize it in one sentence, it would be “a comprehensive editing guide for copywriters and content writers” and my headline shows this.
The same goes for if you’re writing copy, say a landing page. Your headline needs to summarize what the copy is about, which is what’ll get them to read further if they’re the right audience.
2. Does the content’s structure correlate with its headline?
There are general structures for different types of content and copy, and you need to know them.
For instance, in a how-to or guide blog post, the structure is usually intro, main points organized in steps or stages, and conclusion.
In a list post, the structure is usually intro, lists with a brief explanation under each, and conclusion.
So the structure determines the headline, or the headline determines the structure.
3. Do the points in your content align with your goal for writing it?
Let’s say your goal for writing a content piece is to help establish yourself or a client as a thought leader in an industry. So you write an in-depth guide on a topic that’s relevant to your target audience’s interests.
And you know that, for your audience and the topic, you need to state facts and/or cite credible sources to establish your credibility.
But in doing this, you risk putting yourself in the background while letting experts you’ve cited shine.
So you end up accomplishing the opposite of what you want. It’s not a bad idea to quote other thought leaders or companies in your industry, but when your goal is to be seen as a thought leader, you’ll need to lead the conversation and make sure your readers are seeing you primarily as the expert.
This is just one example of how you can check if your points align with your goals.
4. Is it clear who your audience is from the beginning?
You should mention or imply who your audience is right from the headline or in your intro.
Take this guide as an example.
I would have misled many other writers if I titled it “An Editing Guide.” Because the things I discuss here are not really applicable to fiction writers or novel writers.
Besides not misleading others, you need to be clear so you can attract the right people to your content/copy.
5. Does your actual tone align with your intended tone of voice?
Sometimes, what you intend to write and what you actually write are different.
And if you don’t look at your writing objectively, or have someone else look at it, you can’t tell if your tone is friendly and warm or authoritative and confident like you want it to be.
Tip: You can tell your actual tone by paying close attention to the words you use to express yourself.
For example, if you want to sound authoritative and confident, and you keep using phrases like “I think,” “I believe,” or “I guess,” then your actual tone will definitely not match your intended tone.
You should cut those phrases out and state your point plainly. It seems little, but removing these phrases makes a huge difference.
6. Do the examples you used in the content buttress your point or not?
I see this a lot. You have an example that’s witty or clever and you’re so excited to use it, so you try to fit it wherever possible even if it doesn’t really relate.
You need to edit objectively and “kill your darlings” (those unfitting examples) if they don’t add any value to your point.
7. Does each section flow well into the next one? Are they correctly positioned? Is there a natural progression?
You should know the natural progressions of well-written marketing materials. Typically, they follow the PAS (Problem-Agitate-Solve) formula.
But even if you’re not writing content that follows that formula. Let’s say you’re writing a guide on content marketing for B2B businesses, you can’t start your guide by explaining content promotion. It should follow the natural progression — from strategy to content creation to promotion.
Also, to check if your paragraphs flow well, look at the ending of one section and the beginning of the next section then see if there’s a need to add transition words to the beginning of the next section.
8. Does every section of the content align with the main idea?
For example, if your content is on 10 tips for writing highly persuasive conversion copy, adding a section on the history of copywriting and the types of copywriting is unnecessary and irrelevant.
But some writers do that because they feel it’ll give the content a natural progression before getting to the main points.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Your readers will bounce when you don’t get to the main idea quickly. Remember, focus on the big picture. Anything that doesn’t align with the big picture needs to go.
9. Are the sections too long?
It makes it harder for your reader to follow along if your sections are long.
Tip: Break it up into smaller sections with subheadings if your sections are over 2 pages with no break.
10. Are your paragraphs within the sections too long?
Tip: Make your paragraphs about 1-3 sentences each. This helps to create whitespace and enhance readability.
STEP 2: THE NITTY GRITTY
After you’ve sorted out the big picture issues I’ve outlined in step 1 above, you can start focusing on the nitty-gritty parts of your content. Here, you need to be even more focused on the reader and make changes that will improve readability and give them a great reading experience.
