As part of my freelance writing over the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to work with editors from a number of different organisations. (These organisations include the breaking news site Inside, motivation and productivity site Lifehack, and drone training site DARTdrones.)
While taking advice and direction from editors can certainly be bruising to your ego, it’s also a great way to fast-track improvements in your content and writing style.
It’s taken me some time to compile this list, but I’m now ready to share with you the 10 most important things I’ve learned from editors…
1. Spend time on your headline.
The headline of your blog or article must be attention-grabbing. Wishy-washy headlines will fail to draw readers in. Instead, you’ll find they quickly switch to content that has dynamic and emotive headlines.
At Lifehack, consistently great headlines are one of the reasons that the site gets more than 2 million unique visitors per month. Here’s one of their titles that I love: 30 Morning Routines That Can Make You Motivated and Productive for a Whole Day.
2. Keep your introduction short.
If you’ve captured a reader’s attention through your headline, then the next step is to get them to read your content. A common mistake is to have an overly long introduction. This kills off the interest of most readers, and they’ll be likely to just click away from your content.
Over the years, several editors have commented that my introductions have been too long. And it’s a fair point, as it’s something that I continually struggle with. But they are correct. A short, punchy introduction is the perfect ticket to lead your readers onto the main part of your content. It can be helpful to think of your introduction as a teaser to the rest of your content.
3. Make sure your writing flows between sections.
As recently as this year, an editor has told me that my content failed to flow smoothly enough between sections. And they were right.
The problem usually occurs (at least for me) if you work separately on each section of an article. Each part may be written well, but it’s easy to forget about linking them together. The best way to fix this, is to read through your content from the start as if you’ve never come across it before. See whether it flows naturally, and is easy to navigate and understand.
4. Pack your content with examples.
In my experience, editors almost always want examples within your work – in fact, usually multiple examples!
This is excellent advice, as examples bring concepts to life, and help readers to visualize what you are talking about.
So you don’t accuse me of failing to practice what I preach, here’s an example for you…
In order to help newcomers to the consumer drone world understand the attraction and safety requirements of drones, I wrote an article titled: 7 Surprising Traits That Drones and Dogs Share. The idea was to use dog ownership as a fun, easy-to-grasp comparison with drone ownership. I think it worked well.
5. Focus on practical tips that your reader can use.
When it comes to blogging with an instructional slant, then it’s vital that your content offers solid, practical tips that readers can easily adopt.
There may be one central theme, such as how to set up a website using WordPress, or it could be a long list of helpful tips. For instance, take a look at this article: 50 Soft Skills for Lifelong Happiness and Success. At first, you might think that 50 tips in one article is way too much. To be frank, I initially thought that too! However, the editors at Lifehack were insistent, and fortunately, they were proved to be right. The article is my most popular one to date – with more than 2,000 shares across social media platforms.
6. Check your facts.
When I worked for breaking news site Inside, the editors were almost military-like in their demands for 100% factually accurate content. They would check all news stories that I wrote, and if I made any mistake with names, numbers, dates, etc,. they would come down on me like a ton of bricks!
At first, it used to make me feel a little upset. But after a few weeks, I built up a fact-checking discipline that remains with me today (almost three years later).
If your content is to have credibility – you must get your facts right. And don’t just check them once, double-check them to be sure that no errors have crept into your content.
7. Get your grammar right.
I’m open with everyone who asks me, that grammar is the weakest part of my writing. However, because of this, I’m super attentive to checking my content to ensure that there are no obvious grammatical mistakes.
I have two main methods of doing this. One, I run all my content through a professional proofreading tool (Whitesmoke), which frequently saves me from publishing content riddled with errors. The other thing I do (which the editors at Inside taught me), is to read all my content aloud before hitting publish. It’s amazing what this achieves. You’ll spot errors in your content that your eyes simply gloss over.
To be an in-demand, professional writer, make sure that your published content is grammatically correct. Your writing reputation depends on it.
8. Use images that feature people.
I always believed that I had a good eye for choosing images – until I started working for Lifehack. They immediately highlighted to me that the most captivating images are those that feature people (preferably faces). I’d never thought about it before, but it’s a strong, natural trait for people to want to look at other people!
For example, if you wanted to showcase a new car, it’s better to have an image with someone either driving or standing by the car, than just an image of the car by itself. Clearly, advertisers understand this concept well, as people feature prominently in almost all TV and magazine advertisements.
9. Link to sources and references.
Fake news permeates today’s online world, so now, more than ever, it’s crucial to include links to sources and references in your content.
You can either do this by hyperlinking text (see what I did there!), or by adding numbered references that are listed at the end of your article.
Either way, by including links to your sources and references, your content will carry weight and credibility.
10. Stick to deadlines.
Editors thrive on deadlines. They have deadlines for drafting a piece, for submitting it to a writer, and of course for editing it.
Trust me, if you want to stay in an editor’s good books (excuse the pun!), then be sure to keep to their deadlines. For instance, if they submit to you an outline for an article, and they state they need the content submitting back to them within 72 hours – make sure you do this! You may get away with the odd late submission, but if it becomes a regular thing, most editors will drop you for more punctual and reliable writers.
So, as you can see from the above 10 things, editors require your content to be error-free, smooth and compelling. They also want it to be 100% factual – while maintaining an easy-to-read style.
Before I sign off, let me leave you with one thing about editors that you should definitely be aware of…
They always want to change things!
Even if you’ve written what you think is a perfect piece, you’ll find the editor still makes changes. This could be to the title, the body, the formatting, the image – or possibly all four! Sometimes you’ll be disappointed by the changes, which you’ll regard as weakening your text. However, unless you want your workload to dry up, then it’s usually best to let the editors do their thing. (Of course, please challenge an editor if your work has been changed beyond all recognition!). And remember, that editors are getting paid to make changes, so it’s to be expected that they’ll do so.
Having your work assessed and amended by editors takes some getting used to. Initially, you may feel a loss of control – or even become genuinely annoyed or frustrated. But stick with it, and eventually you’ll grow accustomed to how editors work, what they expect, and how they can help improve your writing. And who knows, one day – you might become an editor too!