Simple tips to make your copy more conversational

People buy from people they know. That has repercussions for your business and the content you produce. Check out this new post from The Editing Shop for three quick ways to make your copy more conversational. Show off your personality and turn readers into customers! 

People buy from people they know. 

Whether it's big brand loyalty (I will buy almost anything Apple makes, no questions asked) to working on a smaller scale with people you like and trust, personality has never been more important in business. (And branding is just another word for personality.) 

So what does that mean for the content you produce? 

Content should be conversational. You're not lecturing your audience; communication is a two-way street that works to build trust between you and the people you serve. Your audience can't get to know you if you don't offer them a glimpse into your personality. 

That doesn't mean you can't have a separation between business and personal. You don't have to show off all your flaws, beliefs, and bad Netflix habits. But you should be producing content that avoids being stiff, that shows off your best side, and makes your readers and potential customers want to get to know you that bit better.

And it's easier than you think! Let me show you three simple changes that make a big impact.

1. Use contractions

What sounds more relaxed?

  • I can not explain how important it is that you do not write sentences that sound stiff. Readers will not enjoy having to struggle through a text, so do not make it hard work.
  • I can't explain how important it is that you don't write sentences that sound stiff. Readers won't enjoy having to struggle through a text, so don't make it hard work.

The second one, right? Contractions make texts sound less formal, less uptight, and more friendly. So unless you're writing an academic text or something that calls for a very formal tone and register, use contractions where you can. 

Top tip: Use find and replace to search for phrases like "can not", "will not", and "do not". And then contract them!

2. Avoid passive voice

Writing in active voice gives more energy to your text. It reduces ambiguity and makes your writing clear and direct.

Not sure what that means? Take a look at this:

  • The blog post was written to engage and entertain readers
  • I wrote the blog post to engage and entertain readers

The first sentence is written in passive voice. The focus of the sentence is the action, rather than the person performing it. This creates confusion and ambiguity, as it is not clear who wrote the blog post. It can feel like the writer is avoiding something, and it creates questions for the readers.

The second sentence is written in active voice. The focus has shifted to the person performing the action. This is direct, clear, and more concise. It packs more of a punch because it feels more energetic, and it creates an atmosphere of trust between you and your readers.

Top tip: Make sure that the actions (the verbs) are always the focus of your sentences, rather than the things or people receiving those actions. 

3. Be concise

You wouldn't bore your friends by talking and talking and talking in long endless sentences all about your latest news without taking a breath or leaving room for pauses or interruptions and instead going on and on and... you get the point. I hope. 

Every conversation needs pauses, even if you're the one doing the talking. You need to give the other person chance to digest what you're saying, to nod and smile, and engage with the topic at hand.

It's exactly the same with your writing. It's much easier for readers to take in what you're saying if you break your content into small chunks. You can do this in two ways:

  • Break up long sentences into several smaller ones
  • Break up long paragraphs using headings, bullet points, and summaries (like in this post)

A full stop or new paragraph is the pause the reader needs to nod and smile, take in what you're saying, and move on to the next point. So be as concise as you can and avoid having readers skim over your very important words!

Top tip: Make a visual check of your content. If you see dense areas of long text, get in there and break it up!

Have these tips helped you? Maybe you have some of your own ideas to make your content more conversational? Let me know in the comments! If you enjoyed this post, please click here to share it on Twitter :) 

3 steps to creative productivity when your goals seem overwhelming

Are your goals for this year overwhelming you already? Do you want to write a book, start a blog, or begin a big new venture? The Editing Shop gives you three simple steps to creative productivity to help you smash your goals instead of letting them smash you. 

Happy new year, friends! Welcome to 2017. We're two weeks in, and you might still be adjusting to all the back-to-work madness after some hopefully relaxing time off. 

If you did your year-end review (there's still time if you haven't!) hopefully you're clear on #allthethings you want to achieve this year. Whether it's writing a book, launching a website, starting a blog, or any creative projects, you might be overwhelmed by your own ambition.

Today I'm sharing how I break things down and the three steps I follow to make meeting my creative goals a lot easier and more likely! 

1. Set your intention

I like to choose a word or phrase to set my intention for the whole year. This can be flexible; it may change so there's no pressure to find something perfect and concrete. The aim here is to find a word that reflects your mindset and your goals. It should be something that pushes you a little bit, and reminds you of the path that you want to be on for the year.

It can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it. My word for this year is simply move. This suits my personal, creative, and business goals, and when I'm feeling lazy it reminds me of my ideal mindset for this year: get up, push forward, keep going.

Setting your intention is an important step, and it will inspire you more than you might think.

2. Break everything down

Big tasks seem a lot less daunting when you break them into smaller chunks, and these chunks can often be broken down further. You're only going to meet big goals by taking baby steps and meeting baby goals to get there. You want to write a book? That's not one process. It involves setting aside regular time to write (goal 1), creating an outline (goal 2), choosing chapter headings (goal 3), and so on. And even these can be broken down further.

The smaller the pieces the more achievable something becomes. You can use the sprint process to do this, or you can set simple daily goals that will add up to your overall target over time. Patience and consistency are two crucial ingredients for any creative pursuit.

3. Chart your progress

The last step is my favourite, and you can make it as simple or elaborate as you want to. Find a way to track your progress, and you'll hold yourself accountable in a surprisingly effective way. You could make a little chart where you tick a box every time you hit a goal, or allow yourself specific treats once you hit bigger targets. By looking after and encouraging yourself, you'll find that you want to hit those smaller goals and collect all the pieces to put the final jigsaw together. 

If you haven't tried bullet journalling, this is the perfect way to track your progress. For those with artistic flair, you can make gorgeous pages and calendars to keep you motivated, and for those who just want something quick and easy that fits in with your existing schedule, it's a really great system. I'm addicted and I'm definitely in the latter camp! 

I don't know what your creative goals for this year are, but before you get overwhelmed with the new year's resolutions you've probably just started breaking, try doing this:

1. Set your intention and choose a word or phrase that reflects your ambitions for the year.

2. Break down big projects into baby steps. Then break down the baby steps into teeny tiny steps. Then get to work.

3. Find a system that works for you to track your progress and keep you motivated. Try bullet journalling or rewarding yourself at pre-designated points in your project.

Good luck! I'd love to hear if this works for you, and how you tackle creative projects. Maybe you have a different process? Pop your thoughts in the comments and don't forget to share your goals for the year! 

3 ways to end 2016 on a high

2016 has been strange. Here are three ways for online business owners and entrepreneurs celebrate some goals, achieve a few more, and end the year on a high!

I don't know about you, but 2016 has been a weird one. For those of you who've followed me for a while, you might notice that my business looks a lot different ending the year than it did starting it.

I've re-branded, re-designed, and re-adjusted my service offerings, products, blog, and marketing strategy. And yet as 2016 winds to a close, I'm still thinking about all the things I haven't done, or didn't quite get finished.

Why do we do that? I know I'm not alone in focusing on what's still to do rather than celebrate things that are done. Occupational hazard of a business owner! 

It's not quite the end of the year. You might already be looking ahead to 2017, making plans and timelines and strategies, but I urge you to hold back for a moment (as long a moment as it takes to read this!) and check out the three things I'm doing to end this oddball year on a high.

1. Celebrate your wins

It's almost a cliche. "Celebrate your wins" we're all told. It borders on obvious, and yet how many of us actually do this?

If you're anything like me, your plans for next year include a whole host of things that you didn't get finished this year, and you probably feel a bit guilty about that. 

But guys, we really, really, really have to stop sometimes and see how far we've come. What did your business look like in January? What does it look like now? What new things have you tried (even if they didn't go to plan)? What new goals have you set yourself, off the back of what you've achieved this year? How have you pushed yourself, grown, and developed personally and professionally?

My wins this year include:

  • Re-branding my website
  • Re-positioning my offers
  • Pushing myself outside my comfort zone and attending in-person events
  • Getting more organised behind the scenes (think taxes and accounting, yikes!)
  • Investing in products and services that help my business run smoothly
  • Trying new marketing strategies 
  • Increasing my income streams

That's a whole lot of stuff! Now it's your turn. What can you celebrate? From the small to the big, make acknowleding this year's successes a major part of your planning for next year. That means getting out a pen and paper, having a think, and making your own list. 

And I'll leave deciding how to celebrate up to you :)

2. Narrow down your focus

So now you've taken a moment to appreciate yourself, remember that this year isn't over yet. Forward planning is important, but there's actually well over a month to make things happen before the new year.

Narrow down your focus; if your to-do list is miles long, prioritise and pick one or more things to spend your time on from now until Christmas. You can shave a few things off 2017's to-do list by getting them done in the next few weeks, and alleviate some of that silly guilt we all feel for not being more productive! 

Hone in on some of your unfinished business, and check out my all-time favourite method for prioritising tasks, staying focused, and seeing them through to completion.

You won't regret it come January!

3. Plan for next year - realistically!

Now that you've made a good long list of your wins and you have a solid (and flexible) plan for the next few weeks, it's time to turn our attention to 2017.

Something like 80% of businesses who don't plan, fail. Planning is important - and for those of us who struggle to be organised (my hand is well up here), it can be  pretty challenging. 