Questions to ask/resolve:
11. Are you overusing passive voice?
Overusing passive voice kills your writing so it’s better to change passive voice to active voice.
Wrong (passive): The sentences are written in passive voice.
Correct (active): He wrote the sentence in passive voice.
12. Is your grammar correct throughout your content?
I don’t consider myself a part of the grammar police because I know it’s okay to break some rules sometimes to make your writing sound more conversational.
But I don’t believe you should make glaring grammatical errors that’ll kill your credibility as a writer. So take note of common grammar errors like using the wrong words, subject-verb agreement, run-on sentences, and misusing apostrophe or comma.
If you don’t know what any of those mean, you can check out great resources like Daily Writing Tips to learn more.
13. Are your sentences well written? Are they properly structured?
This also has to do with grammar. So you should know basic grammar rules to check if your sentences are well written.
I won’t go into these rules here because this isn’t a grammar guide. You can check the Daily Writing Tips to brush up on your grammar.
(See what I did here? It doesn’t align with my goals, so I’m not dwelling on it.)
14. [SEO] Do your keywords blend in seamlessly in your sentences?
Let’s say your keyword is “bad copywriting.”
Wrong: Bad copywriting is the reason why a lot of companies get low landing page conversion rates.
Correct: Companies get low landing page conversion rates because of bad copywriting.
Also correct: Bad copywriting — the reason many companies get low landing page conversion rates.
I say the first is wrong because it has an awkward phrasing. “The reason why” is redundant and editors advise you to avoid it. The second and third are better because the keywords blend in well without sounding awkward.
15. Did you write your content in the second person?
Writing in the second person makes it more personal so make sure you use the pronouns “you,” “your,” and “yours.”
Wrong: It’s best if writers write in the second person.
Correct: It’s best if you write in the second person.
16. Are there any filler words/phrases you can replace?
Filler words usually weaken your writing and make it longer than it needs to be. Removing them might seem little but they often make a huge difference. Common filler words are “in order to,” “all of the,” etc.
Wrong: She processed all of the checks in record time.
Correct: She processed the checks in record time.
Wrong: Remove filler words in order to have concise writing.
Correct: Remove filler words to have concise writing.
17. Did you use redundant phrases?
Redundant phrases are two or more words that mean the same thing or an expression where the modifier’s meaning is contained in the word it modifies.
(According to Grammarly, a modifier is a word that changes, clarifies, qualifies, or limits a particular word in a sentence to add emphasis, explanation, or detail.)
Redundant words are unnecessary, so you should avoid them.
Example: Your own, early beginnings, end result, past experience, etc.
18. Are your words and sentences easy to understand and conversational?
You should make sure your writing is simple enough for most readers to understand without having to Google their way through your material.
But this depends on who your audience is and how familiar they are with the topic. They also determine how conversational and casual you can be.
For example, from my experience editing for different niches, writing for a marketing audience is usually more conversational and informal than writing for a health or health tech audience.
This is why it’s important to know your audience.
19. Do your words/phrases portray confidence and authority?
Tip: Replace “need” with “want” to sound more authoritative and persuasive.
Wrong: I think that when choosing a hosting platform, you should consider one that’s fast, reliable, and affordable.
Correct: When choosing a hosting platform, you need one that’s fast, reliable, and affordable.
The former makes you sound less confident by using phrases like “I think” and “you should consider.”
20. Do your descriptions of your readers’ pain points, fears, and desires align with your customer research results? Did you write it in their exact words?
Tip: Don’t summarize their words. Express them the same way they do.
21. Do your descriptions accurately describe/speak to your customer’s feelings? Do they evoke emotion?
Tip: To evoke emotion, paint vivid pictures of what their pain points and their desires look like with your words.
For example, I have an online course on how to make money online from editing for copywriters.
And in my sales copy for the course, a pain point I touch on is their frustration with the different methods they’ve tried to get editing work online.
But instead of just stating the exact pain point, I described what it looks like for them by saying, “You’ve wasted so much time obsessively writing & rewriting your Fiverr profile or Upwork proposals praying someone chooses you.”
So it doesn’t just state the problem but describes it in a way that hits home for them.
