Why An Editor Is Much More Than A Red Pen

by Matt, on 21 Sep 2021

We see too many pieces of content – blog posts, newsletters, articles, even business proposals – that have clearly been published without sufficient review.

Typos, grammatical errors, formatting inconsistencies, and factual inaccuracies abound. It’s painful to see when you can’t help but spot the glitches.

Sadly, those mistakes are more damaging than many people realize.

Everything we publish is competing for eyeballs – and it’s a cutthroat battle. With content overloading every channel, minor differences make a major difference.

Both humans and algorithms are attracted to well written, consistent content, and turned off by anything that hints at amateurism or a lack of effort.

Quality content that impresses Google leads to greater search visibility, which leads to more traffic and (hopefully) more leads.

Higher quality content also indicates to prospects and customers that you and your company are knowledgeable, competent, and trustworthy.

The safety net that stops us from disappointing our readers (and crawling bots) is an editor. Their independent, expert eye is key to spotting and correcting errors and inconsistencies before they leak into the public domain.


Editing Comes in Different Flavors

There are several distinct types of editing. Depending on the size and complexity of your organization and the content you’re producing, these might each be performed by a specialist, or one person might cover them all.

Done well, they will ensure your content exudes quality and appeals to both readers and search engines alike.

Let’s explore.

1 / Self-Editing

Before handing a draft over to someone else, the author should use online writing tools to find and eliminate basic issues such as spelling mistakes, grammar errors, redundant language, passive voice, and unwarranted adverbs.

Popular tools include Hemingway App, Grammarly, and Typely, as well as the spelling and grammar checkers built into every word processor.

2 / Substantive Editing

As the name suggests, this step is focused on the substance of your piece.

Overall, does it hang together? Is there a logical flow to the content and does it reach a sensible conclusion? Articles that ramble on without guiding the reader to a helpful end point are a waste of everyone’s time.

Is the content clear and accurate? A substantive editor should also look for incomplete or illogical arguments, unsupported conclusions, and any other inconsistencies or gaps in the story.

Lastly, does the article achieve its strategic goal? Everything you publish should be written for a reason, and that reason should be clearly articulated and agreed upon before putting pen to paper. If the end result doesn’t meet that goal, it’s the substantive editor’s job to say so and to send it back for rework.

3 / Copy Editing

Now that the substance has been verified, it’s time to focus on style.

Hopefully you’ve spent time developing and agreeing brand guidelines, which should include an explanation of your brand’s personality, voice, and tone. If you haven’t, make time to do so, preferably facilitated by an experienced brand consultant. This is a key step to producing consistent content that “sounds like you” every time.

The copy editor will ensure your sentences are clear and concise, and that you’ve written them in an appropriate and consistent tone.

They will also keep your article free from unnecessary jargon and in-house or sector-specific terminology that might be lost on less attuned readers.

Finally, your copy editor should play the grammar, punctuation, and style tsar. If you break the rules or fail to meet your brand guidelines, it’s their job to flag and correct the transgressions.

4 / Fact Checking

The next step applies mainly to technical writing, but op-ed pieces that refer to events or data can also benefit from this type of editing.

A fact checking editor is concerned with the accuracy of information, making sure data, statistics, dates, places, names, and other details are correct and properly cited.

Whoever writes the piece is responsible for doing the original research and including references to any external information to which they refer.  

But, if the fact checker can’t verify the information or thinks it has been quoted out of context, they must flag the issue before a disgruntled reader or third-party source points it out.

5 / Search Engine Optimization

In today’s digital world, we must write content for algorithms as much as for humans. An SEO specialist will advise on making your content as SEO-friendly as possible, applying the latest SEO best practices.

Since many companies don’t have an SEO expert on staff, this step is often handled by a consultant. However, if an external SEO editor isn’t familiar enough with your business, their adjustments can have the unintended consequence of making your writing sound contrived.

The solution is to work with the same SEO expert over an extended period so that they become familiar with the vernacular of your sector.

You should also allow for a couple of iterations between author and SEO expert to smooth out any awkward sentences.

6 / Proof Reading

Last but very much not least, there’s no substitute for having the final draft read through by someone independent who understands the subject matter – preferably someone representative of your intended audience.

At this stage, you’re not checking for any particular type of error. It’s a matter of whether the previous set(s) of eyes missed anything, and how effectively the piece hits its mark.

That said, don’t dismiss this step as merely a check box. If your proofreader has concerns, take them seriously. It’s never too late to fix something that might take the piece from good to great in the eyes of your target audience.

Who Makes a Great Editor?

Who you pick to edit your work will depend heavily on your team members’ experience and bandwidth as well as the type and significance of the content you’re writing.

At a minimum, your editor must have a clear understanding of the audience you’re trying to reach, the type and style of content the audience expects, and the objective of the piece you’re developing.

A substantive editor must be intimately familiar with your product and industry since the effectiveness of your content will depend on understanding and meeting your audience’s expectations and needs.

An SEO editor must obviously be an expert in their field and will often be a third-party consultant as discussed earlier.

Strong editors usually have a background in communications, language, or marketing, and a keen eye for details and formatting.

They should know the style and voice of your company well enough to apply it across everything from blogs to newsletters to webpages. This will help make everything sound like it’s been written by a human, not a robot (although the difference between the two is becoming less and less obvious as AI advances). It will also ensure readers find your content consistent when they encounter it on more than one channel.

Finally, it’s helpful if your editor is familiar enough with your content library to spot opportunities for linking new articles to earlier posts, or to reference past and upcoming events.

Things to Take Away

Four key points to understand about editing:

  • Having your content professionally edited provides a safety net to catch mistakes and inconsistencies before they undermine your content.
  • Editing makes your content more appealing to both humans and algorithms, increasing search visibility and showing prospects and customers that you and your company are knowledgeable, competent, and trustworthy.
  • There are several different types of editing, each of which contributes something extra to the finished article. They can be covered by one person or by several specialists, depending on the size of your company and the importance of the content you’re developing.
  • Your editor(s) should clearly understand the audience you’re trying to reach, the type and style of content they expect, and the objective of the piece you’re writing since the effectiveness of your content will depend on understanding and meeting your audience’s expectations and needs.


  1. Smashing Magazine, 2014, accessed Sep 2021, <https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/01/editing-tips-for-business-web-content/>
  2. Convince&Convert, accessed Sep 2021, <https://www.convinceandconvert.com/content-marketing/why-next-level-content-needs-a-managing-editor/>

Photo Credits

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash


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