The worst thing to do is make unrealistic plans that will land you in that guilty spot this time next year when you haven't managed to live up to them. Your plans should be ambitious but realistic. And that means taking things a chunk at a time.

I'm a huge fan of the Twelve Week Year (not an affiliate link). This method breaks down the year into 90 day segments, each with it's own goals, strategies, and working practices.

It's so much less overwhelming if you can focus on the near-future with mini goals, rather than the far distant future (thinking "I have a whole year!") with vague large projects that you don't schedule specific time for. 

I urge you to find time for these three things before this year is out. Celebrate, focus, and plan for a wonderful 2017!

Now I want to hear from you. What are your wins? Share them in the comments below so we can all celebrate with you! If you liked this post click here to share it on Twitter :)

 

 

7 business and life lessons from the Savvy Experience

Seven business and life lessons for entrepreneurs! From in-person events to owning your brand, here are my top tips for business owners everywhere. 

At end of August I was lucky enough to attend Heather Crabtree's Savvy Experience in gorgeous Scottsdale, Arizona. It was a gathering of 65 women, for two days, with 16 speakers and more learning packed into 72 hours than I ever could have imagined! I came away brimming with ideas and inspiration, and today I'm sharing seven business and life lessons I took away from my time there. Because make no mistake: business and life intersect big time!

1. Meet people in person

Anyone with an online business can identify with this one; the freedom of not having to show up at the office every day is soon counterbalanced by endless hours working alone. You might be lucky enough to have other entrepreneur friends in your life, or you might be the odd one out in a family or friendship circle that sticks to traditional 9-5 jobs. Either way, there is nothing like stepping outside your usual working environment and meeting new people face-to-face. 

The connections, the conversations, the laughter, the deep talks, that moment when you meet someone who just so totally gets it; you need to take things offline to allow great new friendships to blossom.

2. You can achieve more together than alone

One of my favourite things at the Savvy Experience was learning about all the different collaborations going on. From online business partners who were meeting in real life for the first time, to generous and giving entrepreneurs opening up their own projects to others (podcasts, blogging opportunities, creating communities, you name it) it was wonderful to see and be part of different people coming together. 

It really shows that we can all achieve so much more together than alone and it's a joy that has extended beyond those two days as I continue to nurture new collaborations.

3. We're all in the same boat

Imposter syndrome is real, y'all. I was nervous about attending this conference - some of the women I met are people whose businesses I've followed online for a while, those people who inspire you and always seem to have everything so together. Entrepreneurial-star-struckness is a thing! 

A tiny voice asked who am I to be hanging out with them? Sometimes I work all day in my pyjamas and what about that one big project that I've never seemed to finish? I'd better pull my socks up and start to get more serious with my business!

No, no, and no. Oh my gosh, no. Meeting people in person (remember point #1!) reinforced what I already know but what's easy to forget: we're all in the same boat. It's easy to see the shiny, public side of someone's business, and know nothing about all the hard work that went into making that product, service, or launch such a huge success. 

Everyone struggles. Everyone works hard. And even the most amazing people are probably facing similar challenges to you when it comes to running a business. Hard work is the only constant.

4. You define your business; your business does not define you

Be yourself. The very best version you can. Sometimes it can be hard to decide how much of ourselves and our personality to put into our businesses, onto our websites, in our blog posts and into our interactions with clients and customers. Sometimes, when we've had a bad day, bad week, or bad month, we feel like failures or let that tiny voice tell us maybe we should just give up.

I created my business. I define how it goes. If people don't like my personality, they probably won't like working with me, and that's just fine. Not everyone is for everybody; no one can be all things for all people.

On the other hand, a bad week in business doesn't have to mean a bad week in my personal life. My business does not define who I am. Succeeding in business doesn't make me a personal success, just like failures in business don't make me a failure at life. Understanding that and being able to separate the two is important.

5. It's okay if life gets in the way sometimes

The women at the Savvy Experience all had (at least!) one thing in common: they all had a lot going on. Some of it was amazing, some of it was challenging, some of it was heartbreaking and some of it was downright hard. Everyone had a different story. 

And that's okay. The privilege of owning your own business is that you get to make up the rules. I'm sure you know that - it's probably what led you down this path in the first place, but sometimes we still feel beholden to the incredibly high bar that we set for ourselves.

It's okay dial it down sometimes and focus on the important stuff. After all, entrepreneurs prioritise work/life balance and it's alright to focus on the life half of that equation. Getting caught up in life does not mean you're failing in business; you need to maintain a balance for both to succeed. So allow yourself some grace.

6. Don't put yourself in a box

When you've been in business for a couple of years, it can be easy to get complacent. You've nailed down your offerings, you have that client/customer base, you know what your revenue streams are and where that next paycheck will come from. You're doing well and you're ticking over, but maybe it's slightly...boring? It's definitely possible to get stuck in a rut (even a good one) in business. 

But you don't need to put yourself in a box. You might be known for one thing, but that doesn't prevent you from doing or trying something else. Expand. Grow. Test ideas. Create. Combine. Collaborate. See where your imagination and opportunities take you. 

You do not have to pigeon-hole yourself and you are not unfocused if you find your business becoming more diverse. 

7. Keep going

Success, whatever that looks like to you, doesn't happen overnight. For every polished launch you see, I promise you a whole bucket load of sweat, blood, and tears went into it. In order to achieve, you have to be dedicated, and that means keeping going even when - from reasons to sheer procrastination or overwhelming life event - you don't want to. 

Successful people are successful for a reason; they work super hard, and the Savvy Experience motivated me to continue to rise up when things go wrong.

We fall down. We get back up. We are Savvy Business Owners! 

A huge thanks to Heather Crabtree for making this event a reality, to all the amazing speakers, the inspirational women I met there, and to you for making it to the end of this post. Have you joined the Savvy Business Owners Facebook group yet? What are you waiting for!

Three ways to spice up a piece of writing

Sometimes writing can be perfectly formed, with impeccable spelling, grammar, and punctuation, but still lacking that wow factor that keeps the readers going. Find out three easy ways for copy editors to spice up a piece of content!

We've all been there; you've finished editing a piece of writing, be it your own, or something for a client, and everything is grammatically perfect with seamless spelling and precise punctuation, but you can't shake the feeling that it's still just not as good as it could be.

You don't want to rewrite it, or it's not your job to re-write it, so what can a copy editor do to spice up a piece of writing?

Three things! Read on to find out.

1. Cut the fluff

I've said this before and it still holds true; the easiest way for an editor to make a text pack more of a punch is to cut the fluff that prevents the reader from getting to the point. 

Cutting the fluff can mean anything from being more concise to not using two words that mean the same thing. Get rid of redundant pairs (each and every, first and foremost, always and forever, etc.) and remove unnecessary qualifiers (actually, really, basically, essentially, etc.). These edits are quick and easy to make, but they make a big difference to overall readability. 

2. make it accessible

Readers quickly become bored with a text if they have to sift through it to find meaning. Our attention spans are not great; if we can't get to the good stuff immediately we're not going to put in the work to find it.

I love reading classic novels, but I know lots of people who can't get on with them because the language can be confusing and obscure the plot. Readers lose interest and choose to invest their time and attention into something easier. As copy editors, we can help a piece of writing avoid this by making it accessible to everyone, and that means cutting the jargon.

Einstein said it best: if you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough. Unless you're working on something highly specific (medical or academic content for example), there should be no reason to use genre-specific jargon that the everyman might not understand. So ditch the dictionary (am I really saying this?! Yes!) and use straightforward vocabulary. 

3. Break it up

Sometimes, the best thing a copy editor can do is break long or complicated concepts into easily digestible chunks. There's a reason BBC Bitesize was/is so popular.

To an extent this depends on the type of content you're editing, but not as much as you might think. Blog posts and articles can easily be broken into paragraphs with headings, bullet points, and text boxes, but you can also break up novels, manuscripts, or longer more formal texts.

If you can't physically break up the text you should focus on how different concepts are presented in the copy. You can make big improvements if you ensure a natural, logical flow moving the content along from one point to another. 

So in the end you have something like this:

By cutting unnecessary words and phrases, you immediately make the text more interesting simply because it gets to the point faster. Eliminating complicated jargon shows that the writer knows their stuff (Einstein, remember!), and gets more eyes on the page as more readers can understand it. Breaking up the content, whether visually or contextually, makes for a smoother reading experience.

Copy editing in this way will create a tighter, more concise piece of writing that gets straight to the good stuff instead of putting the onus on the reader to do the work, a natural progression that flows well from one concept to the next in a format that is easy to read and even easier to take in.

And all with an easy framework that you can apply to any type of writing.

Now it's over to you! Have you tried these tips? How did you find them? Do you have any other ideas about how the editing stage can spice up copy writing? Let me know in the comments and if you enjoyed this post please click here to share it on Twitter :)

Four copy writing rules that are wasting your time

Writing content for your blog or business is hard. You have so much to do - from finding ideas to sitting down and writing to copy editing to make it shine. Here are four copy writing rules that you could be wasting your time on. Ditch them forever and start copy writing better and faster! 

Let's face it: writing copy for your business takes long enough already. From mind mapping ideas, to setting aside the time to write, battling perfectionism, and copy editing to get it in tip-top shape, you've got enough on your plate when it comes to writing.

