Proofreading vs. copy editing vs. substantive content editing. These probably aren’t the tasks you expected to focus on when you started down the marketing career path.
So many content marketers enter the field with a writing background. We’re content creators who gain a passion for building businesses. We want to write the content that drives traffic, generates leads, convert prospects, and delights customers.
But if you want to consistently publish high-quality content across your organization, the different types of editing can’t be ignored. Especially if you’re planning on hiring freelance writers, you need a solid understanding of your role as editor.
Proofreading vs. Copy Editing: Why Neither Is Enough
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when managing work from freelance writers is getting caught up in the proofreading vs. copy editing debate.
Unless you’ve spent time as a professional editor, editing can be uncomfortable. You want to make sure the content is as strong as possible. And to do that, you start evaluating articles based on how you would have written them. Suddenly you’re stuck. Did the content your freelancer turned in miss the mark? Or did they just approach it from a different angle than you would have?
Instead of returning a heavily red-lined copy to the freelancer, you take the surface-level approach with proofreading or copy editing.
Proofreading is the most basic form of editing at your disposal.
Busy marketers who have outsourced content to get some time back in their days may settle here. Proofreading only involves a quick search for any typos or basic grammatical errors. In an effort to get something published quickly, you give it a quick once over, fix up any minor errors, and get the article uploaded to your CMS.
Copy-editing takes this a step further. In addition to basic proofreading, copy editing involves a review of sentence structure and style. You’re assessing the readability of the article while also ensuring the freelance adhered to any brand style guidelines you might have.
When you work with freelance writers, copy editing is the bare minimum you should be doing before you publish an article. Beyond assessing high-level readability and flow, copy editing includes:
- Changing passive voice to active voice where possible
- Ensuring there’s consistency in grammatical style
- Eliminating weak language choices like clichés and an over-reliance on adverbs
- Matching the voice and tone of your brand
These types of editing should be the final steps before you hit publish. But too often, they’re also the first.
Taking your content from good enough to truly great will take a more detailed approach. This is where substantive content editing comes into play.
Content Editing: The Key to Consistently Great Work
There’s a reason why companies with massive content operations hire Managing Editors.
We all know that the job isn’t over once we hit publish. Creating and editing content is crucial to marketing success. But if it’s taking up all of your time, you won’t be able to promote that content properly. And that’s where marketing performance suffers.
That’s why, if you’re working with limited resources, it’s understandable if substantive content editing falls by the wayside. You outsourced content to save time, and substantive editing cuts into those hours you got back.
However, substantive content editing is the key to consistently great work—the kind that becomes a foundation for larger marketing initiatives.
Without the right approach, you could end up in a black hole of editing, wasting time while also becoming a nightmare client for freelancers.
The Black Hole of Aimless Content Editing
Every freelance writer you’ll ever work with has already experienced a nightmare client in the past. These are the clients who aren’t worth their time, no matter how much the assignment pays.
In many cases, the editing process is a significant factor in whether or not you become a nightmare client.
From a writer’s perspective, there’s nothing worse than putting your best foot forward and following a client’s guidelines only to get a mess of edit requests in return. It’s not that freelance writers aren’t receptive to edits—it’s that they expect constructive feedback that’s consistent with the assignment’s guidelines.
Too often, busy marketers turned content editors receive a draft, realize it’s not quite right, and start brainstorming ways to make it better. Internally, that makes perfect sense.
But when you think out loud in the comments of a Google doc and share that feedback with a freelancer, the situation can spiral.
Your writers will see those comments and compare them to the original request.
They’ll get frustrated with inconsistent feedback, and you’ll get frustrated that you have content that isn’t ready to be published.
This is the content editing black hole that will turn your brand into a freelancer’s nightmare client and hold your marketing back. Avoiding it isn’t just about your editing process. Effective content editing starts with proper alignment with freelancers upfront. To avoid aimless content editing later, make sure you:
- Provide a detailed creative brief with your idea of what the article should cover
- Do your keyword research before the first draft (not in the editing phase)
- Have the freelancer deliver a rough outline for you to approve first
These simple steps will set you up to avoid a content editing black hole after receiving a draft. Then, you can focus solely on providing constructive feedback.
Keys to Effective Content Editing
Making sure you and your freelancer are on the same page from the start will keep you from sinking too much time into the editing process.
Once you have a draft in hand, you can focus your efforts on turning a solid draft into something that perfectly serves your goals.
In the substantive content editing phase, there are a few keys to success:
- Reading with Audience in Mind: Mark up any areas where the writer strayed from your specific target audience. If there are sections that are slightly misaligned with your audience, insert actionable comments about how the content can be cleaned up. Make sure the writer identifies the right audience and consistently addresses its needs with specific insights.
- Focusing on Clarity: You’ve already agreed to the overarching purpose of the piece of content. In the content editing phase, your goal is to make sure that point is coming across as clearly as possible. Identify areas that could be supported by additional evidence. See if there are jarring transitions between sections that could detract from a reader’s flow. Evaluate the effectiveness of the writer’s storytelling and make thoughtful comments about fixing issues.
- Putting a Positive Spin on Feedback: Substantive content editing isn’t just about red lining an entire document with criticisms. Freelancers need to know what works about the content in addition to what doesn’t. Put a positive spin on your comments and identify the most effective aspects of the article. This will foster a better relationship with the freelancer while also generating better revisions.
Keeping these keys to success in mind will help make you a dream editor for your freelance writers—without eating up all the free time you gained by hiring a freelancer in the first place.
Be the Content Editor Your Marketing Team Needs
It would be great if every marketing team could add a dedicated Managing Editor to its ranks. But when you’re working within a leaner team and wearing multiple hats already, it’s more likely that you’ll have to pick up that editing role yourself.
Don’t let time restraints push you to the two editing extremes. You don’t have to limit yourself to the proofreading vs. copy editing options. And you don’t have to get sucked into a black hole of endlessly frustrating content editing and rewrites.
Find the middle ground by aligning with your freelancer ahead of time and taking the right approach to different types of editing. Be the editor your marketing team needs to consistently publish high-quality content.