What is Content Editing?

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a great writer, you’ll still commit mistakes. A professional content editor will look at the bigger picture of your text to make the necessary edits. 

Are you looking to hire a content editor? Or do you want to be one? Find out what content editing means and all the processes it includes. I’ll also show you how to be a content editor and the skills you need to acquire.

What are the Responsibilities of a Content Editor?

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A content editor is in charge of editing a document for its flow, understandability, and readability. Also known as a developmental editor, structural editor, or story editor, the content editor has a comprehensive job that varies across companies.

Content editing ensures that a book follows the publishable standard by restructuring the manuscript. If it’s a short blog post or a magazine article, the content editor checks for readability and syntax errors. 

The content editor looks at both small and big pictures, from your sentence structure to the brand voice. Some content editors perform copy editing and take a step further to examine the storyline and delivery of your message.

Some questions that a content editor may ask include:

  • Is the whole content structured well?
  • Do the statements in this book or article provide accurate information?
  • Is the online content optimized for SEO?
  • Is the sentence structure appropriate for general readers?

Content editors should work closely with writers to make sure they agree with all the adjustments needed. They should also carry out fact-checking, grammar corrections, and other types of edits. 

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What is the Difference Between a Writer and an Editor?

A writer is a someone who produces written works like essays, books, blog posts, and articles. Meanwhile, an editor is a professional who revises the writer’s work.

The works of writers and editors are comprehensive. A writer can be categorized as a copywriter, columnist, proposal writer, or academic writer. An editor can be a content editor, proofreader, or copy editor.

Writers and editors should work closely when producing materials before publication and during the content creation process. That goes for a content writer, fiction writer, and more. That is why some editors work exclusively for some writers, or a company hires them to approach writers.

Content Editing Process

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The workflow of a content editor varies according to the tasks given to them by the company. In general, their work includes the following steps.

1. Read the Whole Writing

Editing the work right away will not give you a glimpse of the subject matter and its structure. Read the whole entry first to avoid making errors in the editing process.

Reading the writer’s work entails two things. First, you need to read it as a general reader from start to end. Doing so will give you an idea of the topic and what the audience might think about it.  

Then, reread it, this time putting on your editor shoes. Analyze the logical structure of the writing. Check if each point is connected to the next one and if the statements engage the audience. You should also examine if the project is met in terms of brand tone.

After reading the complete selection, decide on your primary solution to every problem. Should you change the order of the sections? Should the writer eliminate some sub-topics? Or are you going to change the formality level of the piece?

2. Check for Grammar and Spelling Mistakes

Once you have an action plan for the writing errors you spotted, focus first on the small ones. Fix all the obvious spelling and grammar mistakes using the best grammar checker software (find our recommendations here).

If your client has a separate proofreader or copy editor, you don’t have to go into every detail. The main message of the content should be your priority. A copy editor will make the content clearer and concise while the proofreader checks for grammar and punctuation errors.

3. Make the Piece of Content Clearer

Aside from the spelling and grammatical mistakes, you also need to review the clarity of the writer’s work. That includes making the sentences more concise by removing filler words, using the active voice, and fixing the format. 

Making the content more concise helps grab and retain the reader’s attention. It won’t bore them with unnecessary details, weak words, and complex ideas. In the same way, the active voice prevents the sentences from being wordy, giving the content more authority.

If you edit for the web, proper formatting is a must. Improve content readability by breaking up texts into paragraphs. Some readers use their mobile devices, so small chunks of paragraphs are better.

Take advantage of headings, bullet points, and numbered lists. These formatting options also optimize the content for SEO. 

Make sure to follow the same clarity guidelines for every piece of content you edit. Generating a self-editing checklist will help you. Here are other tips to consider:

  • Make headings and subheadings direct.
  • Break sentences into bullets or lists if possible.
  • Add bold key takeaways for readers who want to skim-read.
  • Add a table of contents.
  • Consider the word count of the conclusion and introduction.

4. Fact-Check the Content

Fact-checking is an essential step that establishes your content’s authority. Aside from using valid and reliable sources, make sure they’re also new. Are you citing outdated information? Does the author you’re citing have a good reputation? 

Remember that common knowledge can still be incorrect. Here are some types of facts you check when editing a manuscript:

  • Business names.
  • Proper names.
  • Honorific titles.
  • Country names.
  • Names of cities, towns, and streets.
  • Historical dates.
  • Birth and death dates.

Online content should connect to other resources like journal articles, websites, and your other posts. For business owners or affiliate marketers, web pages should lead your readers to buy their products or services. 

Your job as a content editor is to supply these links. You might be tasked to generate the affiliate links and insert them in the content or copy and paste the link. 

Make sure the hyperlink also contains text that is relevant to the website. Another job you have as a content editor is to ensure that all external and internal links are working.

5. Consider the Brand Voice

Read the writing one more time and analyze the writer’s word choice and tone. Tweak it according to your brand. For example, should your company convey a conversational tone, or do you need to be purely formal? To what extent should you accept jargon or slang?

If the company doesn’t have clear guidelines on its brand voice, consult their old content. Cast a critical eye on each paragraph to get an idea of you will edit the post.

6. Follow the Style Guide

Some publishers follow a specific style guide for their content. A good content editor knows how to differentiate between AP, Chicago style, APA, and MLA. Refer to these style guides when you’re editing a piece of content or updating a published one. 

One task that includes following a style guide is the capitalization of headings. Some will ask you to capitalize them as you would in titles, while others require a sentence case.

7. Layout for Online Publication

If you edit online content like blog posts, the next step is to prepare the content management system. For example, if you are to publish on WordPress, you will layout the webpage before publication. You can also use LeadPages and other programs. 

Companies typically hire a different professional for this task. But if your client asks you to set up the content management system, consider the budget, business operation, and the ease of editing. 

Your fellow editors should be able to edit the digital content without having to code. So, pick one with a user-friendly interface. You may also consider a headless CMS if the company is more advanced.

As an editor, SEO should be a top priority. Choose a CMS with automation for optimization, like URLs, tags, image tags, and internal links.

8. Communicate with the Writer 

Lastly, ensure constant communication with the writer. Discuss things with them before making any significant changes to the text. Email them right away or send a text message.

For formatting edits or grammar errors and spelling errors, leave a comment on the document to let the writer know. It will help them avoid making the same mistake in the future.

Content Editor Skills

Now that you know about the responsibilities of a content editor, here are some skills that employers look for in someone to manage high-quality content:

  • Written communication.
  • Verbal communication.
  • Creative thinking.
  • Content marketing.
  • HTML.
  • Attention to detail.
  • Time management. 
  • Content writing.
  • Using internal and external links and other types of links.

How to Become a Content Editor

Being a content editor takes about 4 to 6 years to hone editing skills, depending on your path. Follow these steps if you’re interested in becoming a content editor and performing professional editing.

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

When becoming a professional editor for content, one essential thing to consider is the education you need. While many companies and independent writers do not require a bachelor’s degree, having one helps a lot. In fact, 78.8% of content editors are degree holders.

You can hold a degree in Journalism, Creative Writing, Marketing, or English to become a content editor. These fields will help you acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to become a professional. 

Your college life will allow you to work on start-up businesses or blogs. Make sure to include these experiences in your portfolio. Doing so will help you get hired when you’re a fresh graduate.

2. Consider Earning a Master’s Degree

Do not rush into getting a master’s degree right after finishing your bachelor’s degree program. This choice is only ideal for anyone who wants to get a promotion in the publishing house they’re working in. 

Have more experience in the workplace before going to graduate school. Once you’re ready, you can consider a master’s degree in English, Journalism, Marketing, or Communication. 

You can also try tech-related degrees since content editing requires different digital tools. Editing roles center on the use of content management systems. Know how search engine optimization works and study basic HTML.

3. Complete an Internship

Applying for an internship will help you gain more experience in content editing. You’ll be able to bridge theory and practice as you develop your skills on the job. An internship will also give you a glimpse of what it feels like to work in a specific industry. 

If you’re a college student, you can seek the help of your university for internship programs. You can also talk to companies like publishing houses to see if they offer internships. Some of them can even transform internships into job offers.

4. Build a Portfolio

Your portfolio is a great way to display your experience and skills to potential clients. It will serve as a basis for them to decide whether you’re capable of working in their company or not. A portfolio will help you provide links to projects you have worked on. 

The portfolio should include a separate document for every project, highlighting the strategies you employed in the content. Include the elements of the project, the flow, structure, and other essential details. 

5. Practice Your Skills

You can practice some hidden skills required in content editing outside of education or the workplace. For example, you need to get used to working with teams when strategizing and developing projects. Practice clear communication with people to avoid issues and errors.

You should also practice time management if you aspire to be a content editor. Learn how to work in a deadline-driven workplace with tight schedules and rules. Prepare to work on multiple projects without compromising the quality of your work.

Learning the different style guides is probably part of your college curriculum. But it’ll take a while for you to master then. Learn how to give proper feedback to writers regarding their errors. And equip yourself with media and information skills so you can effectively fact-check.

Final Thoughts About Content Editing

Content editing is a complicated process you need to undergo before publishing your work. Find a content editor with the correct skill set and who is willing to develop a relationship with the writer. 

Remember that a content editor is different from a copy editor or proofreader. Learn more about the pre-publication phase to know what to expect from your first book.