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6 things you want on your
content editing checklist

6 things you want on your content editing checklist

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A quick note on drafts

I find my writing needs several rounds of drafts until it is tightened up and logical.
And when the final draft is finished, I find it really beneficial to take one – if not two – days away from the content.
Before I confirm it is indeed the final draft and ready to publish, I revisit it with fresh eyes.

Sometimes the difference between the first and last draft is huge, unrecognisable.
And that is because the copy wasn’t working and needed an honest overhaul.

Being honest about your content is a good habit to get into.
It leads to stronger writing when the time is taken to challenge something that doesn’t sound right;
to rework the existing copy or rewrite it in a completely different way.

Sometimes when I rewrite from a different approach, it works so well that I scrap the content I had written,
and rewrite all of it again in the new style that works better.

Work to your strengths and with your peak performing times.

Early in the morning, I know that I am better at fine tuning copy or editing.
In the late morning, I’m good with writing anything complex and doing research.
Late at night is when my creative writing is better and flows easier than it does in the early morning.

How I draft & edit content

My writing starts with a brain dump of immediate inspiration and content ideas, including single words or sentences.

This (see pic) is what this blog article looked like when it spewed out of me on Saturday morning (I was trying to watch a show but all of this had to come out of my brain first).

It’s ugly and unstructured but it captures the essence of what I
want to say and most of the main points or subheadings.

Blog Brainstorm Dump
Blog Brainstorm Dump

Then I type up the brainstorm, fleshing out where I want to while I do this (again keeping everything pretty free form).
I don’t worry about spelling or punctuation at this point.

I put markers in for bits I need to fill in/check/research later so that I don’t stop the flow of the first words or thoughts that come naturally.

I also start playing around with headline ideas, whatever comes to mind – I set aside time near the end of the final draft to workshop the headline and decide what to use – so at this stage I just jot down a few ideas.

Brainstorm structure check
Brainstorm structure check

This is where I stop writing, print it out, step back and look at it overall.

There is no point in continuing to write without looking at my structure otherwise
I’ll just have to spend extra time editing a bulk of paragraphs that have no flow.

So I move bits around, checking that the information is in a logical order
and that there is a clear point or action that I am talking to.

Once the basic structure is in place then I flesh out the words for each section, paying more attention this time to fine-tuning the writing itself.

I research the information or data that I want to include and double check that all of the content is correct.

This forms a full first draft.

Again I take a step back (usually for one full day this time) and then I dive back in – this time really reading every line and critically looking at the content to double check that it is saying what I mean it to.

Does the copy read well? Does it make sense?
Am I saying the same thing three different ways? (My biggest sin.)

Fine tuning structure & copy
Fine tuning structure & copy

6 things you want on your
content editing checklist

6 things you want on your
content editing checklist

1. Structure

You can decide on the structure before or after your first brainstorm dump – I like either – and find it depends on the type of content I’m writing.

Keep your structure clear.
Use bulleted lists to help focus the reader and subheadings to break up paragraphs.

Look at the overall big picture:

  • Is the information in a logical order?
  • What point are you making?
  • Does your blog article have a beginning, middle & end – have you wrapped up in conclusion?
  • Does your website content create pathways?
  • Do you want the reader to take action? – have your CTAs in places that make sense

Don’t be scared to tear your drafts apart. Literally.
Print it out, cut it up, move the text around. Physically lay the content down in front of you.
Play around with the order of ideas. Slash out whole sections, be ruthless with what isn’t needed.

Paragraph check:

  • Are they too long?
  • Do they contain several sentences saying the same thing in different ways?
  • Is the right info grouped together?

Sentence check:

  • Length – if overlong edit it to shorten it into several sentences or rewrite it in an alternate way
  • Short sentences have a great impact
  • Avoid complex construction

2. Repeated words

Check both within sentences and also adjoining sentences for repeated words.