So the last thing you want to do is waste your time following "rules" you picked up along the way that aren't doing anything for you or your content.

I'm a copy editor; I'm pretty keen on my language rules. In helping my clients create great content, I follow zillions of different grammatical rules and editorial authorities to ensure their words reflect the right tone, style, and voice.

But there are some rules I just don't waste my time on. And you shouldn't either. Read on to see the five copy writing rules that you can banish from your brain and your writing forever!

1: Never end a sentence with a preposition

This is a rule that comes from Latin grammar and has never been relevant to English, but it still seems to have forced its way in to general thinking. Prepositions are words that have to do with space and time, such as under, after, before, over, on, from, in, and at.

It is perfectly acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition, and oftentimes it's even necessary. 

- Tell me what this tool is for.

- I asked him where he's from.

- What shoes did you dance in?

All of these are examples of correct sentences ending with a preposition. You might have been told that you should reword or change sentences like this, but it's totally unnecessary. 

2: Never start a sentence with a conjunction

The second myth is that you should never start a sentence with a conjunction. A conjunction is a joining word, such as and, or, but, so, although and because

Sentences that begin with conjunctions occur often in dialogue, reflecting the natural language of conversation. Consider answers to questions starting with "because", or interruptions beginning with "but" or "and". There is no grammatical rule saying that you shouldn't do this, so save yourself some time and don't worry! 

- Because I told you to

- And another thing ... 

- Or you could think about it like this instead

3: Never split infinitives

Oh, the old split infinitives conundrum. Some people (wrongly) insist on it, while others are baffled by what an infinitive even is, let alone noticing or worrying about splitting them. Let's break it down and clear it up for good. 

An infinitive is a two-word form of a verb, such as to play, to read, or to dance.

The most famous split infinitive in pop culture is the famous phrase "to boldly go" from Star Trek, which splits the infinitive "to go" by inserting another word between the two. You've probably heard that you shouldn't do this, but there is no sound grammatical reason not to. 

You won't find  a reputable style guide that takes issue with split infinitives, so boldly go and break that particular "rule"!

4: Never use a singular "they"

This one is perhaps the most contentious; some very strict style guides might prefer you avoid using a singular "they", but the majority of linguistic authorities agree that it's a useful tool. This is a great example of language change, and highlights the way that different attitudes and issues affect the way we speak.

It's acceptable to use "they" as a gender neutral singular pronoun. It saves the inelegance of using a "he/she" construction, and is useful when gender specific language is inappropriate, or when a person's gender is unknown. 

- If your child wants to learn, they will do well at our school.

- An accountant should be accurate with their calculations.

Have you followed these rules in your copy writing? Are you surprised or relieved to hear you can forget about them? Let me know in the comments, and check back next week for four rules you definitely should be following now you have space for them!

Copy Editing Q&A: How can I get my client more involved?

Today's question is a good one: How much should you involve your client in the copy editing process if you're providing services to them? It can be tempting to have them approve every change you make, especially if you're just starting out and want validation, but this can be a huge time suck for you and for them. I show you the only two systems you need to set up for client involvement in copy editing, and how to handle the rest!

Hello guys! This week we're going in a new direction with the Editing Q&A series with a great question about client involvement from Amanda of Rough Draft Solutions.

I haven't spoken much about working with clients, because so far my focus has been on giving you all the tools and information you need to learn and develop your editing skills to a high level. What you do with those skills, whether you use them for your own content or go out to serve clients, is something I haven't yet talked about.

Until today! So read on for my best tips for working with clients, and the two crucial processes I think you absolutely need to have systems for.

Let's dig in!

Question:

I have a love of communication - understanding why we communicate the way we do, effective communication practices, and helping others improve the way they communicate. Pair that with my love of writing and editing, and you have a content marketing specialist!

What tips do you have for getting the client more involved in the editing process? Sometimes a client is very involved and up for using Track Changes [a feature in Word] etc., but then other clients don't participate at all. 

Sometimes I worry they aren't closely reviewing the content. I prefer to know that they have checked it and are entirely happy! I currently ask for reviews, suggest using Track Changes and give specific due dates. What else do you suggest?

Answer:

This is a really good question because when you're providing services to other people, you need to nail down your working processes. When I think about my own clients, each has a different level of involvement, but each only gets involved when they really have to.

You don't pass off a piece of work, or hire an expert, because you want to get involved in the small details yourself. You hand out the job and expect that it's done to the right standard. If your client finds that your work doesn't meet this standard, that's a new conversation and a blog topic for another day. But assuming everything is good, I'd say you don't need your client to get too involved, and in fact I'd go further: you don't really want them to get too involved. 

Endless back and forths and unnecessary revisions aren't to anyone's benefit - if your client trusts you as the expert they hired and they're happy to let you do the work unhindered, and they don't pick over every detail and they don't ask for tons of revisions, I'd say you've found the dream client! 

There are two reasons you could be looking for validation: either you're underconfident in your own work and won't be satisfied until your client signs off on your edits, or you haven't quite got the necessary systems in place to make the project run smoothly.

But that's easily fixed!

There are two processes you need to systemise for client involvement: 

1. If they do review your changes closely and aren't satisfied 

2. If you have any queries about the content that need clarification

Creating systems for these scenarios is necessary and a lot easier than you might think. 

If your client isn't satisfied with your work, offer one round of revisions based on their comments. Just be careful with this: if you've made lots of preferential edits, then the client can have their opinion on subjective changes, but if you've been following a style guide and making necessary and correct edits, be wary of occasional clients who demand explanations for things that they're confused about.

In that case, you need to assert yourself as the expert and explain in broad terms that you've made changes to bring the content up to standard English and correct usage according to the agreed style. Levels of preferential and subjective changes you should be making deserve a whole discussion of their own, so I'll leave that there.

For the second scenario, if something is unclear in the content or you have concerns or questions, you need to approach the client in a professional and streamlined way, making it as easy as possible for them to provide you with the information you need. 

Sounds like I need a template, do I hear you cry? I hope so! A standard query sheet is the best, most effective way to list your questions all in one go, and avoid strings of emails that get lost in the noise of your and your client's inbox.

FREEBIE! I've put together a step-by-step guide to creating your own query template. 

So to round up, your client process might look something like this:

1. Agree the project specifications and deadlines

2. Use a query sheet if necessary

3. Offer a round of revisions in the event the client isn't satisfied

4. Send out a standardised feedback form for testimonials

I said before, most of my clients only get involved when they have to, in the events of points 2 and 3 above.

Quiet clients are by no means a bad thing; you should take it as a sign of trust in your professionalism. As long as you have systems in place where you need them, you deliver on time and receive good feedback, then you should consider that you've completed a very successful copy editing project!

Big thanks to Amanda for her great question. Check out her bio below and if you enjoyed this post please click here to share it on Twitter :)

My mission is to save the world from mediocre writing, one business at a time. At Rough Draft Solutions, I specialise in writing professional and engaging content for websites, blogs, newsletters, brochures, etc. When I'm not working I'm hanging out with my husband, renovating our house, relaxing in a coffee shop or dreaming about our next vacation!

Copy Editing Q&A: How much editing do I actually need to do?

Proofreading and copy editing can be confusing processes for a lot of writers and bloggers, but they don't need to be! In this post, I walk you through what you do and don't need to do to make sure that all your hard work pays off for you and your readers.

Welcome back to another instalment of our Editing Q&A series! These posts have been so much fun to write as I get to know all of you and your businesses better, and I'm getting great feedback so it's fab to hear they're proving useful!

Today I'm talking to Margaret, founder of Paper Mill Lane, a site devoted to readers and writers of fiction.

Margaret has a great question about how much editing is really necessary, and how to avoid the temptation to get sidetracked into changing too much. 

Let's get started!

Question

Writing and editing require using the brain in different ways. Sometimes when I need to edit, what I really want to do is write. Switching gears can be difficult. I let myself write a bit of flash fiction when that happens, so that I can quiet the urge to draft and focus on the editing work.

I know that developmental editing strays a bit from copy editing, but it's part of my process. Do other editors work the same way? Do they find it difficult to ignore developmental editing or is it easy to focus on copy editing and proofreading?

Answer

I just want to start with a quick note: if you're confused by the different types of editing Margaret is asking about, check out this post where I break them all down. 

This is such a great question because figuring out an order to your editing process, so that you're not just winging it depending on what your eyes notice, is something lots of people struggle with. More than anything, this question seems to be an issue of timing and structure. 

So here's the crucial thing - developmental editing comes before any writing takes place. I hesitate to get too feminine with my examples, but think of it like the primer you apply before your foundation, when you're getting your face ready for the next thing. Developmental editing happens before any writing is done, getting the framework and the concept primed for the content to come. 

Developmental editing is important; most people probably do it unthinkingly as part of the overall writing process. If you've ever drafted out ideas, frameworks, or drafts, chopped and changed things, and considered the best way to present your ideas, you've dabbled in developmental editing. 

Of course, like anything in language, this isn't a hard-and-fast rule, but to clear up the different stages of editing, it's how I'd encourage you to think of it.

Developmental editing can take place once the writing is finished, but then it becomes a much bigger undertaking. Have you ever tried to plan out an essay after you've already written it? If you change the framework once the work is finished, it will take a lot of dismantling to reposition everything to fit the new plan. Developmental editing is always better done first. 

