How to edit your content with confidence
We all want to publish strong content that delights our readers and convinces them to take action. Having someone else review your drafts can be a helpful way to get a fresh perspective on your content before you publish it and identify any rough spots that could use a little polishing. But what if you don’t have the budget to hire an editor, or the time to have a friend read over your draft? If you’ve ever felt unsure about how to edit your own content, this is for you.
In this post, I’m going to go through some of the questions I ask myself when I’m reviewing content for Polish & Shine clients, friends and family, and even for myself. We’ll start by making sure your content fits the big picture of your business. Then we’ll look at the overall structure of your document, before turning to the nitty gritty of grammar and formatting. And if you want something quick and easy that you can refer to the next time that you’re editing your own content, I’ve got a handy checklist for you that you can print out and hang next to your desk.
The Bigger Picture
You put a lot of work into creating great content — so make sure that it’s working for you! I always start the editing process by taking a step back to think about how this particular piece of content fits within the larger context of what I’m trying to do and accomplish. If your content is part of a larger project (for example, a blog series or a product launch), make sure that you understand where it fits and what role it has to play in helping you achieve your goals for that project. It’s also important to make sure that it connects to your readers’ needs and the way that you serve them.
A quick side note here: Although we’re focused specifically on editing here, you’ll get the best mileage out of your content if you start your writing process by asking these questions. Before you sit down with your first draft, run through the questions in this section and use them to develop a quick outline for your content. Then create a draft where you get all your ideas out on paper / computer screen, and then come back to these questions as you begin to edit and refine your draft.
How does this piece of content serve your reader? Does it show that you understand what they need, and that you can help?
How does this serve your business?
Is this content part of a larger project or strategy? If so, what are your desired outcomes for the project? Does the content move you toward achieving those outcomes?
How do you want your reader to respond to your content? What are the actions you want them to take?
Structure and flow
Once you know how your content fits within your overall business and communication strategy, narrow your focus to the document itself. Overall, your content should have a clear “destination” that you’re trying to get to. Every part of the document should build on what came before it, sort of like a set of directions, in order to get to the destination. At this stage in the editing process, you want to make sure that you’re being clear about where you want to reader to arrive when they’re finished reading this content.
To make this easier, break your document down. Almost every piece of content you create should be made up of 3 main parts:
Tell them what you’re going to tell them: Your introduction should contain the main idea of this piece of content (i.e., in one sentence, what are you trying to say?). It should also include a “hook” that shows the reader why this content is important to them and entices them to read more.
Tell them: The body is the main part of your document and will take up the most space. This is where you’re stringing different ideas together in support of the main point you’re trying to make. Your job here is to make sure that each of the ideas flow together, from one thought into the other, so that the reader feels like they can follow along with your "directions".
Tell them what you just told them: The conclusion will wrap everything up. In this section, you’ll summarize what you just said and re-emphasize your main point, so that your reader remembers it. This is also where you need to be very clear about the action item and next step that you want your reader to take.
Is your main point clear?
Are your introduction, body and conclusion doing their jobs?
(Tell them what you’re going to tell them; Tell them; Tell them what you told them)
Is the document structured so that the main ideas flow naturally?
Is there a clear action item or next step that the reader should take? Does the content paint a picture of how the reader’s life will be better after taking this action step?
Grammar and formatting
Now that you’re happy with the way your document works overall, you’re ready to get technical and make sure that the actual words, sentences and paragraphs are clear and concise. This detail stuff can feel like splitting hairs sometimes, but this is the part that really polishes good content to a shine and makes it a great experience for your readers. It’s best to save this until the end so that you don’t find yourself having to repeat this step if you add to or change your content later.
And that’s it! With these steps in mind, you’ll be well on your way to editing your own content like a pro. To make this as easy as possible for you when you sit down to start editing, I’ve created a one-page checklist that you can print and refer to as you need it. You can get that here: