I’m Ariel, and for the past two years I have been editing nearly all of the new content on Making Sense of Cents. Along with editing this blog, I am about to graduate with a degree in English Literature from Washington University, and I’ve been accepted into their highly competitive Honors program. While the academic writing I do is very different from the posts on Making Sense of Cents, I follow the same strategies for writing and editing my papers that are discussed in today’s post. I have also sought extra writing and editing help through my university to continue growing my skills.
Professionally, not only am I an editor here, I also write knitting patterns and provide technical pattern support for other knitwear designers. You could say that I have a lot of experience in several different writing fields.
Blogs are a unique type of writing as they allow for a conversational tone, while also providing your readers with professional level advice. We’ve all read blog posts, online articles, and social media posts, where the writer makes a mistake and suddenly leaves you wondering why you should be trusting them in the first place. Editing, as the last step of the writing process, can turn the message you want to impart into a professional and cohesive piece of writing that shows your readers they can trust you.
And, if you want to grow your blog through partnerships and affiliate marketing, it’s important for companies to see that you are capable of representing them in a professional manner.
I’ll admit that the editing process can often feel daunting, but with the strategies I’ll talk about below, you can become a better writer and editor, one that your readers can trust, while taking your blog to the next level.
Why you should be a better editor.
Several years ago, I turned an essay into a professor, and they came back and told me, “You had me until this mistake, and from there on I wasn’t sure I could take you seriously.” It was a small error, but it was one that showed I hadn’t dedicated enough time and effort into that piece of writing, despite spending hours and hours on the research.
That comment really stuck with me, and I’m sure we’ve all had that same feeling when reading something online.
If you want your readers to stay with you through your entire post, don’t lose them on a spelling, grammar, or punctuation error. Also, the way you craft your article will hopefully take your readers on a journey from questions to answers, rather than ending in confusion. By editing, you are taking one extra step to keep your reader’s attention through the entire post. The time, knowledge, and effort you put into a post deserve to be read and respected.
By following an editing process, you can ensure your posts are cohesive, thoughtful, and authoritative. It makes your readers know they can trust you and can keep coming back to you for advice.
The editing process.
Everyone follows a slightly different editing process, but it’s important to find one that works for you. For my academic and professional writing, I separate the writing and editing process. This means that I do something called free writing, where I am not focusing on my errors— I just write. There are even times of the day that I am able to write better than edit.
After I write, I let that sit for a bit, maybe a day or two, then I go back to edit.
For editing, I know that I need a quiet and controlled environment because editing is a much more exacting process than the actual writing. Also, the time between writing and editing allows my mind the mental space to reflect on things I have written, what should have been included, omitted, and can even prompt a different narrative structure.
You may find that you need to edit your articles several times over, and that’s okay. If you are getting frustrated, take a break and come back later for more editing. For the work I do on Making Sense of Cents, everything is edited twice, at least. Also, this may sound weird, but when I edit Michelle’s posts, I focus on individual words and read everything out loud.
Find an editing platform that works for you.
For the posts I edit for Making Sense of Cents, I explicitly use Google Docs. This allows both Michelle and me to see all of the edits I have made in real time, and I can also add comments to those edits if needed. In my academic writing, I either print off things and edit on paper or send them to my Mom (she’s my all time favorite editor), who makes edits in Adobe Acrobat.
Microsoft Word, as well as many other word programs, have some editing functions that allow you to see and track your edits. It’s important to find one that is user friendly, and this might mean playing around with several different types of software before deciding on the one for you.
The reason I like being able to see the edits is that it allows me to see my common mistakes, which can help me focus on learning how to prevent those mistakes in future articles or essays. I’ll talk more about this later.
Organize your thoughts.
This is a prewriting strategy that helps me both write and edit. Sometimes it is easier to just write and not worry about how organized a post may be. But, an organized post allows your readers to follow you from introduction all the way to the conclusion.
Depending on how you write, you may find it easiest to create an outline before writing (that’s what I did for this post) and then build on each point as you go. Other times, it may be easier to just free write, and then go back and highlight the points you are making and organize them into a more cohesive thought.
Even if you don’t use an outline while writing, having an organized idea of what you want to tell your readers will give you something to refer back to while editing.