Why having a workflow is so important

So back to the question: do editors get tempted to do two things at once? I'm going to say no. 

That's not because we're not sometimes itching to make lots of changes, but because professional editors have a workflow and a method that they stick to. Editing is a process with steps to follow, not a walk into the dark with tempting distractions on all sides. 

And there's no reason why this can't be you! All you need is a method. In my upcoming course, Conquer Copy Editing, I'm going to show you how to create personalised, tailored workflows designed specifically to you and the way that you work. Check it out for your free copy editing checklist and to get updates on launch day.

Many thanks to Margaret for her great question! Check out her bio below and don't forget to leave us your comments :)

Margaret McNellis holds an MA in Creative Writing with a fiction concentration. She is a member of Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honors Society, and the National Society for Leadership and Success, as well as several literary societies. She is the founder and owner of Paper Mill Lane, a site for writers and readers of fiction. 

Copy Editing Q&A: What should I keep and what should I cut?

What should I cut?

I'm really excited to bring you the second post in the Editing Q&A series. This week I'm taking to Jenn from Creative Boundless about her writing and editing process. Jenn specialises in graphic design and runs a blog for creative emerging artists.

Her question is about redundancies; how should we decide what to keep and what to cut when copy editing?

This is a great topic, because we all know that good writing should be clear and concise, but sometimes it can be hard to weigh up what to keep and what to get rid of to tighten up the text and keep it interesting.

Hopefully my answers can help. Let's dive in!

Question

I think that having a plan for creating and editing content is extremely important. I have a little formula that helps with my process: plan + research + evaluate = content. My planning and research go together. I use Google alerts and forums to stay on top of hot topics. I'm all about site optimisation. 

Next, I create bullet points of the most important element of each paragraph I plan to write. I use a checklist to structure my blog posts which helps me make sure I incorporate pictures, my title, keywords, links, and a bio. 

The final step is making sure every detail makes sense. Is the picture placed properly? Is my newsletter opt-in appealing enough? Did I spell check everything? Did I ask the right questions of my audience? I always check that I've included enough content to suit my readers' needs. 

When it comes to editing, sometimes you never know if you have too much or too little information. How do you know which elements are important to keep and which are redundant and should be deleted?

Answer

I think Jenn has a great grasp of what it takes to create and edit high quality content. I love her formula for content creation and the fact that she knows she needs a good method. She even incorporates a checklist into the process, which is a really good tip. It's so important to have a system that you can repeat every time - if you don't have this down already, it's the best place to start.

Copy editors use checklists precisely because they're so customisable; when you know what you struggle with it's easier to create a safety net so you don't get caught out. When thinking about cleaning up a text, you should identify specific redundancies and add them to the checklist to make sure you catch them every time. 

So how do we identify the elements that we should be cutting from our content?

FREEBIE! Get my top ten list of redundancies to watch out for. Just sign up to grab it below.

Words or phrases that make you sound uncertain

In the online world, we tend to write like we speak, in an effort to create content that is conversational, approachable, and friendly. Generally, that's a good approach to making sure your personality shines through your blog.

But there are pitfalls to watch out for, because listening and reading are two different things, just as speaking and writing are. With writing, you get to polish what you produce to enhance the readers' experience. 

The best way to enhance the text to provide clarity is to get rid of any words or phrases that imply uncertainty. Instead of "I kind of think that most writers should be interested in editing" say "I think that writers should be interested in editing". Qualifiers (often adjectives and adverbs) can be deleted most of the time to produce clearer, more authoritative content. 

Duplicated or fluffy content

The second thing to watch out for is duplicated or wordy content. Have you said the same thing twice? Are you dancing around a point that you're too scared to make? (This happens a lot around pricing, when people feel the need to use a lot of words to justify their price point.)

Make sure to tighten your sentences. Are long sentences necessary to convey a detailed point in your writing, or are you using lots of "fluffy" words that can be deleted in order to get to the point faster?

I use a tool called WordCounter which highlights the frequency of specific words in your content. If you use the same word or phrase several times, this tool will help you catch it. 

A great way to check for duplicated or fluffy content is to go through the text asking yourself the question "have I said what I need to say in the easiest way?" Have you led the reader straight to the point without sending them round the houses with unnecessary tangents?

When it comes to copy editing, those are the sorts of things that you should get rid of to tighten up the writing and maintain your readers' interest.

What should I keep?

We've looked at what sorts of things to get rid of, but what kind of content should you always keep? I'm sure we've all been guilty of churning out super long blog posts, or struggled to keep to a wordcount in an essay, or the draft of an ebook or sales page. 

You want to tighten up any text that goes on too long and is at risk of losing readers' attention. But you don't want to cut out the personality and tone to the writing that you or the author spent so long fine tuning. 

You need the "cut or keep" test. Use this mini checklist to identify and keep any content that:

  • Provides essential details or makes a key point
  • Contributes to the overall tone and style of the piece 
  • Joins different ideas or concepts together to create flow

FREEBIE! Don't forget to get your hands on my top ten list for tidying up a document. Download it below.

Big thanks to Jenn for her great question! Make sure to check out her bio below and if you enjoyed this post I'd really appreciate it if you'd click here to share it on Twitter :)

Hi! My name is Jenn and I'm from Winnipeg, one of the coldest cities in Canada. I specialise in graphic design and run my own art shows, as well as my blog, Creative Boundless, which is aimed at helping creative emerging artists. I'm currently welcoming potential guest posters so feel free to get in touch!

Copy Editing Q&A: How can I make sure I catch every mistake?

Welcome to the Editing Q&A series, where I answer questions from writers, bloggers, and business owners all about copy editing their content. Today Virtual Assistant Sara asks, how can I make sure I catch every mistake when I'm editing? Read on to find out my answer!

I'm so excited to kick off my Editing Q&A series with virtual assistant Sara Duggan. In this series, I'm chatting to writers, bloggers, and business owners to really delve deep into copy editing and answer questions and offer solutions to different pain points.

Sara is starting us off with a frustration I'm sure we can all relate to: how can we make sure we catch every mistake?

Let's get started!

Question

Since 2007 I've written and edited a lot of content, including two e-books. I provide virtual assistant services to small businesses and bloggers, and I specialise in blog management, social media, and auto responder management.

My content creation process looks like this: I write, edit, send it through Grammarly,  edit again, and finally format for online reading. 

My number one frustration is not finding all of the mistakes before I hit publish. Even after manually editing and using a resource like Grammarly, days after publication I still find little things that need to be changed.

Why do we gloss over mistakes that are so blatantly in our face?

Answer

I think Sara's question is something we can all identify with.  I want to explain the very scientific reason behind this (it's not a human flaw; it's biology!) and provide some creative suggestions as actionable solutions. 

1. Leave it overnight (it's science!)

Writing and editing utilise different parts of the brain. If you're editing something you've written yourself, you need to give yourself time in between switching tasks to give your brain a rest. Looking at something with "fresh eyes" isn't an editorial cliche; it's a biological truth. 

I know this can be time-sensitive, but the best thing you can do when you've finished writing something is not to start immediately editing - it's to leave it overnight. 

2. Have a method

No one wants to make their jobs longer, and I understand that you might be reluctant to wait 12 hours as you distance yourself from "creation mode". Just like anything else in your business, you need a system for content creation that works for you.

Sara has quite a rigorous process for copy editing; she edits once, uses software, then edits manually again. What I love about this is that she's not relying solely on the software to catch every mistake (news flash y'all, spell and grammar checks are not enough!) and she gives editing the time it deserves. 

My tip would be to mix up the methods she uses each time she manually edits. There are lots of ways to force yourself to slow down, which helps us catch smaller issues that we often gloss over. 

Try reading each sentence out of order, from the bottom up. That way, your brain doesn't know what to expect next, and you'll pay closer attention to each word. You could read aloud, or even change up the format you're reading in (hard copy/on mobile/on screen).

FREEBIE! I've put together a list of different editing methods, so you can try them all and find out what works best for you and the way you work.

3. Don't be a perfectionist

This might sound counter intuitive, but being a perfectionist can cause more problems than it solves.

Detailed and methodical copy editing is necessary if you want to produce high quality content. But, and especially if you're self-editing, it can be tempting to take it too far and end up over-editing or turning the process into a complete rewrite. This ties into having a method: if you nail this down properly, it will help you know where and when to stop.

This is so important! There will always be something that could be tweaked or changed. If it isn't a glaring error, it could be sentence structure or syntax, or being indecisive about titles and headings. 

Find your method, follow it, and edit well. But recognise that tweaks can be made until the end of time, and sometimes "good" really is "good enough". 

FREEBIE! I've put together a list of different editing methods, so you can try them all and find out what works best for you and the way you work.

Many thanks to Sara for her excellent question! Check out her bio below and if you enjoyed this post please click here to share it on Twitter :)

Hi! I'm Sara. I help smart bloggers, podcasters, business owners, and internet marketers behind-the-scenes with their blogs, auto responders and social media. I enjoy brainstorming content ideas, and researching keywords and hashtags. In my spare time, I enjoy watching Korean dramas and spending time with my husband.

Are you advocating for your customers?

