15 Copy Editing Tips That Can Transform Your Content into Persuasive and Shareable Works of Art

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What’s special about the compelling content you retweet, Like, bookmark, and email to your friends?

Those articles serve the audience, not the content creator.

Creative work that instantly captivates and holds an audience’s attention influences their lives.

Transcribing the thoughts in your head won’t always serve a purpose. You must construct helpful and manageable instructions for your audience — the reader will do something differently in her daily routine after learning about the information you share on a specific topic.

That’s easier said than done.

You obviously want to establish your website as an authoritative publication in your niche, but in order to cross that threshold you need to critically examine your cornerstone content.

Strengthening your ability to create content that spreads includes improving your editing skills. Editors transform basic text into powerful stories (in all media) that persuade people to take action.

Once you’ve written a draft, you’re still not ready to hit “publish” just yet. Here are 15 copy editing tips that help turn your articles, landing pages, webinars, and podcasts into shareable works of art.

Copy Editing Stage 1: Pre-revision rituals

  1. Walk away. Realistically evaluate your post’s urgency. Unless you must meet a strict deadline, take a break for at least a day after you’ve completed your post. New ways to modify your writing will become evident after you’ve created some distance from your initial creation.
  2. Release attachment. Forget that you wrote the content and consciously assume an Editor Mindset that’s free from your Writer Ego. As an editor, you have no problem evaluating and deleting to produce a more coherent and complete post. Proactive editing shouldn’t be devastating.
  3. Create a new document. Prepare to save everything you remove because writing consistent posts for your blog is a fluid process. Content that’s excessive or irrelevant for a certain post shouldn’t go to waste. Use those ideas as a springboard for your next article.
  4. Indulge a bad habit. Perform one fast, superficial reading to gratify the impulse to skim your text. Each subsequent reading should be a meticulous review of the text.
  5. Self-evaluate. As you lightly read your post, write side notes without changing the draft. If you didn’t communicate your intentions accurately, use these notes as an opportunity to record leftover ideas you thought you included but actually didn’t. You’ll use the notes in Stage 2.

Copy Editing Stage 2: Comprehensive cutting and pasting

  1. Summarize your goal. Write your straightforward aim in about 25 words, and then edit your summary until you have a succinct headline that includes the “Four U’s” of copywriting: ultra-specific, unique, useful, and urgent. Writers often assume that readers will quickly understand their main point even though they haven’t explicitly stated it.
  2. Avoid overwhelm. Weak sections may appear in final versions of blog posts if you don’t edit enough because reviewing the entire post in one sitting overwhelms you. For example, I edited this post in five different sessions. Begin with your favorite part to generate editing momentum.
  3. Pamper your audience. Ask yourself, “How does this information help my reader?” after each sentence. Each paragraph should satisfy an element of CMKR — provide Comfort, be Memorable, share Knowledge, or list Resources.
  4. Consider alternatives. Incorporate notes you made during Pre-Revision as you reorganize or combine sentences, shorten or lengthen paragraphs, or change the order of the text. If you often repeat a word, keep it in the most appropriate place, and replace it with synonyms in other instances.
  5. Eliminate questions. Use the “Fifth U” that pertains to editing the body of your copy: unmistakable. You never want your reader to guess or have the thought, “I don’t really follow. Is he trying to say ___?” If a reader strains to comprehend your message, she won’t have any motivation to share your writing with others.

Copy Editing Stage 3: Razor-sharp proofreading

  1. Don’t rush. Your content needs to be solid before you proofread. You’ll notice errors more easily when you’re not still rewriting and rearranging portions of your blog post. If you begin proofreading but find yourself copy editing too much, continue with Stage 2 until you’re ready for Stage 3.
  2. Be curious. Read slowly, as if each word is foreign to you. It’s time to scrutinize each word to make sure it’s the perfect fit for that sentence. A slow proofreading practice also helps you catch real-word typos, such as “my” instead of “may,” “through” instead of “thorough,” “most” instead of “post,” or “to” instead of “too.”
  3. Get mechanical. Proper writing mechanics ensure that your blog post is effortlessly comprehensible. A few grammar, spelling, or punctuation mistakes won’t necessarily ruin your reputation, but they may ruin great ideas by making them confusing.
  4. Value consistency. Create a style guide for your blog post that lists all proper names, terms, and phrases. Professional, polished writing doesn’t have inconsistencies such as varied capitalization or punctuation when referring to the same word. For example, if “Walmart” is the correct spelling, you should never also write “Wal-Mart,” “WalMart,” or “Wal-mart” within the same post.
  5. Categorize your progress. Stop proofreading a section of your text once you know it’s flawless and focus on weaker areas. Highlight the text in green if it’s completely proofread, yellow if it’s partially finished, and red if it still needs a good amount of your attention. When all the text is green, read your post one more time out loud. You should be able to read it without making any changes.

Adaptation is essential to effective communication

Editing improves your writing because language that impacts readers doesn’t always materialize immediately. Your concepts become more persuasive when you manipulate and craft your original words.