22. What emotions do your descriptions evoke? Are those emotions aligned with your goal?
Sometimes, in a bid to evoke emotion, we can come off as condemning or even holier than thou. And I don’t think that’s any writer’s goal. You need your words to strike a chord, not beat them down. People will rarely buy from someone who condemns them.
That’s why you need to make sure each description that evokes emotion — whether negative or positive — aligns with your goal.
Take the example above that I used in my sales copy. It evokes a negative emotion, and it aligns with my goal because it makes them realize they’ve been running around in circles and haven’t gotten anywhere.
So when I introduce a tested solution that gives them the results they want (the framework that I teach in my course), they’ll be more willing to consider and buy it (which is my goal).
23. Are your ideas clear and to the point?
You need to check this because what you’re trying to say and what you actually write might not correlate.
You’ll know your ideas are clear if you’ve resolved all the questions highlighted in this step.
STEP 3: THE DOUBLE C
I call step 3 “The double C” since you’re mainly checking for consistency and credibility.
Questions to ask/resolve:
24. Did you explain every acronym at the first mention?
25. Did you explain or simplify new terminologies/concepts at the first mention?
26. Are your spellings, capitalizations, and acronyms consistent throughout the content?
Tip: Use the Find and Replace function in Google Docs or Word to check this.
27. Did you link every fact/stat/claim to a source backing it up?
28. Are your sources credible?
For example, many people don’t regard Wikipedia or Medium as credible sources.
29. Did you cite your sources properly (i.e. if you’re using a specific style guide)?
30. [SEO] Have you optimized your anchor texts and are they easy for your reader to understand?
Anchor texts are clickable texts in a hyperlink.
Tip: Include your focus keyword in your anchor text to optimize it for your readers and SEO.
Wrong: Learn more about content marketing here.
Wrong: A study from HubSpot showed that most B2B companies are investing heavily in content marketing.
Correct: A study from HubSpot showed that most B2B companies are investing in content marketing.
Correct: Learn more about content marketing here.
The last two are preferable because they both contain the focus keyword, “content marketing.”
But if SEO isn’t your main concern, just make sure your anchor text describes the source you linked it to so your readers know what they’re clicking to read.
STEP 4: THE BASICS
At this stage, you’re almost done. You just need to polish your content until it’s flawless.
Tip: Run your content through Grammarly here.
Questions to ask/resolve:
31. Did you use punctuation correctly?
32. Is there double spacing in your content?
Tip: Use the Find and Replace function in Google Docs or Word to check these.
33. Are there any spelling errors?
34. Did you capitalize your words properly?
35. Did you capitalize your headlines/subheadlines properly?
Tip: Run your headline through this capitalization tool to check it quickly.
36. [SEO] Did you include your focus or related keywords in the headline/subheadline?
I got expert advice on this one from Natalie Alleblas, the SEO sleuth who helps copywriters, marketers, and web developers with their clients’ SEO.
She responded to a popular question writers ask about the trade-off between using keywords in your title and writing something that grabs your audience’s attention.
Here’s what she said:
“If you can’t include the keyword in the headline/title AND make it attention-grabbing, then it’s ok to sacrifice the keyword and focus on writing a great title.
“But use the keywords elsewhere ( in the URL, in the headers, and the content itself).
“You need to maximize the chances of someone clicking on your website in the search engine. An attention-grabbing title without the keyword could give you a higher click-through rate than a boring but keyword-optimized title.”
I completely agree with her because I always say that your reader comes first when you’re writing. You need to prioritize them over the search engines.
37. [SEO] Is your headline too long?
Tip: To optimize it for Google search engines, it should be 60 characters or less.
Natalie also suggested this amazing tool that helps you check how your title and meta description will look on Google.
Just insert the title, meta description, and URL of your web page, and the tool will show you how your page will look in the search engine results page.
38. Did you/your writer plagiarise some parts of the content?
These four steps don’t necessarily mean you need to do 4 rounds of edits. You can merge two steps in one round. For instance, you can do steps 3 and 4 in one round of edits.
Remember that the first two steps are for copyediting your content or copy and the last two are for proofreading.
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