Are you advocating for your clients and customers when it comes to putting out content? It's so easy to get excited about the products and services we offer when it comes to telling the world. But you could be missing out on big results if you don't take the time to consider things from your readers' perspective. Read on to find out how copy editing your content can be the best thing you ever do for your audience!

As online business owners, we put out a lot of information. We want our clients and customers to understand how we can help them, we want to inform, educate and advise on our particular zones of genius. We want to be recognised as the stand out authority in our fields; we want to be the first name that comes to mind when our target market wants answers to the specific problems we solve. 

So we put out content. We write blog posts. We create informative sales pages. We make ebooks, courses, offer services, and get our brand noticed on social media. After all, in the words of the great Gary V: in 2016, every company is a media company.

But it's not enough to simply tell people what you do and what you offer; you have to make sure that what you're putting out is something they want and need to hear. You have to add a step to your content creation process where you actively advocate for your audience. Think of it as quality control.

that stage is called copy editing.

Wait, you might say. I edit my content: I run a spell check and I proofread for typos. In this day and age, where we all consume so much so fast, editing isn't as important as it is for traditional publishing, or for dry, boring, academic industries. My readers will forgive the odd misplaced apostrophe, and anything more than a quick spell check isn't worth my time.

This is missing the point. Copy editing goes a lot deeper than making sure grammar and spelling is spot on. Good copy editing actually helps you advocate for your readers, clients, and customers.

How?

When you write something, whatever it is, from a book to a sales page to a product description, you're talking about yourself. However much you explain the benefits to your reader, you're selling yourself, your products, and your services. It's all (naturally and quite rightly) coming from you.

Copy editing on the other hand, flips this process around. When you stand back to edit your content, you're approaching it from the perspective of the reader, and this can be very insightful. 

Read on for three key questions you can ask during your copy editing process that turns you into an expert advocate for your audience.

Does it make sense if I'm a total newcomer to the subject?

Copy editors read for sense. We make sure that the themes and ideas that readers are introduced to flow seamlessly from one paragraph to the next.

Ask yourself whether what you're reading would make sense to someone who knows next to nothing about your subject. If you're not making your content accessible, you're not acting in the best interests of your readers. Of course, specific niches might assume a certain level of proficiency with the topic (computer science for example!), but generally speaking, your ideas should make sense to newbies.

This also helps you keep your language in check. Jargon is out, guys. Did you know that magazines and many daily newspapers are written using language aimed at 10 and 11 year olds? That's not to say the topics they cover aren't sophisticated; just that they write about them in a simple, uncomplicated way.

There's a reason for this: it works!

Is there a good reason I should keep reading?

Copy editing monitors effectiveness. If your content is repetitive or only scratches the surface, if it leaves unanswered questions or provides no value, well, that's not good for your customers, is it?

If you know me, you know I love getting straight to the point, but never is this more true than in your writing. Don't give readers lots of fluff to cut through (because they won't stick around) - show them a good solid reason why they should give you their time. 

Make it interesting or informative; ideally both. Advocate for your audience by editing out boring lists of facts and features, and paint a user-friendly picture of the benefits of your subject. 

Good copy writing is all about storytelling; make sure you're writing a story worthy of being told.

Is it clear and unambiguous?

A copy editor makes sure that the core message is clear and unambiguous. Sometimes we can get so excited about getting our ideas across that we over complicate them or fail to present them in the clearest light.

Make sure that there isn't a conflicting message or contradictory advice. You want your clients and customers to come away enlightened, not confused. Flipping the perspective by copy editing with your reader in mind is the fail safe way to catch any slips that might lose them along the way.

It's really important to make sure that any next steps you want your readers to take are explicitly clear. Don't use hesitating language to direct them to your call to action; be bold, be direct, and leave your audience with no confusion as to what they should do next.

And that's it!

Copy editing is an integral part of content creation, for all kinds of reasons (just check out my other posts to learn more) but at the end of the day, anything that benefits your customer benefits you as well.

Now over to you! I'd love to hear how you ensure that you advocate for your clients and customers in your business. Drop me a note in the comments, and if you enjoyed this post please click here to share it on Twitter :)

 

Three things any text should be in order to make an impact

You know you need to produce content to get noticed. But how do you make sure that your copy writing is making an impact on your readers? I'm showing you the three things that any piece of content should be in order to make a good impression and get you noticed for all the right reasons. Let's get started!

Last week, I talked all about why you should be thinking about publishing if you want to become an authority in your industry. 

That's all well and good, but what kinds of things should you be publishing, and what steps do you need to take to ensure that anything you're putting out there builds authority with your readers?

Today I'll show you three things that make a text stand out as credible to readers. 

You can apply these principles whether you're writing or editing; if you're starting from scratch make sure your content ticks these three boxes, and if you're editing you can use these guidelines as a framework to drive your approach.

FREEBIE! Before we get started, download my free checklist which covers all the questions you should make sure that your content answers. Grab it below.

Be specific

The best way to become known for nothing is to try to become known for everything. No one is good at everything. One thing I've learned is that self awareness is the biggest skill an entrepreneur can have; it takes a deep understanding of your personality and your abilities to successfully run your own business. 

So what do you do? What are you the expert in? What experience do you have that makes you trustworthy? What do you know about your topic? If you're editing, make sure that these questions are answered in the content - if they're not, there's room for improvement. 

Your content should be focused and specific. That doesn't mean always writing the same thing; the more perspectives and angles you can approach it from the more you get to demonstrate your knowledge, and the more value you'll bring. Which brings me to the next point: being generous.

Be generous 

One of the biggest questions I hear when it comes to providing value to your audience is "how much should I give away for free?" Lots of people seem to struggle to get the balance right. You want your ideal customers to buy your product or service, but they're not going to part with their hard earned cash unless you've proved yourself worthy of it.

Business today has never been more personal. Customers want to have a relationship with their favourite brands. They want to know who you are, what you're about, and why they should get excited about you. If you want to connect with your ideal tribe, then you have to get to know them, and provide them with a way to get to know who you are.

You do this by being super generous with your knowledge. Don't hold back. Solve the problems that you know your readers struggle with. Explain and simplify the difficult ideas you know they want to learn about. If you give your best stuff away for free, you'll leave them wondering what incredible value your paid products and services have, and they have extra incentive to get their hands on them!

Be genuine

If you don't care about your product or service, it's going to show. If your personality is bubbly and excitable, don't try to write in a way that's dry and over-professional. Likewise if you're usually more reserved, don't pimp up your writing and plug it full of girlfriend speak, because it will look contrived and make your readers feel awkward.

Of course, you should write for your audience, and keep the tone appropriate, but if you have a genuine relationship with the people you serve, and a good understanding of what they want and need, this should come naturally.

The best way to alienate readers and make potential clients or customers run for the hills is to be fake, disinterested or even try too hard to be perfect. We're all human; if your writing makes you sound like a perfect superhero (not genuine) who excels at everything (not specific) and but doesn't quite go into detail about how (not generous), then your content isn't going to make the impact you're hoping for.

So get specific, be generous with what you know, and show your readers who you really are.

FREEBIE! Download my free checklist covering all the questions to ask when writing or editing content that makes an impact.

Do you make sure that content you work with targets a specific niche? How much of your knowledge do you share with your readers? Let me know in comments, and if you enjoyed this post please click here to share it on Twitter :)

 

 

 

Why you should care about publishing if you want to become an authority in your industry

We all want to become the go-to resource in our industry. Nowadays, every company is a media company, meaning you need to be putting out high-quality content to get recognised as an expert in your field. This means planning, writing, copy editing, and publishing your content. Read on to find out how this can be an easier process than you ever imagined! It just takes a little preparation...

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to go to Daniel Priestley's Brand Accelerator conference in London. It was an incredible day, packed full of great speakers. If you don't know about the Key Person of Influence method, it sets out five steps to becoming a credible expert: knowing your pitch, publishing content, creating great products, raising your profile and partnering with other people and businesses.

Unsurprisingly, I want to talk about the second step: publishing.

If you're in business, you need to care about publishing. Whether that's traditional publishing, self publishing, or just hitting "post" on your blog, I'm sure you've heard the adage that "every company is a media company" - meaning that you need to be producing content to stand out as an authority in your field.

There are three main stages to creating and publishing any type of content: planning, writing, and editing. 

And it doesn't have to be as hard as it sounds. Read on for my best advice for coming up with an idea, getting it done, and adding the crucial finishing touches that lead to publishing success.

FREEBIE! I've made a Mini Guide to Copy Editing to help you put the final polish on anything you create. Download it below.

Planning

Getting started is often the hardest part. It's like pushing a ball down a hill; once it gets going it picks up pace, but getting it over the top to start with can be hard work. 

1. Keep a list

Use a notebook, the notes feature on your phone, or even something more sophisticated like Evernote. I know that for me, inspiration strikes at the most inconvenient time (usually in the middle of the night when my brain won't settle down and sleep) and while you might think you'll remember, it's far safer to jot it down somewhere. Refer to your list for new ideas whenever you come to start writing.

2. Read

If you want to be an authority, you'd better know your stuff. Subscribe to blogs that are relevant to your field, keep abreast of industry news, and stay in the loop of what people are talking about. This is good for two reasons: you can't be an expert with your head in the sand, and reading up on different topics is often a great source of inspiration. 

3. Talk to the people you serve

Whatever you're writing, it should solve a problem. What's the best way to help people? Know what they're struggling with! Publishing gives you authority, but it shouldn't set you apart from the people you're helping; you should be as engaged with your audience as possible. Only by knowing what they struggle with can you effectively provide them with value. 

Writing

So now that you have an idea planned out, it's time to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and really make it happen. There are three ways to make this far easier than I'm sure you thought it could be!

1. Set yourself time

Starting any writing project can seem overwhelming. But you'll accomplish more than you imagine if you set dedicated time in your schedule for writing. Even an hour a day can add up; as you get deeper into your content you'll start to work more quickly, and you'll soon get into your stride.

2. Don't aim for perfection

When you first start writing, it has to be a judgement-free zone. You'll be paralysed from making progress if every time you write a sentence or paragraph you go back over it and fuss about making it perfect. Make a big brain dump of all your thoughts, follow the tangents, write without over thinking and get everything out of your head and down onto the page. 

3. Organise

Once you've finished your brain dump, organise the pieces. Delete what you don't need, create sections and headings and re-order your thoughts. Once you've assembled a structure, take what you've written and tease it out into something resembling a first draft. 

Editing

My favourite step! Editing is a necessary last step before you ever hit publish. It's about more than just catching typos or the odd misplaced comma; good copy editing files away the rough edges so your readers are left with a smooth, polished piece that's a pleasure to read.

1. Don't edit straight away

If you're self-editing, the absolute best thing you can do before you start is sleep on it. I can't stress this enough. You need to put some distance between you and the text, particularly if you've written it yourself. Writing and editing activate two different parts of the brain, and over-familiarity with the content will hinder your ability to switch - best to leave it overnight.

2. Have a method

Everyone works differently, and this is definitely true when it comes to editing. Copy editing involves everything from making sure ideas flow logically, to fact checking, to the nitty gritty of grammar and punctuation. There's no doubt that it's detailed, focussed work, and everyone approaches this differently. Know how you work best, what specific techniques you find most useful, and what method you'll use for this final process. To find out more about this step, click here.

3. Don't take it too far

Over editing can be just as bad as not editing at all. It's a fine balance. Your text should be recognisable from where you started - editing should not involve a complete re-write (you'd address that in the writing stage if necessary). There should always be an end in sight, even if this means putting your perfectionist back inside his or her box!

FREEBIE! I've made a Mini Guide to Copy Editing to get you started with this last step, and help you create clear, compelling content you can be proud to publish anywhere.

Have you heard of the Key Person of Influence method? Are you a media business? I'd love to hear how you take this advice and work it into your own business. Let me know in the comments! If you enjoyed this post please click here to share it on Twitter :)

Why you should check more than just your words when copy editing your content

What do you think of when you think of copy editing? Checking spelling, grammar, and punctuation? These are all relevant, but there are three things that are often overlooked when it comes to editing and proofreading that are super important! Read on to find out why you should check more than just your words when copy editing your content.

Copy editing is about more than just words. In fact, there are several aspects of good copy editing that are often overlooked once all the language is in place.

Your words are perfect, your punctuation is spot on, and your paragraphs flow from one to the next with all the grace and poise of synchronised swimmers. I took that too far didn't I? Never mind! The point is that quite often when you think you've finished editing, there can be some things that get left overlooked.

Read on to see the top three mistakes I see that shriek "don't hit publish just yet!"

FREEBIE! I've put together a checklist of all the non-textual elements you should be checking before publishing any piece of content. Download it below.

Visuals

Your text might be out of this world, but combine it with a poor layout and indecipherable graphics and everything that makes it amazing falls to pieces when readers are faced with a hot visual mess. 

You know all about breaking up big blocks of text with relevant headings and bullet points to make it easier to read. You know you should add images where possible to catch the eye and/or summarise main points. 

But once all this is plugged into place, are you double checking? Are the images in the correct place to fit the context? Is your visual style consistent - think fonts, capitalisation, and any formatting choices such as bold, underlines, or italics. Are colours what they should be for all the different elements? 

Go back over your content and ignore all the language: just check that all the visuals are clear and consistent. 

Functionality

So your copy is perfect, your visuals are cohesive, now what about the functionality of the piece? If you're publishing something online, chances are you'll have external links, signup forms, click to tweets, downloadable content, embedded media such as video or audio, or even a checkout cart where you can take payments for products.

It can be time consuming to check everything, but it's important to make sure that everything's working as it should be. The consequences of bad functionality could be anything from your readers being unable to access your content, to being unable to sign up for your offer, to being unable to purchase your product or service. Making sure all the parts are in full working order will have a serious effect on your bottom line. 

Put yourself in your readers' shoes and make sure that everything you want them to be able to do is in full working order.

Legal and facts

The final things that are often overlooked are facts that need verifying and terms and conditions that have legal implications. You should always make details clear in the small print, and back up any claims with legitimate external sources where possible. As an editor, it's your responsibility to make sure these things have been done.

Some examples I've seen are promotions and giveaways. If someone's running a contest with a physical prize, can it be shipped worldwide or does it not apply to every country? Other things like statistics, facts, figures, claims - all these need to be backed up properly. This isn't just to make it more convincing, but to save you or the author from getting into any messy legal complications. Always make sure all your ducks are in a row!

A big part of editing is often background research and fact checking. Don't get so caught up in the small stuff (the language) that you forget to zoom out and check for accuracy, honesty, and full disclosure.

FREEBIE! I've put together a checklist of all the non-textual elements you should be checking before publishing any piece of content. Download it below.

Have you ever been caught off guard by one of these things? Do you have a system in place to make sure you run through all the working parts when copy editing content? I'd love to hear about it! Drop me your thoughts in the comments, and if you enjoyed this post please click here to share it on Twitter :)

How to use scrums and sprints to organise all your projects

The Scrum Method

It's not at all like me to get excited about organisation techniques. I am definitely not the sort of girl who goes wild for planners (hell, I have one and I forget to even use it). Let's just say that organisation is a constant and mostly self-inflicted struggle. 

So when I heard about the Scrum method, I immediately got curious. Especially when I heard about "sprints" that last roughly a week. (A week! Even I can manage to be organised for a week!)

If you're anything like me, you fall down in either one of two places when it comes to tackling your to-do list.

1. Knowing where to start and prioritising all your big ideas

2. Staying focused, meeting deadlines, and seeing it through to completion

That's why I really love this method. With scrums and sprints, you choose specific tasks from your backlog (we'll get to it, it's not scary), and then work hard in short, intensive bursts to complete your projects. Sound good? Let's see how it works.

1. Your backlog (aka your really long to-do list)

Scrum is a method that comes from Agile software development, so if you're familiar with the software industry, you might already have heard of it. The first place to start is by creating your "backlog", which is just tech-speak for your to-do list. 

You are the product owner (you don't need a product, it just means you create the vision for whatever you're trying to achieve) and you should break down your project into all the tiny baby steps you'll need to take in order to get it done. 

These steps, or items on your to-do list, become your backlog and the basis for the next part of the process.

FREEBIE! I've put together a cheat sheet laying out the exact process to follow to use the scrum method for any type of project. Download it below.

2. Scrums

"Scrum" is a term from rugby, describing the formation the players make when they get together to restart the game. As a project management system, Scrum helps you kickstart all your projects, just like rugby players kickstart their games. It's a cyclical process that goes round and round and becomes more refined each time. Grab this week's cheat sheet to see how that works.

So now that you have your backlog, it's time to prioritise what needs doing first.

I break my backlog down into sections - the more detailed you can get with it the better - and choose certain sections or groups of items to work on. For example, I've been using scrum to keep organised when creating my upcoming copy editing course

I group together content creation for all the lessons in module one, and turn it into a sprint. Then all the pieces of supplementary material I need to make (workbooks, checklists, etc.). That becomes another sprint. I also use it for blog posts, social media scheduling, client work, literally anything and everything.

You might be working from a master backlog for a big project, and you can pick off sections or items from it during your scrums, narrowing it down until there's nothing left but your completed product or goal. Magic!

3. Sprints

Then it's on to the action stage! What I really love about sprints is their time limit. A sprint shouldn't be more than a week long, or two at a push. The whole idea behind this method is to break things into manageable, bite size chunks, and work for a short burst of time to get them done. 

During your sprints, you shouldn't be distracted by any other ideas or tasks. Of course, we all juggle multiple things, but the point of the scrum is to set your focus for the duration of the sprint, and you shouldn't deviate from that if you can help it. 

Note that sprints should never be extended. At the end of the week, you should have a sprint review, where you look at what worked and what didn't, and anything that's holding you back from moving forward. If you didn't get everything done, ask why? 

Did you set unrealistic expectations for the amount of time? Did something come up that needs addressing or adding to the backlog? Sprint reviews are really important because it shows you any holes in the process and lets you adjust accordingly without wasting too much time.

4. A few final things

I've described how I have adapted and used Scrum for my own  business. Officially, there are usually three parties involved: the product owner (you), the scrum master (your assistant/project manager) and your team (employees). 

If you have a larger team, or even just a VA, Scrum is awesome because it facilitates excellent communication between everybody, at every stage of the project.

You as the product owner take your ideas and create the backlog, your scrum master organises the scrums and your team or employees carry out the sprints. Daily scrums and weekly sprint reviews ensure that everyone's kept on track, and any issues are quickly ironed out.

