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Before You Hit “Publish”: 6 essential copy editing tips

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edit key Life would be so much simpler your keyboard had an “edit” key.

You wouldn’t have to worry about little things like typos, grammatical errors, run-on sentences or improper punctuation. And on a larger scale, your published content would be more clear, concise and compelling.

That would be great, right?

Sadly, programming geniuses have yet to develop a reliable algorithm for making dull, confusing or otherwise bad writing amazing (but I am hopeful, given what computer scientists have achieved in photo editing – more on that later).

Anyway, until “there’s an app for that,” you’re stuck copy editing the old-fashioned way.

If you want to streamline editing and improve your results, develop a process that works for you. Then follow it religiously! These six tips will get you started on the right path:

6 Simple Copy Editing Tips

  1. Get some distance. I know, I know. You’re writing under a deadline. But unless you read your copy with a fresh set of eyes, you won’t have the “distance” to spot fundamental errors. How long should you wait before editing your work? It’s simple: as long as it takes for your brain to forget what you’ve written.
  2. Get the “big picture” right. Reread your content to make sure it’s logical and achieves its purpose:
    1. Verify a clear intent (i.e., do you properly convey your primary message at or near the top?).
    2. Review your headings and subheads to ensure they tell your story properly. The piece should be “skimmable.”
    3. Keep things simple. Using complex language or industry buzzwords can backfire, alienating or confusing your readers.
  3. Get out your hatchet. Research has shown that the average human’s attention span is down to eight seconds (that’s less than a goldfish’s, people). Reread your copy and question the necessity of each paragraph. Does it add value? Is it vital to your message? If not, condense or eliminate it. Save those great, but extraneous, ideas for future posts, articles or sub-pages!
  4. Get out your scalpel. Once your building blocks are firmly in place, fine tune your copy with an eye for detail. Check:
    1. Mechanics. The “rules” for writing may vary slightly with your medium and audience; that doesn’t excuse poor grammar. Find a style guide that works for you and use it diligently.
    2. Readability. Read your piece aloud and look for opportunities to improve sentence flow. Double-check for run-on sentences and break long ones into two or more shorter ones.
    3. Consistency. Check your verb tense. Check your point of view. And if you’re using subheadings or lists, check for parallel construction.
  5. Get down to the nitty-gritty. Now it’s time to proofread. While proofreading probably warrants a post of its own, here are a few things to check 100% of the time:
    1. Homonyms. Don’t trust your spell-checker. Common culprits are “too” and “to”; “your” and “you’re”; “their” and “they’re”; “its” and “it’s.” Your style guide will come in handy here.
    2. Missed words. I recommend starting with the last paragraph and working your way back to catch these errors.
    3. Capitalization. Job titles? Seasons? Directions? Academic degrees? Hmm…where’s that style guide?
    4. Formatting. Double-check for consistent use of: bulleting; text fonts, styles and sizes; date formats; dashes and spacing (between sentences and paragraphs).
    5. Punctuation. Oxford commas? Semicolons with conjunctions? Where’s that style guide?!?
  6. Never let David do your proofreading for you. Trust me on this one. He’s a copywriting and editing genius, but even he admits that his proofreading skills leave something to be desired!

Once you’ve done all of this, let yourself off the hook. There’s no such thing as a “perfect” piece of writing. But if you get these basics right, you’ll produce consistently better copy – and feel more confident when you hit that “Publish” button.

And if your staffing or recruiting firm ever needs help with editing, writing or anything else copy-related, just give Haley Marketing a call.

Oh, about the photo editing thing I mentioned earlier? Check out the photo editing algorithm these Brown University researchers are developing. It instantly changes the weather, time of day or season in an outdoor photo. Amazing!

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