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5 Common Editing Headaches (and How to Solve Them)

By Matthew Langenhop
editorheadache.pngContent marketers are the ringleaders of a massive undertaking. They wrangle experts on the team to gather insights, cultivate relationships with publications, and constantly repurpose published work to make sure it keeps bringing in leads.

But sometimes, the hardest part of the process is crafting the content itself and turning thought leadership into something you'd want to read. Putting on the editor's hat and combing through an article can be the trickiest job of all.

Every editor tackles the work of words in his or her own unique way. However, the struggles we face are pretty universal. After polling editors in the content marketing world on the struggles of their daily work, I’ve compiled a list of the most common issues that plague our kind, along with tips from our own team on how to combat these tricky situations:

1. Getting Into the Editing Brain, aka Remembering How to English

Editing can be ridiculously subjective at times. You must often be creative and analytical at the same time, inhabiting the minds of audience, publication, and management alike, all while taking a hatchet to content that others might perceive as gold. Try these out to get your brain where it needs to be:

  • Build the right soundscape. Music can be a great mental navigator. Anything from light instrumental to a single song on repeat can help get your brain on track. For those who find music too distracting, a white noise app like Noisli should do the trick.

  • Reboot the mental system. If the synapses just aren’t firing properly, don’t force the issue. Step away from the computer, and let your brain sit on the “OFF” switch for a little while. All systems run more smoothly after you turn them off and back on again, so listen to your inner information technology guy and toggle your brain a bit.

  • Head out. While an active and friendly office atmosphere can be great, it isn’t always conducive to the best work environment. When these situations come up, try working at home, the library, or your favorite java joint. It may be just what you need to get the editing juices flowing.

2. The First Read-Through, aka Keeping Your Fingers Off the Keyboard

The vast majority of editors try to keep the first read-through sacred, not making any adjustments to the content or form until they’ve seen the writer’s intent through to the end. This hands-off approach, however, can get quite tricky when errors are calling out to you. Here are some thoughts for tackling this particular struggle:

  • Use a notebook. Try keeping a pencil and notepad on your desk, right next to your computer. For every potential error you spot, jot down a quick note on the pad. This is great for keeping track of errors without losing your reading groove, but it also keeps you from forgetting the little things while you’re focused on the big picture.

  • Comment bubbles. For those who hate the idea of doing anything outside the computer screen, the comment feature on your word processor can be a handy alternative. This can be a little more time-consuming than the notepad method, but comments all over your screen are hard to ignore!

  • Highlight. Any time you spot something that looks terrible or doesn’t feel right in your brain during the first read-through, use the highlight feature to make those errors stand out for future fixing.

3. Inconsistent Quality, aka Rowling Today, Rough Tomorrow

Chances are good you aren't writing every single article yourself. Chances are even better that not every article you edit will be gold. Here are some ways to bring these rough article situations to a minimum, and many of them boil down to how you handle the data you've collected:

  • Cut out the excess. By trimming out any content you believe will not be of value to the article, you guarantee that the writer is focused solely on the best content available.

  • Build an outline. This may seem like a time suck, but it can save you from serious structural changes down the line. The outline can be incredibly simple: Outline what information should be used as the introduction, how to connect examples to the takeaways, etc. Writers are very appreciative of these suggestions, and it ensures that the major issues are at a minimum.

  • Pick your battles. Tough topics and tough publications always lead to tough edits, no matter which writer you utilize. In the majority of cases, a quality article is a higher priority than a swift timeline, so check with your team and, if you're given the go-ahead, wait until your heavy hitter is up to bat.

4. Every Edit Takes Forever, aka Avoiding the Editing Wormhole

You may feel like you're constantly mired in the muck, but the range of what editors consider to be a short or long edit may surprise you. A short edit could range anywhere from 15 minutes to 90 minutes, while long edits could range from 60 minutes to 170 minutes. It’s all a matter of where you feel comfortable for yourself. If you'd like to cut down on your edit times, experiment with a few of these:

  • Check your mindset. On average, 90 percent of the work that’s needed on an edit is done in the first 30 minutes, while the final 10 is where the real time suck comes in. If you know you’re being more of a perfectionist than necessary, it may be a matter of cutting down on your number of read-throughs.

  • Actually time yourself. If you know your average edit length is more than an hour and a half, try setting a one-hour countdown timer, and conduct a read-through out loud to check your progress when it dings. Not only will you have a better chance of catching little errors when reading out loud, but you'll also see each successive edit looking better than the last.

  • Know your publication. Are you shooting for Forbes, or is this more like the San Francisco Beverage Examiner? Some publications will merit a more stringent editing process than others. If you know the publication is very accepting, a fine-toothed combing of the article may not be necessary.

5. Elusive Research, aka Back That [Claim] Up

Sometimes, the foundation of the client’s argument requires a little extra bolstering with figures, stats, and supporting article links — and sometimes, the right evidence proves elusive, especially when you’re on a time crunch. Here are some places to look when you’re grasping at straws:

  • Search the publication’s website. Some publications (like Entrepreneur) have some pretty advanced search functionalities and can turn up a great hyperlink to support a wobbly claim. Plus, the publication editors won’t mind that more hyperlinks equal extra site stickiness for them.

  • Plug the idea into search engine(s). Use quotation marks for exact phrases you want, omit common words and punctuation, customize your searches with operators (check these out for tips: one and two), and try Bing in addition to the standard Google search.

  • Trace the clues. If you see a study cited all across the Internet, but you can’t find the original, check the articles that cite the study for more information on who or what performed the study and when. You can use that information as part of your search and to look to see whether any articles link directly to the source.

While editing can be a tricky and subjective process, it's not an impossible task. By getting yourself into the right headspace and keeping your writing toolbox handy, you'll be churning out great content in no time.

Need more insights into the key to exceptional content creation? Here's the insider tips to how we work with clients to create content:  Download your free guide to tackling content marketing like a pro!

Posted on February 23, 2016

About Matthew Langenhop

I’m an editor who adores a good story, whether it’s on the TV, between the pages of a book, or in an article on my computer screen. I love climbing, crafting, and curling up with a good Internet connection.

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