I love how adaptable this is, for every stage of business. If you're a solopreneur, you can use your backlog (to-do list) to break down large projects into manageable pieces that you prioritise (scrums) into short intensive working periods (sprints). 

If you do have a team, it gets even better because you can delegate your scrums, while still maintaining a clear overview of the entire process.

Either way, it really helps avoid the two issues of overwhelm (or not knowing where to start), and burnout (giving up before it's finished because you worked on too much at once). 

FREEBIE! I've put together a cheat sheet laying out the exact process to follow to use the scrum method for any type of project. Download it below.

Do you already use this method? Will you be giving it a try? If you're familiar with Scrum and you have any tips or tricks I'd love to hear from you in the comments, and if you enjoyed this post, please click here to share it on Twitter :)

The anatomy of editing an article

The anatomy of editing an article or blog post. Do you ever wonder how copy editors avoid overwhelm? We break it down! I'll show you step-by-step how to approach editing any piece of content, from an article, to a blog post, a sales page or a book. Plus a free template of all the moving parts that you can refer to again and again!

How do editors do it? How do they avoid the overwhelm of facing hundreds or thousands of words and working their magic to make sure each and every one of them is in the right place and used in the right way?

I'll let you in on a little secret: we break it down.

Every editor has his or her own methods, but today I'm going to show you how to start at the top. Literally.

I'll take you through the basic approach to editing an article, but you can use this method for anything: a blog post, a chapter, a sales page - any piece of copy at all. Let's get started!

Titles

If you're lucky enough to be editing something that's complete - not a rough draft, for example - the structure of the text should be your guide. An editor's job is to take in the whole, but to do this, you have to analyse each part and see how it fits. You can think of it like a jigsaw puzzle - you have to look at each piece carefully to come together to make the final product.

So with this in mind, begin at the top. Does the title make sense? Is it spelled and punctuated correctly? Keep referring back to it as you read through the rest of the peice; if the title doesn't reflect the content of the article, it might need to be changed.

FREEBIE! Do you want to see how all the pieces fit together? I've created a printable template of all the individual parts to help you break down your content and avoid the overwhelm!

Paragraphs

Next, we get into the meat of the text - the paragraphs. Take these slowly, and one by one. It's much easier to work through the copy if you look at each paragraph as its own complete unit. Once you're happy you've finished one, move on to the next. When you've gone through them all, consider the big picture the text is trying to paint. Do the concepts and ideas flow together nicely? Does anything need shuffling around? Has anything been repeated that you need to cut out?

Headings

Headings are like mini titles, and you should focus on each one separately. Headings serve to break up the text and maintain the readers' interest. Are they laid out in appropriate places in relation to the paragraphs? Are they worded in such a way to persuade the reader to continue? Is the style of all the headings consistent throughout?

Sections

Sections can include bullet point breaks, images, text in highlighted boxes or any part of the content that otherwise stands out. A big thing to watch out for here is consistency: are bullet point lists all formatted the same way? Look out for inconsistent punctuation and capitalisation. 

You should also reflect on the placement of sections or paragraphs. Are there any paragraphs that would be better broken down into a section of some sort? Lengthy lists are often better as bullet points. Summaries can be highlighted in text boxes. Consider the overall layout of the content and the best way to break it up to be more digestible.

Images

It can be really easy to overlook images because they're usually not part of the text. But pay careful attention to the pictures and graphics that are used. Are they appropriate? Are they understandable at a glance? An image should easily and clearly illustrate the text or a main point - readers aren't going to scrutinise them. You don't want to let a quality peice of content down by the poor use of graphics. And don't forget to check the captions! Consider them mini sections and make sure they're useful and value packed. Redundant content should be deleted.

You should also consider placement and positioning. Do the images take over (too big, too bold) or are they used strategically to break up big chunks of text and highlight or summarise the main points?

Links

By this point you should be almost done! If you're working on web content, before you finalise you should check that any links redirect to the right place. Do they open in a new page? Is it clear where a reader should click (are links highlighted, part of an image etc.)? Are there any missing or broken links? And last but not least, is everything being referred to relevant to the article at hand? If you're going to redirect your readers it should be for a good reason; don't send them on a digital goose chase.

FREEBIE! Do you want to see how all the pieces fit together? I've created a printable template of all the individual parts to help you break down your content and avoid the overwhelm!

Once you've looked individually at all the pieces, it's time to zoom out and think big picture. How does it all tie together? Does anything need changing, deleting, adding, or moving around? It's great to focus in small detail on getting the language and grammar right, but a good editor also knows how to step back and consider the best way to blend everything together to enhance the clarity and purpose of the text.

That doesn't have to be scary; you can even print it out, divide it into the pieces I've gone through above, take the scissors to it, and physically juggle things around until you've found a structure that flows better. As I said, every editor will have their own method, and you just need to find what works for you!

I'd love to hear how you approach editing tasks and how you focus your attention on all the moving parts. Let me know in the comments! If you enjoyed this post and found it useful, click here to share it on Twitter :)

The 3 levels of editing and how you can get started today

Ever wondered what type of editing you should use for your blog, your book, or your web content? Find out about the three levels of editing: proofreading, copy editing, and developmental editing, and learn exactly what you should be doing to make your writing sparkle and shine!

Do you ever get confused about various editing terms? You might hear about proofreading, copy editing, or substantive editing, developmental editing, line editing...argh! 

If you've ever glanced over your work looking for typos before hitting publish, or spent time shuffling paragraphs around or playing with sections and layouts, you've edited your content in some way.

Today I'm looking at the three main types of editing, which might be most appropriate for you, and how you can get over the jargon and master the skills to improve your content and grow your business. 

(Or at least get your text reading fluently without mistakes or poor tone and style ruining all your hard work!)

1. Proofreading

Proofreading is probably the most common editing term, and it's often thrown about as an all-encompassing word for any type of content editing. Editors hate this, because when we're asked to "proofread" something, more often than not the person means something else entirely!

In traditional publishing, proofreading is the last step before a manuscript goes to print, and as such focusses on the small, essential details that would be embarrassing  in the final product, such as errors in spelling, repeated words, or incorrect punctuation.

Proofreading will not tell you whether your tone is appropriate, whether your content flows logically, or whether your language and style need work. Proofreading is the lightest of editorial touches, and will only highlight really essential surface-detail corrections such as grammatical and spelling mistakes.

If you're just getting started editing, or you don't feel you have much time to invest, proofreading is a gentle start that will help tidy up your content without too much confusion.

FREEBIE! I'm showing you the exact questions I ask whenever I come to edit anything either for myself or my clients. Use this cheat sheet to find out exactly where you need to start, today.

2. Copy editing

Copy editing is a step up, and is mostly what people are looking for when they ask for generic "editing". Copy editing goes into much more detail than proofreading, and copy editors consider things like structure, voice, style, flow, grammar, vocab, spelling, suitability for purpose and overall presentation.

While both proofreading and developmental editing (which we'll get to) are often only suitable for certain content at certain times, copy editing is pretty much always a good idea. 

Copy editing takes a text from rough around the edges to polished, perfect, and ready to go. It takes everything into account, from the wider structure down to the smallest specific details, such as punctuation. 

If you want to learn how to copy edit there are lots of resources available, and I even have a free checklist that you can use - just grab it here

3. Substantive and developmental editing

Substantive and/or developmental editing is very broad, and is based more on a wider analysis of the content as a whole than on the nitty gritty details of the language. During developmental editing, the writer and editor work closely together to discuss potential changes during and even before the majority of the content is written or finalised. 

Unless you're writing a book or something highly specialised, it's unlikely that you'll work with a developmental editor. If you are writing a book, this type of editing can really help you pinpoint your structure and nail down your ideas so that your final product will be successful. 

FREEBIE! I'm showing you the exact questions I ask whenever I come to edit anything either for myself or my clients. Use this cheat sheet to find out exactly where you need to start, today.

What type of editing do you use? What type of editing do you need? Jump into the comments and let me know, I'd love to help you get started. If you enjoyed this post, you can also click here to share it on Twitter :)

5 bad editing habits to break today

Five bad copy editing habits that it's time to put to bed. Plus free organisation template showing you how to structure your folders for every editing task you do!

We all have bad habits. Some we might try to give up (junk food, anyone?) and others not so much (you can prise my Netflix subscription from my cold dead fingers!).  These, we can forgive ourselves for. But when bad habits creep into our working processes, it's a bit more serious.

After taking a long hard look at my own editing process, as well as speaking to friends and colleagues, I've narrowed down five bad habits you can decide to break today.

1. Bad organisation

I am perhaps most guilty of this one out of all the five, which isn't good when I run my business around editing! (This has been a most illuminating exercise into how I work, let me just say!)

Being disorganised, specifically with your files, is not a good way to start out. Create a project template, and replicate it every time. This allows you to easily see what you've done, helps you design a consistent workflow (so important!) and means you'll never have loose random files floating around your desktop.

FREEBIE! I'm sharing the exact folder structure I use for my client work to keep all my projects organised and consistent. Download my folder template here!

2. Not setting aside the time

If you rush, or worse, skip (say what!) copy editing, your content will suffer for it. You've heard me say it before, but unedited content is unfinished content. 