During in-person communication, you can rephrase your verbal speech if you observe a puzzled or clueless look on someone’s face. With writing, you don’t get the luxury of such feedback until after you’ve published. At that point, you don’t get another chance to explain yourself; a reader will simply stop reading.

How do your copy editing techniques differ from your writing practices?

Share your favorite revision tips in the comments below!

About the author

Stefanie Flaxman


Stefanie Flaxman is Manager of Editorial Standards for Copyblogger Media. Study her one-word updates on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. I’d kiss you Stephanie, but my girlfriend wouldn’t be too happy…

    Awesome tips! Editing and re-editing is critical in crafting content that resonates with readers and encourages them to commit action.

    The only tip I’d add here is – get critical feedback from others.

    I ask one or two people to be as harsh as possible in critiquing my work (assuming I have the time) before submitting it to clients or my blog.

    When writing, simple mistakes that we’d pick up from others escape our view even after detailed proofreading. Simply by giving it to someone else with an unbiased eye, they can spot these silly mistakes before they have a chance to ruin our content!

    • We’re often “too close” to our own writing and easily overlook obvious mistakes because they appear correct (to us) when we read a draft we’ve written.

      Helpful feedback from unbiased people can seem like magic, but it’s actually just so effective because something that doesn’t make sense will quickly pop out to them. And, of course, you want everything in your final draft to make sense (to everyone).

      Glad you “edited” your own actions, too, and realized that kissing me would not be wise—an idea reserved for your first draft only, ha!

      Thanks for reading, Daryl!

  2. Stefanie – these tips are great ! Reading them makes me feel like an editor feels ! I definitely have more to do when it comes to editing my work.

    It’s a piece of art – it deserves to be treated so.

    I always read my posts out loud. It helps with the flow of writing. And yes, I DO appear nuts when I do this in a coffee place.

    – Razwana

  3. Thanks for CMKR and the 5th U, Stefanie

    Here’s my most closely guarded secret editing trick. I save my final version as a pdf for one last proofreading, like casting a sculpture in bronze to see how the light hits it.

    It helps me read as if it’s a finished work, and I usually pick up something that needs changing. I sometimes wind up with a dozen “finals”.

    I’ll never fully understand how my brain works, but I keep finding ways to trick it :)

    Nice post.

  4. Just walking away and then coming back to reevaluate with a fresh set of eyes seems to be the most crucial from my experience.

  5. Love your first bit of advice — let the content sit for a day. I think too often people hit publish as soon as they drop in the final period, instead of giving the post some time to percolate. Great tips!

  6. Whenever I can I leave my work for a day to rest before I come back to it. Just this one simple act has helped my writing enormously. I also do as Jack Price noted above, and make PDFs which I then check again (and again (and again!))

    Whatever you find works, go with it (as long as its not illegal…!)

  7. Love the tips Stephanie! I was just about to revisit a blog post I wrote for my company, when I came across this article. I can now put this into practice. Thanks for the insights!

  8. Number 12 is very important. It is vital to line edit partly for SEO and partly because it is possible for a word to only make sense when you see it for the first time.

  9. Awesome; After a few years of half-heartedly thinking and occasionally doing content marketing (not all that well) I made the decision yesterday to do this thing properly. Starting soon (after I’ve properly looked at my niche and processed that myself.) I’m excited about becoming an authority, and incredibly grateful to Copyblogger.

    Now I see how all those posts that I wrote and then simply pressed ‘Publish’ straight away without giving a second thought didn’t really serve my desired audience at all. They were just me trying to find my blogging voice. And a product that I would eventually be leading my readers toward.

    Launching next February is my first children’s book (product) and my content will be about encouraging self-belief and personal power in children.

    Thank you so much for the post – it helped me to see how much can be gained by slowing down and doing things properly, instead of running with my initial burst of energy and usually having it fade away somewhere in my writing … but posting anyway.

    I’m excited – thank you also for providing a place for me to state my intentions … now that I’ve declared it in writing, I know I am so much more likely to succeed ;)

  10. hi Stefanie

    Editing has never been my advantage. At least not for blog comments. I feel like with these tips I’ve learned today, to take this game more seriously. Any writer should strive to make their writing better and more compelling, and editing is that part we cannot risk to overlook.

    Cheers!

  11. “Write drunk. Edit sober.” Basically it comes out to write at night and edit in the morning. You’ve got these tips down! Walking away from your writing is key not only to editing well, but also to keeping the creativity flowing. Sitting in front of the same post for hours can get frustrating and actually block creativity. Getting up and revisiting later is always a solid idea.

    Really nice work Stefanie!

    • Thanks, Eric!

      You’re definitely right—taking a break before you edit isn’t just about maximizing your chances of finding errors, it helps your ideas grow so you’re better positioned to communicate your message clearly.

