First things first: copywriters are not copyeditors. Copywriters … well … write copy! Copyeditors make sure any writing adheres to the client’s style guide, in addition to paying very close attention to grammar and punctuation. (It’s why copyeditors are crucial for content—there are simply more words on the page with content writing!) But you still need to self edit your copywriting.
In fact, 50% (or more!) of copywriting is editing—but it’s more substantive editing. Sure, we want to keep our copy as free of typos and grammatical errors as humanly possible. (Read: we’re still human.) But our job is to focus on making sure the actual copy is as strong as possible.
Running a spelling and grammar check is the bare minimum. When you self edit your copywriting, you need to go beyond using Grammarly and the Hemingway App.
Substantive editing is looking at the entire piece (email, sales page, homepage, brochure—whatever the medium!) for what is being said, how it’s being said, the organization of the piece, and more. So, how do you make self editing your copywriting part of your copywriting project process? Read on!
1. Build in Sleep-on-It Time
You may see some copywriters touting the benefits of offering day rates. This is when a client can book you for an entire day and you write and deliver copy for them based on their needs. But writing copy same-day almost never produces your best work.
As creatives, we need time to concept ideas for a project and let them marinate. That may mean taking a walk, but even better is building in what we like to call sleep-on-it time into your project schedule. It helps to build it into both the concepting phase of a project and the writing phase.
To sit down at your computer and say “I’m going to write this sales page in one go” is a recipe for disaster for even the best writers. You may be able to write a rough first draft, but remember it’s just that: a draft. This is not the work you want your clients to see!
Give yourself as much time as possible based on the project. One email may not require as much sleep-on-it time as say a five page website.
2. Use a “Clean” Copy Doc and a Messy Copy Doc
As you’re editing your copy, it’s easier to visualize how it’s all coming together by having a “clean” copy doc. The doc that, eventually, you’ll be sending along to your client.
But, you also may be chopping a lot of words, sentences, headlines, subheads, and more. The last thing you want to do is delete a line and then, a little while later, wonder if it was actually something you could use. (And even version control in Google docs wastes a lot of precious time.)
Instead, consider having two copy docs open at once. You have your “clean” doc that you’re laying everything out as you’ll eventually present it. (For example, your email will have a subject line, preheader text, headline, body copy, etc.) And you’ll have a “messy” document—one that has all the lines, words, or other thoughts and ideas that you’re still working with and don’t want to forget just yet.
3. Move Pieces Around Like a Puzzle
One of the first things to do when self editing your copywriting is to look at the piece holistically. Take a full read through the piece and consider the following:
- Are you leading with the strongest benefit?
- Is there a clear next step for the user to take?
- Do your word choices match the company’s brand voice? Is it the right tone for this particular piece?
As you go, think of each section, each sentence, and each word as pieces of your copywriting puzzle. Sometimes you need to move a word, sometimes you need to move an entire section to another area.
Does a subhead further down the page actually make a better headline? Or maybe one of your sentences within a paragraph of text makes a better headline. Or where you’re talking about a feature you actually need to talk about a benefit and shift around the features that lead to that benefit.
Don’t be afraid to move chunks of text around the page!
4. Read Your Copy Out Loud
Reading your copy to yourself is not the same as reading it out loud. By reading it out loud, you’ll hear any spots that feel clunky, as well as hear any missing words that your mind automatically filled in for you when you were reading it to yourself. You may also hear places where you can:
- Eliminate unnecessary words
- Remove any unintentional echoes of repeated words and phrases
- Vary up sentence structure
- Add consistency with tense and tone
Highlight these areas in your document as you read it out loud. This will allow you to continue reading and hearing the whole piece versus trying to write copy as you go. Then, once you’ve finished reading, you can go back through your highlighted sections to streamline the copy.
And then you know what’s next: re-read those sections out loud.
5. Review the Overall Format
As you review your copy, consider the structure of it: headlines, subheads, paragraph text, calls to action, etc. Is there a section of text with a lot of copy that could benefit from a subhead to break up the text? What would someone skimming the piece takeaway? Does each section focus on one main idea? If not, do you need to break up a section into two separate sections? Is there a call to action in each place a user would expect one?
Look at your piece as if you were a member of your target audience. What information would you want?
Finally a little bonus tip: does your piece meet the goals of the creative brief? You should always review the brief part of your self editing process.
Your Turn! What are your tips for effective self editing? Share in the comments below!