If you're editing something you've written yourself, it can be tempting to rush through it because you already know what it says. If you're editing for a frequent client with familiar content, you run the risk of falling into the same trap.

Set aside the proper time for copy editing your text. Make it part of your workflow (see this post for tips on how) and make sure you don't skip over anything or rush ahead. No good will ever come from it!

3. Making assumptions

This one can sound quite obvious, but is often the reason behind major trip-ups. Editors question everything! Not sure it makes sense? Your readers will probably feel the same way. Not sure that's the correct spelling? It probably isn't, and if it is, it was still worth checking.

A good percentage of copy editing involves researching or referring to resources. If you're working for a client, don't be scared to ask questions. Take it from someone who's learned the (very!) hard way; it is always better to ask and be right than to assume and be wrong!

4. Rewriting

Do you sit down to start editing and still find yourself there chopping and changing things several hours later? Is this one of the reasons you identify with Bad Editing Habit #2: not setting aside the time? 

If you turn every editing task into a serious re-write of the content, it's no wonder! 

Copy editing should be just that  editing. I spend a lot of time explaining that I'm not a copy writer; that in fact, editing and writing are two different processes that require very different sets of skills. 

Make sure that you're not turning copy editing into full-blown rewriting, and banish two bad habits in one go!

5. Not saving and backing up

Again, it should be obvious, but it still causes hassle. You might be in the habit of saving frequently (and I hope you are!) but how often do you back up your files? If you use the folder structure I suggest, you'll always have records of your pre- and post-edited files for easy reference. 

Think you don't need the old versions of your files? You'd be surprised! If you edit for clients it's especially important to keep good records, and if you self-edit you never know when you'll want to re-visit a pre-edited file, even if it's just to see how far you've come!

Back up, often and always. And in the meantime, master those save shortcuts! CMD+S for Mac, Ctrl+S for Windows.

FREEBIE! I'm sharing the exact folder structure I use for my client work to keep all my projects organised and consistent. Download my folder template here!

Do you find yourself with any of these bad habits? I'd love to hear if you have any more, or if this post will help you break them for good! Drop a message in the comments, and if you enjoyed this post click here to share it on Twitter :)

How to use your audience to find your voice

Three ways you can use your existing audience to find your voice. I'll show you the secret framework you're already sitting on top of, and how to tap into it! Plus free cheat sheet to help you take action.

Voice is important in a piece of content, because it gives it its tone and flavour. You know the difference between a friendly, conversational web page and a serious, factual, academic essay.

Whether it's your voice you want to get across, or the voice of your brand or your client, copy editing can help you refine and home in on just the right feel for your content.

Today I'm sharing my number one tip for finding your voice, and how you can use that knowledge to copy edit perfect content that sounds just like you.

 

The secret framework that you're already sitting on top of

If you really know who your audience are, then you're already sitting on top of all the knowledge you need to find your perfect voice and style. And I'm going to show you how copy editing can help bring it to life!

I always start in the same place whenever I come to edit anything: the readers. It might sound surprising, but I don't dive into the content right away, without first asking three crucial questions.

FREEBIE! I've made a cheat sheet to help you define your audience and find your voice. Download it here.

The answers to these questions tell me what sort of tone and style I should expect to find in the text. Then, when it comes to copy editing, I make sure that it comes across properly in the content. 

1. Who is this for?

If you know specifically who you're talking to, it's easier to know how to address them. Who is the content for? What is their relationship to the topic and why are they interested in it? How old are they? 

This will help you find an appropriate tone. If your audience is mostly male, cutesy girlfriend speak won't cut it. If they're young, they're more likely to want to read something conversational than over-professional and formal. 

The more specific you can get with your questions and answers, the easier the process becomes.

2. Where are they based?

I'm biased when it comes to this, because in my day-to-day work I do a lot of localisation for my clients (editing content that was designed for readers in one location and adapting it for readers in another). 

You should be making lots of your stylistic decisions based on where your readers are located. For example, if they're mostly in America, you should be using U.S. English. If your audience is global, you should avoid alienating anyone by making country-specific or pop culture references that might not be understood everywhere.

Location is important when it comes to finding your voice because it helps you decide what sort of references to include, what terminology to use, and how to make your content resonate with your readers.

3. What do you want them to do?

This is important for more than just the call to action. Do you want your readers to subscribe to you? Purchase something? Understand a new concept? This will affect how you talk to them. 

If you're explaining a difficult concept, you want to use language that is simple and straightforward. If you want to draw them in and get them to subscribe, you need to be providing value on whatever topic you're covering. If you want them to make a purchase, you need to be persuasive and paint a picture or tell a story with your words.

Bonus tip!

One of the best strategies for copy editing is to break things down into different steps.

Do a read-through of the text just focussing on headings, titles, and images. Do a second-read through, this time taking in the paragraphs and language. Do a third read-through checking facts, figures, and links.

In fact, whatever you struggle with, I suggest turning it into a separate stage, where you go through the copy, ignoring everything else (that's key!), and just checking for that one thing. 

If you worry about losing your voice when it comes to editing out the language, create a dedicated step where you focus on that and nothing else. 

FREEBIE! I've made a cheat sheet to help you define your audience and find your voice. Download it here.

So now you know the secret framework, I have an action item for you.

I want you to ask and answer these three questions about your audience, and make a note of the voice, tone, and style that's most appropriate for the content. Next, check that this resonates with the people, place, and purpose the text is intended for. 

I'd love to hear your thoughts, drop me a note in the comments. If you liked this post, click here to share it on Twitter :)

 

5 copy writing mistakes you're probably making + how to fix them

Five copy writing mistakes your're probably making in your content, and how copy editing can help you fix them! Plus free punctuation cheat sheet to help you master six tricky punctuation marks.

No one likes making mistakes. Sometimes they're small slip-ups that go unnoticed, but other times, it really matters. Making mistakes in your copy writing can seriously undermine your credibility and devalue your message. This could mean anything from losing the respect of your audience, to not making the sale.

But mistakes easily made are easily corrected. Read on to find out how!

FREEBIE! Download my punctuation cheat sheet and learn exactly how to master 6 tricky punctuation marks.

 

1. Commonly confused words

You might be groaning "does this really have to be in here?" but yes, I'm afraid it does. This is by far and away the most common mistake I see, from the smallest blog right the way up to high-priced digital products from the pros. 

It's easy to see why. Some words are just confusing. But as a writer who's serious about your content, it's up to you to be diligent. There are no short cuts on this one. If you don't know your affect from your effect, the difference between you're and your, or their/they're/there, then it's time to brush up. Check out Oxford Dictionary's list of commonly confused words and double check before you hit that publish button.

2. Adding so much fluff it takes the reader ages to get to the point (vague or exaggerated language)

Making your readers trudge through a swamp of words that don't add anything to the core message is the best way to lose their attention. I see this happen for a variety of reasons. It can be dancing around a point you're too nervous to be blunt about (often pricing), or adding so much hyperbole, or exaggerated language, that it actually casts doubt over your claims. 

Cut to the chase. If you have to hide certain facts and figures behind vague promises or convoluted explanations then you may need go to back to the drawing board. It shows a lack of confidence in your message, or worse, your product.

Similarly, let the value of your story or product shine through without over-exaggerating its merits. If it's really as good as you say it is, it shouldn't take a thousand different adjectives (valuable, amazing, incredible, life-changing, etc.), to make your audience interested.

3.  Focusing on features not benefits

Good copy writing is all about story telling. Any copy writer worth their salt will tell you the same thing. How are you going to draw your readers into your story? How do you want them to feel? What do you want them to understand?

The best way NOT to do this, is to bombard them with clinical facts and figures. This mostly applies to sales pages, and product or service descriptions. Instead of "this service takes X hours and is made up of Y and Z", try to focus on the benefits to the reader (or potential customer). What problem will you solve for them? Why will their life be better because they invest in your offer?

You can't create an emotional connection by reeling off facts and figures (except for this is boring! and that's definitely not what we want!).

4. Punctuation slip-ups

I know this is a big one, as it came up time and time again in my survey (it's still there  if you haven't, please check it out!). There are so many rules, and to make it worse, they change according to style guides and even country-specific standards.

Luckily, unless you're doing something highly specific, you don't need to know every possible use in every possible situation. A basic overview of what to do, and what not to do, should keep you consistent in your content and prevent usage mistakes from creeping in. 

And yes, I have created just such a thing, just for you!

FREEBIE! Download my punctuation cheat sheet and learn exactly how to master 6 tricky punctuation marks.

 

5. Headings and formatting

The way you present your content is just as important as what you say with it. If you don't make it both intriguing and digestible, potential readers will leave just as fast as they came. 

This is easy to get right. Keep headings and titles concise and interesting, and break up the text using paragraphs, images, and bullet points. We're all consuming so much content all of the time, skim reading has become a necessity just to keep us productive (be honest, I know you skimmed this!).

Use your headings and formatting strategically. You know that readers are likely to skim, so set things up to catch their eye and keep them interested. No one likes chewing through big blocks of text!

Can these tips help you tidy up your copy? Is there anything else that you struggle with, or find yourself wondering whether you're getting right? Let me know in the comments! If you enjoyed this post, click here to share it on Twitter :)