Unless it won’t make sense any other way, substitute other words for the ones that you are repeating.  

Writing can sound clumsy when the same word is overused, it can also be boring to read.
Repeated words are a common mistake we all make when we are too close to the writing – the trick is to keep an eye out for word occurrence while you edit. This review is easier when you take a step back in between drafts as it gives you the space to reset and see things differently.

For words that I know I use a lot (like ‘content’, ‘communication’, ‘audience’, ‘reader’) sometimes I will check the whole document. I search for each word and highlight how many times it is used and make any changes I need to – replacing or rewriting so that I am not relying on the same word to convey the message.

A note on repeated SEO keyword use:
Keep tabs on your keywords. You may think that lots of keywords improve SEO, but they actually detract from it – Google hates bad writing (read more about that
here).

3. Tone of voice, cadence & pacing

The tone of voice, cadence and pacing of your written content create how you sound to the reader.

Tone of voice is used to create the ‘character’ of your business.
It’s not so much the words you use, but how you say them.

Cadence is the inflection & modulation – the rise and fall of the speech pattern.
Pacing is the tempo and measure.

The style you write in needs to be consistent.
Check that you are establishing your brand voice from the outset and that it carries throughout the whole text.

4. Word choice

You have a small amount of time to capture and engage your audience.

If the writing is hard to read, too technical or not in a logical order the audience will not (nor should they) put in the effort to plough through bad content.

Keep an eye on the level of complexity – even if you are writing for a technically advanced audience, you still want the content to be a pleasure to read. You also want any non-technical audience to be able to comprehend it.

  • Keep it clear
  • Keep it concise, avoid wordiness
  • Use contractions, direct language and plain English
  • Check that your tense is consistent, that you are not changing back and forth
  • Read your words out aloud – check if you trip up or pause at any bits
  • Check that your linking words help the reader to read ahead
  • Check that your language is direct and active, not passive *

*Sometimes passive is appropriate, it depends on the audience and topic.
But as a rule of thumb when writing web content or blog articles you want to use an active voice.

Good style should be unobtrusive.
If readers stop to think about the difficulty of reading, or about the number of times they have to re-read, they will be distracted from the essential message; if the material is highly technical, they may be put off altogether, not by the complexity of the subject but by the problem of concentrating on the details when the reading itself is painful.

Good writing is not only free from grammatical or other mistakes; it flows smoothly and logically, and encourages its readers to read on with understanding.

Source: Joan van Emden & Jennifer Easteal. ISBN 0-07-709027-6. (Pg. 29).

5. Use of 'and'

Conjunctions are words that connect sentences and phrases.
Keep an eye on the use of conjunctions, in particular, the use of ‘and’, ‘or’ and ‘but’.

What you want to avoid is diluting your message. A message is stronger when it is clear.
A sentence with two or more ideas is more likely to confuse a reader than a single idea sentence would.

‘And’ is fine to use where it makes sense, specifically:

  • For a list of items
  • To establish timelines / where one thing comes after another
  • Where there is a relationship between the two parts

When I edit my writing, I search & highlight ‘and’ in my document and double check in each instance if I need it. Where it’s occurring, I ask: am I joining two or more ideas together here? Would these ideas be clearer if they weren’t joined? Would these ideas make more impact if I wrote them as stand-alone statements?

6. Use of punctuation

A good rule of thumb is to use a little less punctuation for web & social media content, as it makes the copy easier to read.
Use the correct Australian English / UK conventions for all other content (articles, brochures, scripts etc).

I prefer no exclamation marks/points. Ever.
Exclamation marks are used when something is expressed loudly or suddenly, because of pain or strong emotion. The exception (in my books) is for video scripts – where the actor needs instruction to shout out in exclamation or with big emotion.
Good writing doesn’t rely on exclamation marks. If you feel the need to use one, challenge yourself to rewrite the content again and find an alternate way to express it so that you don’t need to use one.

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