Create a style sheet.
A style sheet is a document or manual that allows you to maintain a consistent style and format for your posts. You can even use it as a template for new posts, plugging in fresh content each time you start.
Beyond fonts, it can help you see how you might organize lists, have subheadings, etc.
While you may not use it while editing, it is a step you can take before writing that streamlines your entire writing process. And, if used consistently, your readers will become more familiar with the way you structure your posts, and that level of familiarity adds value to your blog.
Do you need to follow a specific writing style?
For this, I mean whether or not you need to follow certain writing and citation styles, such as AP, MLA, or Chicago Style. If you have ever done any business or academic writing, you may be familiar with at least one of these.
While they may not seem relevant to your blog, these institutional styles can help you establish a writing style that lends to your overall consistency. Each style has specific nuances, like spelling out certain numbers, using the Oxford comma, and how to format titles for books, articles, and websites.
I may get some push back from this, but I don’t think it’s necessary for a blog to follow one of these styles over another. What is important is being consistent in the rules you do follow. As I said before, blogs allow writers to use a more casual tone and style, but still, consistency is key. For example: In nonacademic writing, I use the Oxford comma, spell out numbers below 10, and italicize titles for books. If you know each of the styles, you may find that there are inconsistencies in what I do, but for my personal writing and editing, this is the consistency I keep.
If you are hoping to use your blog to gain access to freelance writing jobs, you may want to find what style the types of companies you want to attract use, and then follow that style in your posts. This will show that you are already familiar with an institutional style and makes you even more attractive to future employers.
For more information on each of these styles, We Do Web Content has a quick post on some of the basic differences, which you can find here.
Know your writing weaknesses.
Writing and editing go hand in hand, and to become a better editor, you need to find your writing weaknesses and common mistakes. Maybe you are a horrible speller, can’t figure out where to put commas, or get tripped up by dangling modifiers.
To be honest with you, I used to over abuse the comma. Actually, I still do sometimes. However, by knowing where I make my mistakes when writing, I know where to focus my energy during the editing process. One of the things that has helped me overcome my common writing errors is by learning why things, such as commas, are used in certain places. Rather than just blindly following a rule, knowing the reason makes those nuances really sink in.
Last year I took an editing class taught by the book editor for our local paper, and the biggest takeaway from that class was that even she consistently made mistakes while writing. There was something so liberating about knowing that this skilled professional regularly makes mistakes. However, when you look at her writing, you will never see those mistakes because she knows what to look for when editing.
Create a help sheet.
Just like a style sheet, a help sheet is something you use as reference to ensure consistency. Your help sheet may be very different from mine, and I keep one on hand when editing for Making Sense of Cents.
One of the things I have on my help sheet for Making Sense of Cents is hyphenated words. I’ll admit, it’s another weakness of mine. When I started editing for Michelle, I found that I kept looking up how to correctly hyphenate phrases, like ages. So, to save time, I found the rule, copied that onto my help sheet, and keep that help sheet in a separate tab while editing.
Know your voice.
I think this is the hardest thing for new writers, even experienced ones, to get comfortable with. While the information you provide is important, your voice is what brings it to your readers in a compelling way.
I find that my writing voice tends to change with what I’m reading, so much so that when taking a class on 19th century British literature, a friend I regularly email with noticed a change in my emails. Apparently, Jane Austen rubbed off on me a little too much.
Getting comfortable with your writing voice just takes more writing and going back and re-reading your own writing. As I’ve said several times, blogs are a great place for a conversational tone, so maybe try writing in a way that you would talk to a friend. It may not be grammatically correct or lack punctuation, but you can always go back and fix that in your editing process. A conversational tone can add a level of approachability to your writing.
Another thing to consider is your audience. If you are writing about personal finance, then you will want to be familiar with industry terms. Each niche has its own lingo, and to integrate these into your own style and voice, just read more from trusted writers in the field you are writing about.
Energize your writing.
If you are intending to inspire or prompt action from your readers, you will want to use an active voice. The easiest way to think about this is by finding the subject of your sentence, and make sure they are doing the action, instead of receiving it.
Here’s an example that positions your reader as the subject:
Passive- Financial independence brings you happiness and freedom.
Active- You will find happiness and freedom through financial independence.
