Thursday December 8, 2016

The Over-Editing Problem

The over-editing problem

Our last blog post discussed how businesses can often find their marketing efforts dragged down because they refuse to put anything out there until it’s perfect. 

Of course, perfection isn’t attainable, and by failing to acknowledge this, businesses can cause real harm to themselves. Websites get stuck in development hell… deadlines are missed… prime marketing opportunities come and go. 

There are a lot of reasons why this can happen. One that specifically resonates with me and is worth further discussion is over-editing. This is when a piece is looked at by either too many people or too many times, resulting in the distortion or loss of impact in the content. 

Self-Inflicted

Think of your content as a line graph. Editing helps the quality of your content reach its peak, but over-editing has the effect of harming your content, sometimes dropping the quality below your first draft. The image below details the steep fall you content can take if over-edited. 

Screen Shot 2016-12-07 at 11.16.17 AM.png

This dip in quality is caused by a variety of factors, but mainly can be attributed to a loss in authorial voice, the overall “genericizing” of language (trying so desperately not to offend anyone that your content ends up saying nothing at all) and just feeling scattershot. A classic too many cooks in the kitchen scenario.

As someone who has previously worked as an editor, I’m familiar with what makes a successful editorial process. Below are some suggestions for how to structure a process that will block the over-editing impulse and ensure the quality of your content remains up to standards.                    

Establish a Team

Step one is to establish an editorial team and, this is key, don’t venture outside it for opinions regularly. Ideally you want three-to-four people editing any piece, including yourself. 

This allows designated roles for every member of the editorial team and ensures a certain level of familiarity within your content. You’re more likely to develop a consistent voice by having a core team editing, as this builds familiarity among your content creators, leading to more beneficial criticism.

Besides these clear benefits, there are two reasons to not go outside your editorial circle for input. For one, anytime you ask someone for an edit, they’re going to look for an edit. This doesn’t mean that their edit is needed, however. You’re putting them on the spot. For many, this feels like a test. “Can I find something to change? I bet I can!” and so on.

Two, you might create more work than is needed. Asking for input from the wrong person might open a door to where this individual feels they have more influence than they really do, or potentially create internal dispute as to why a message is being conveyed a certain way in your content.

It’s best to avoid this in the editorial stage whenever possible, but feel free to get a wide range of perspectives prior to creating the content. 

Use Collaboration Tools

When editing content, there are a few different methods to go about this. You can go the old-school route, printing off individual copies and passing it around the office, or send Word documents via email. Both will have you, the creator of the content, cycling through various edits, seeing what lines up among your editors and potentially ignoring some suggestions. It can be messy.

I prefer editing with one base document and using a cloud service to facilitate a truly collaborative editing process. A free service like Google Drive can be great way to accomplish this. Here you can post your content, then send a link for editing to the rest of your team. 

This will allow your editorial team to react in real time to edits others have made. Doing this can create disagreements, but as the content creator you’ll be able to see where each person is coming from and make the final edit based off who most closely aligns with your original message. 

Have a Cut Off

Where people drag themselves down is in deciding they need to write a new paragraph or replace wide portions of content after the editing process has seemingly come to an end. This late form of second guessing is almost never necessary and only threatens to derail the timeliness of your content. To combat this, have set editorial rounds and stick to it.

For most content, you can try structuring your editorial process like this:

  1. Initial draft reviewed by editorial team
  2. Edits made
  3. Another review by editorial team
  4. Any other necessary edits made
  5. Sent to head editor for review (more on this in a minute)
  6. Final proofreading by the content creator 

Keep in mind, if you miss something… you miss something. Having errors in your copy like extra spaces after periods or realizing a sentence could be structured a bit more effectively after the fact is never great, but these things will always stand out to you more than to your audience. By implementing a strict editorial process, you’ll be able to greatly minimize the odds that a typo or poorly structured sentence slips through.

Appoint a Head Editor   

The final step in making sure a project doesn’t get bogged down in excessive editing is to decide who gets the final say. Someone should be calling the shots.

This could be a lead editor within your established team or someone from outside the process like the CEO of your company. Their goal won’t be to make text edits, but instead to look at your content and make sure it is relevant to your company’s goals and values. 

This will also help you avoid the less than ideal situation of developing content, putting it out in the world, only to have a higher up disagree with it and force you to recall it. By getting accountability at a higher level, you better position your content for success.

It’s All About Guidelines 

It’s easy to keep changing sentences and rethinking what is it you’re trying to say and asking for just one more opinion. But eventually your efforts cross a line between doing your due diligence and actively hurting the quality of your content. 

Implement and follow an editorial plan and ensure that your content won’t suffer from over-editing. 

Written by Scott Rogers |

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