According to Mark Schaefer of Schaefer Marketing Solutions (depending on which study you believe), the amount of online content doubles every nine to 24 months. There’s a hungry, hungry content monster out there, and on one hand, that’s good for businesses.
Marketers assume that the content monster is us, with the “us” in this illustration being the allegedly content-hungry audience. However, I suspect that the content monster really lurks inside their marketing automation software. It lives in a cave, mostly sleeping and drooling and gnawing on bones. It must be fed constantly, and it eats like a hobbit: breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper.
The content monster is starving for content because it needs to share links in marketing emails and social media posts. The intended audience doesn't always devour that content or engage with it on a deep level - how many marketing emails do you actually read before deleting them or scrolling down for the “unsubscribe” button? Still, the monster demands his regular blog posts, and it's tempting to post first drafts just to get by. Hopefully, you proofread and edit before you send out your work (or if you don’t, you really should start). To truly edit content, you need to do more than just proofread. Let's get a basic re-education in the art of revision.
Finish Your First Draft. Then, Do Something Else.
Stephen King, in “On Writing,” says that he puts the first draft of his novels in a drawer for six weeks before he starts revising and creating a second draft. If you’re writing 500-word blog post2, you don’t need a six-week incubation period before you start to proofread and edit blog posts. However, I do recommend waiting at least an hour or more before you start revising a short piece.
When you read your first draft, you usually discover that at its core, it’s pretty good. Errors you wouldn’t have noticed, however, if you'd revised it right after completion become shockingly obvious and painful. When you wait, you also tend to revise on a deeper level. You catch more than spelling errors, incorrect homonyms, and subject-verb agreement mistakes. You reflect on flow, word choice, rhythm and cadence – the touches that take your writing from passable to good.
OK, You’ve Waited. Time to Proofread and Edit.
When I proofread, I start with my concluding paragraph and work my way back toward the top. This method makes me concentrate on small portions of the writing, which helps me catch more mistakes. Also, because I’m not reading through from the beginning, I’m not recreating my initial emotional investment in the piece. My brain focuses on the mechanical errors instead of getting lost in the arguments I was trying to make.
I’m always surprised by the mistakes that I find during proofreading. I find errors that spell-check wouldn’t catch, such as “there” instead of “their.” I know full well when to use “there” and when to use “their.” In fact, when I was typing the first draft, I could swear I saw “their” there, but my fingers and my eyes betrayed me. Our eyes just aren't as trustworthy as we think, and that’s why spell-check is never, ever enough.
Check Your Facts
If you didn’t fact-check your statistics before you inserted them into your first draft, do it now. Make sure all facts come from credible sources and that you didn’t misrepresent the statistics to support your own biases. Also, make sure that the researchers, in the original work, interpreted the statistics correctly. Fact checking is a huge topic and worthy of addressing at book length, but this Vox.com article entitled “8 Ways to Be a More Savvy Science Reader” will help you become a better interpreter of statistics.
Rearrange the Furniture
During this phase, start from the beginning and read the piece out loud. When you do, you’ll notice bigger errors, such as how you ordered the sentences in your paragraphs. The second sentence in the third paragraph might make a much better topic sentence, and your original topic sentence might fit perfectly somewhere else. Perhaps the best introduction is hiding in the fourth paragraph, or the current introduction would make a better conclusion.
Create a Great Title
On my desktop, I save a Word document called “Headlines Tags and So What Because.” The tags are for marketing copy, and the "So What Because" is a trick I use to focus my writing. As for headlines, I take my first idea for a piece’s title and type it onto my headline sheet as No. 1 in a bulleted list. Then, I make more headlines – up to 25 – until I get something that’s really compelling.**
A great headline gets the click, but you must create more than just a clickbait title. The content must match the headline so that readers get what they expect from the piece. The title has to share truthfully what the piece is about because many, many readers scan only the headline and the first paragraph.
If a reader clicks your piece, and the headline is misleading, you lose credibility in the reader’s eyes. You might get high click-throughs from search results, but you'll also notice a high bounce rate. Even worse, when your headline contains misinformation, and your reader doesn’t read the entire piece, you've unleashed another completely misguided reader to roam our planet, sharing misleading information on social media.
If You Don't Have Time to Proofread and Edit Blog Posts...
Scratch out a first draft of your ideas, and hire me to proofread and edit your blog posts. Free up your time while improving the quality of your blog post writing.
*I say “most writing” because we all create miraculous first drafts now and then, but let’s be honest: We don’t create great first drafts often.
**I got that idea after reading that Upworthy content curators are required to write 25 headlines for every video that they share.
Image Credit: Startup Stock Photos