The subject in these sentence is “you” or your reader, so tell them how they will benefit from financial independence.
This skill took me a while to understand and relay into my own writing, but the outcome is that I am directly telling my readers what they should do and understand. This may not be necessarily relevant to your blog, especially if it’s more of a journal of thoughts, but if you are giving advice, an active voice is more inspiring than a passive one.
Put your reader in your posts.
Your readers are coming to you because they want to know how your insights, experience, and information can help and inspire them. So, speak directly to them!
Here’s an example:
People will love trying this new recipe.
In the sentence above, you are telling your reader that someone, somewhere will like the recipe you are sharing.
But, if you write it as:
You will love this new recipe.
You are telling your reader that they need to try it.
This is an easy one to work out in the editing process. And, again, it helps if you think of speaking to a specific person, like a friend. It ultimately engages each reader individually.
Concision is key.
Being concise in your writing means that you are giving your readers the simplest explanation of what they need to do. Concision really comes during the editing process, and is easiest if you give yourself sometime between writing and editing. While editing, read a paragraph and find the main point you are trying to impart, and if you can do that in one sentence, cut most of the rest.
You may need to find more effective word choices or closely follow your outline, but being concise is respecting your reader’s time by not bombarding them with too much information. It doesn’t mean that extra information isn’t valuable; it could be used for a more in-depth post on that specific part of your original post.
It is really easy to write a lot about a topic when you are passionate about it, but the bottomline is that your reader is busy. So, don’t lose them by getting off topic or by writing the same thing over and over again.
Be an aware writer and editor.
We live in a fast-paced world, and what’s acceptable to say changes just as quickly. As our social and political climate evolves, it’s important to think about how your writing may affect your readers.
What I’m saying, is that your writing, if applicable, and it often is, should be conscious of what terms and topics are appropriate to use and speak on. This doesn’t mean you need to say “trigger warning” before anything that might be controversial, but it does mean you are aware that your audience may have a diverse set of beliefs and experiences.
This awareness can be best honed in your editing process. When editing, ask yourself if you might be offending your readers. If you feel like you might be offending someone, you can cut out the offensive statement, or you can provide reason and context for what you are saying. Contextualizing your beliefs gives your readers one more reason to trust you.
One of my favorite examples of this is with the McElroy family of podcasts, including My Brother My Brother and Me (MBMBAM) and The Adventure Zone (TAZ). I realize they aren’t blogs, but what the McElroys did was realize, through comments from listeners, that they weren’t representing their audience in a respectful and conscious way. They admitted their shortcomings (basically editing their content as it was produced), and they actually saw the numbers of their audience grow, to the point that they now have a TV show and graphic novel! You can read about their growth with TAZ here.
Awareness is a long-term process, as it means listening to your audience and growing your posts from there. You can even dedicate future posts to your own learning process, and readers will respect your willingness to listen to them and acknowledge certain beliefs and experiences. Overall, this makes you even more approachable because even the most respected and knowledgeable writers aren’t completely infallible.
Get help when you need it.
Even the best editors and writers need help. I’ve admitted some of my weaknesses here, and I am constantly working to improve my writing and editing. There are tons of online and print sources for editing help. If I have an editing question, or am second guessing myself, I will type that phrase or word into my web browser to see how it’s spelled, punctuated, etc. While that’s for quick help and guidance, you can grow your skills by reading online articles from professional editors, take an editing course, or by just borrowing books from the library.
My favorite online source for help is Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips. Professor Mignon Fogarty gives real examples and clear explanations that I keep coming back to.
Editing can be tough, even I will admit that. If you find that you are struggling with the process or just want to dedicate more time to growing your blog or online business in other ways, you can always hire people like myself to take your posts from a thought to a finished and cohesive piece of work.
If you are interested in seeing how I can help grow your content, you can find me here.
I’ve given you several strategies to grow your online content, but the most important things you should takeaway are these:
Editing adds cohesion and professional ability to the posts and written content on your blog or online business.
Find a writing and editing process that works for you.
Acknowledge your weaknesses and actively work to improve them.
Respect your audience by presenting them with content they can trust.
Never let the editing process prevent you from writing. If you have something to say, put it out there, try your best to edit it, and work to grow your skills.