Preparing Content for Editing
May 26, 2012
I’m pleased to include a Blog post from Alison Lueders who joins the Ripple Effect team from her home in Florida. By way of introduction, each team member will post an article so you can get to know a little bit more about them and the way they think. I love working with Alison and I know you will too. She is calm, concise, punctual and can craft clarity from any copy. She asks the right questions digging deep to learn what is most important and then conveys the essence of your message. In this post she breaks down the steps to handing off content for editing, demystifying the process.
Copy Editing: It’s Not Just About Punctuation
By Alison Lueders
One of my very wise clients told me, “You see PEOPLE, not just their punctuation. That’s priceless.” She expressed an idea that hadn’t even formed for me yet.
Writing about your work or program is a very personal process. You must articulate what you offer, why it’s important, and why potential donors or clients should choose you over all the other options out there. That’s hard, because your organization or business is a reflection of you.
To me, copy editing is not just rules and mechanics, although that’s part of it. It’s about paying attention to your written words, listening closely to what you say, and aligning all that into short, expressive copy that resonates with your audience. That takes a bit of skill, a bit of art, and a whole lot of understanding who you are. It means knowing the rules, but applying them with judgment and respect.
Here are some tips on preparing your content, and on knowing when to share it with us. (Hint: sooner rather than later!)
Preparing your Content
Content comes in many flavors and can serve many purposes. Before writing anything for your business, ask yourself:
- Who’s the audience – Policy makers? Academic institutions? An international foundation? These are wildly different, and your content needs to be tailored accordingly.
- What’s the objective of the content –To raise awareness? To have someone purchase your product or service? To build your credibility as an expert? To have people “like” you on FB. Again, different objectives require different content.
- What valuable information do you wish to impart – Ideally, it’s original content, something people can’t find elsewhere, and something that sets you apart from your competitors.
- What is the “call to action” – What do you want the reader to DO once they’ve read your site/newsletter/blog post. Subscribe? Buy? Call you? Donate? Volunteer? Make sure the call to action is clear.
If you can answer these questions clearly in your own mind, that makes writing easier.
“Let go” of the content when you:
- Have run out of things to say – this may seem self-evident, but some people don’t trust their instincts when it comes to writing. If you have hit a “mental block”, it may be time to share the content with a thoughtful partner to help enhance and polish it.
- Find you are repeating yourself – Reinforcing key ideas throughout a communication can be a good thing. But if, for example, you find yourself unintentionally repeating favorite phrases on different pages of your website, you may have taken the content as far as it can for a first draft.
- Have drafted it, but haven’t actually published it because you fear it’s not perfect. One of my favorite clients told me that she had been thinking about blogging for two months, but hadn’t started for fear of making simple, embarrassing writing mistakes. I won’t let that happen.
- Keep writing because you think it’s not long enough. In school, you may have been required to write to a certain length: a 10 page paper for English, a 120 page thesis for college. Often, more words were considered a good thing. On the web, “less is more”. People’s attention is scarce, and they often just scan for headlines and bullets. Short, high-quality content can be a godsend to customers, because it provides value AND saves them time.
The content development process
In most cases, clients come with a draft in hand that needs a fresh pair of eyes and some polishing. In some cases, a client feels “I don’t know where to begin” with regards to writing their organization’s content. In either case, there’s an initial interview with the client to understand the answers to the four questions above, and to identify any other key considerations in developing the content. A brief email summarizing that interview is sent to the client for confirmation as soon as possible. Then calls and emails are scheduled as needed, depending on what the work requires.
When starting with your draft, I don’t re-write your content so that it’s unrecognizable to you. You know your organization best, and I want to keep your “authentic voice”. But expressing the benefits of your business or nonprofit in writing, in a professional manner, is a separate skill. My goal is to ensure that what you say is correct, clear and compelling. Doing that is a collaborative effort between us.
It’s also a respectful process. I am amazed at clients who say to me privately, “I feel stupid”. Do you feel stupid when you go to a doctor for a diagnosis or to a lawyer to draw up a contract? I enjoy what I do, but more importantly, I want YOU to enjoy – and feel safe – working with me. A great piece of content is a beautiful thing, but it’s rarely a solo production. We will make it happen – together!