5 Questions to Ask Yourself When Editing Content

18/05/2015

Alice Wilkinson, Digital and Content

5 Questions to Ask Yourself When Editing Content

When writing content it is important to never take the reader’s attention for granted - transcribing a stream of thought will not make for a convincing argument. The editing process allows content creators to thoroughly review structure, argument and appearance. Ultimately, writing content is about grabbing and holding the attention of the readers, most of whom are swamped by endless blog posts, tweets and articles. If your content is distracted or vague no one will read beyond the first few lines. During the editing process, ask yourself these 5 questions:

1.       Is this relevant?

This is the first stage of the editing process, and when you must be merciless. It is important that every sentence is relevant to your message. You have to “kill your darlings”: you may have proudly written a beautifully constructed sentence but if you’ve repeated yourself or wandered off topic, it will have to go. Anything that doesn’t contribute to your argument will dilute your message and lose you readers.

Statistics are a valuable way of giving credibility to an argument or message. As with all content, statistics must be accurate. However, the overuse of statistics can be confusing and boring. Content must be geared towards the reader - ask yourself whether the figures will help or hinder the communication of your message.

Finally, if you’ve “padded out” sparse content with needless words, it will be obvious and the reader will stop reading. Do more research or choose to write less (although note that on average, the first ranking page on Google has over 2,000 words). Content must be compelling and genuinely useful if it is going to be shared by readers and rank highly in search engines.

2.       Do you have clear structure?

Just as teachers taught at school, content must have a beginning, middle and end. Use this framework to arrange your content’s message for the greatest impact:

  • The introduction announces your message
  • The body builds the argument, with each paragraph putting forward a different point
  • The conclusion ties everything together – but don’t just summarise.

The conclusion is an excellent place to drive home your point and finish with something memorable. It doesn’t have to very long – a couple of sentences will do – but it will help your content appear polished and complete. When editing, consider whether your conclusion does indeed conclude or whether it’s just where the content ends.

3.       Could you read it out loud?

Reading content out loud is an excellent way of picking up on words that are too often repeated or phrases that are unclear. You will be better able to judge where punctuation should go and if a sentence is too long.

Hearing your words spoken will help you assess whether the content flows well. And importantly, you will hear whether you’ve written a polemic. Blatant marketing is easily recognisable and an unbalanced argument will be dismissed.

4.       Is this over-punctuated?

Not only does excessive punctuation make content difficult to read but it’s also messy and off-putting to look at. Short sentences have more impact than long, over-punctuated sentences. As with irrelevant content, irrelevant punctuation will confuse your message.

Similarly, don’t rely on italics or bold text to make your point for you. If the content is written well, it will be clear where emphasis is intended. Try to use italicized or bold text only for clarification.

5.       Is this searchable?

Search engine algorithms are extremely complicated. You cannot trick search engines into giving poor-quality content a high rank by littering it with keywords and phrases. Nonetheless, embedding keywords in content makes it easier for search engines to find. When editing, assess whether you’ve used words or phrases that would be obvious search terms for your readership. Accuracy is a key criterion for search engines so ensure your facts are well-sourced.

Note that content is made searchable when it is shared by readers – for this to happen it must contain interesting, credible data and be well written.

 

Quality content can be a highly effective marketing tool. It can be an excellent way of raising a client’s profile or sending a particular message to a particular group. But the world is overrun by content. Content creators must use every available tool to ensure that whatever they produce does not fade into the background. So always spend time editing and always be ruthless.