  12. Brilliant piece!

  13. Hi Stefanie,

    Thanks for a great post! I also enjoyed reading the comments. Editing is often overlooked, which is a shame, because that’s how you turn milk into ice cream, or bland content into a piece of art :)

    There’s one tip I’d like to add: print your work and put it in front of you. I still do a lot of editing on the screen, but for some reason I find it easier to edit my work with a pen and a piece of paper in my hand. For my creating writing classes in college, I’d take out a pair scissors and cut my paragraphs and spread them out on the floor. I’d rearrange them in various ways to find new angles and to uncover pitfalls in the story. This made editing more fun and effective (not to mention it made me look like a crazy person).

    In short: create an analogue space for your writing and editing. Get away from the screen and get your hands dirty.

    Happy editing :)

    • That’s a great technique! Thanks for sharing, Olle! It helps overcome the attitude that writing is the “fun part” and editing is “boring.”

      Even though editing does require different skills than writing, I actually still consider editing a part of writing—not a completely different activity. Until you decide you have a final draft, each review of your text is an opportunity to use your creativity to make it better.

  14. Stefanie,

    As I was reading your excellent post I was nodding; “Oh, yes, editing I do that”

    But then a rather unpleasant feeling started – a mixture of shame and slight guilt. Followed by a voice “Oh, but you didn’t do ANY of this on those blog posts you bashed out in a hurry last week, did you?”

    *Gulp*

    Fortunately those posts are scheduled for next week. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the ‘kick up the proverbial’ to go and do a proper job :)

    Susie

  15. Stefanie,

    Hello, and thank you for your great blog post. You’re content is fresh, useful, and precisely edited. Your knowledge is appreciated. Writing is such a difficult task, and finding a concise list like this is extremely helpful.

    I like the idea of summarizing your goal because often the goal gets lost in the writing of the piece, as you are worried about getting your ideas down on the page. I had not come across the “Four U’s” of copywriting, and I find them very useful. If you keep these in mind as you’re writing a first draft, all the steps come along much easier. I like to spend time in the first steps of the process in order to save myself time in the latter stages.

    As you say, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and even bored with your own writing. It is important to break things up into individual sections, and to take time away from the project in order to view them more objectively. I find that nothing gives me more objectivity than time away from the article.

    I need to work on the editing skills you describe. They are time-consuming and tedious, but with out performing them diligently, your efforts in creating great content are wasted.

    I love this site because you always make the information useful to me in my own writing. I enjoy making new contacts and connections, and hope to get to know you through your blog. Feel free to connect with me. All kinds of opportunities open up when we collaborate and work together.

     Cheers,

    Darin

    • I’m glad you mentioned these copy editing tips are time-consuming, Darin. They are! But just as you explained, they help you create your best work. Polished writing looks effortless, but it takes a lot of time and patience.

  16. Time is a true luxury. I often have less than an hour to turn out topic specific content in my job. The best thing I do to is to read it word by word backwards(for typos) and then I’ll read out loud for weak spots.

    I picked up some new tips in this article that I’m sure will be keepers. It never occured to me to save the edited out bits! Thanks!

  17. Thank you for these fab tips! I love to let a blog draft mellow for days or weeks if I can. Sometimes I write and I’m not sure what the primary message will be, it’s just something I have to write. Eventually the message for the reader comes into focus and then I can sharpen it with more emphasis. Finally, I like to add tips for the reader in dealing with a dilemma I have discussed (if it makes sense for that post). Your editing tips are amazing and I’ve written them down (The U’s).

  18. Incredible piece, Stefanie, and the post itself shows just how powerful these habits are.

    I live by aphorisms. Two of the most powerful, which I live and work by, every day, and which your post bring to mind:

    “There is no good writing, only good re-writing.” Hemingway

    “All writing is constant course correction.” Rick Duris

    Thanks, Stefanie; and thanks, Copyblogger, for the great people you put in my path.

    Terence

  19. These are useful tips to create an amazing work Stefanie!

    I think that you have utilized and incorporate the process very well. Aside from that taking one steps at a time and pursue it in a right kind of manner then you can generate a great piece of art in writing.

    Thanks for the helpful tips!

    I found and “kingged” this on the Internet marketing social site – Kingged.com

  20. Wow, what a treat!

    I had thought my editing process was pretty wonderful thus far, but I was wrong! The biggest takeaway for me is highlighting areas that are done to focus on weaker areas.

    This blog post is now a part of the required reading for new writers to my company. Thank you for the training material!

  21. Great post! :-) Editing is vital for a final text to be good. We started to do proof reading by default on all the work we send to clients. Not only do we get better texts but it’s also a great way of tapping into each others knowledge! Should be default everywhere…!

  22. Stephanie,

    I think I found a typo. It’s in the third paragraph…..JUST KIDDING!

    Terrific article. Thank you! I’ve forwarded it to my wife so she can make my posts shine.

    Trent

  23. Stephanie,

    I liked your ‘walk away from your post’ and will use it during my next post. I always write my posts and publish them in one sitting after checking for the typos and the flow. I guess I don’t enjoy the process of polishing it incrementally!!

    Thanks for sharing.

    Badri

  24. Always print out your work, if possible.

    Editing and proofing [aloud] off paper captures more oversight than doing so on screen.