Which stage of editing does your writing need right now?

A guide for copywriters, UX writers, and anyone else writing for the web or a business

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If you’re writing a blog post, essay, or another long-form piece, you’re most likely taking your writing through various stages of editing. You might be familiar with developmental editing and proofreading.

But even short pieces can benefit from a structured review process.

Short pieces include landing pages, emails, and any sort of user education flows. It also includes microcopy like settings, menus, and buttons, as well as error messages and other notifications.

You might not think short items need developmental editing but stick with me for a minute.

Start broad, then get granular

Generally, we can think about editing as starting broad and getting more specific. In this order, we start by making sure the piece is structurally sound, then if it’s technically correct.

Once those areas look good, it’s good to review for tone. Your last few steps are to trim the excess, copy-edit against a style guide, and proofread for any last loose threads.

The editing process can look different for different teams, companies, and editors, but there are a few steps that make sense for anyone who wants to make sure the writing is the best it can be before it ships.

6 editing steps, in order

1. Structural / developmental

First, you’ll want to make sure what you’ve written makes sense overall.

  • Does the writing flow logically from one point to the next?
  • Are there gaps in knowledge or messaging that need to be filled?
  • Does each paragraph stick to one theme or idea?

2. Accuracy / clarity

Then, make sure you’re talking about things the right way, using the right terminology for your audience.

  • Is the writing technically correct?
  • Have you partnered with a subject matter expert (SME) to make sure the information you’re giving is accurate?
  • Is it absolutely clear what you’d like the reader to take away from the piece? (Do they need to register, sign up, upgrade, read the article, unsubscribe, restart their computer, or something else?)

3. Tone

Accuracy and clarity are the most important part of your writing, but the wrong tone could turn away readers forever.

  • If the piece could use more (or less) personality, what are some conversational words you could swap in or out?
  • If you’re trying to build a relationship with your audience, could you add in some first- or second-person pronouns like “you,” “we,” or “us”?
  • Is the writing strictly straightforward and factual, or are you using any imagery?

4. Final trimming

Once you’ve got the structure, accuracy, and tone right, you can edit for conciseness and tighter writing.

  • Are there nouns that could be verbs?
  • Is there a shorter word you could use here?
  • Is every single word necessary?

5. Copy editing

Before you get sign-off from your decision-makers or stakeholders, do some copy editing against your style guide or an existing guide like AP or Chicago.

  • Are you using the correct terms, according to your style guide?
  • Are people’s names and product or feature names spelled and capitalized correctly?
  • Do all of your links work and do your CTAs make sense?

6. Proofreading

This should be the final-final-final step before shipping. Consider proofreading a form of copy QA. If you can take part in a bug bash before your project ships, even better.

  • Are your punctuation and styling correct, according to your style guide?
  • Is your grammar in line with your company voice, according to your style guide?
  • Are you absolutely positively confident there are no errors? Ship it!

It’s not always linear

It’s helpful to remember that these aren’t always a strictly linear process. Sometimes by the time you get to final trimming, it turns out you need to do more structural editing. Or when you review for tone, you realize you need to go back to accuracy to adjust your messaging first.

No matter what stage you’re at, it can be helpful to know what types of editing your piece needs at any given moment. Knowing these stages can also help you get the best feedback from your partners and stakeholders.

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