How to sharpen your editing game: Q&A with a pro

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Dawn Wolfe, Senior Editor at The Simons Group, and recently spoke with her about the power of good editing. Here’s a condensed version of our conversation, packed with several great tips:

Q: What do content marketers commonly misunderstand about editing?

A:  Sometimes we don’t realize a great editor can make people sound better than they do in real life. Overall, good editing is more than fixing a missing comma or typo. Editing can add professionalism and help manage tone. For example, I’ve had experience with a person who tends to phrase things in a negative way, which can send the wrong message to readers. It’s a simple fix for me as an editor and it makes a meaningful difference.

Q: What tools and resources do you use for editing?

A: I always use a spell checker and rely heavily on the Associated Press Stylebook, which is the gold standard for journalists and content marketers. Spell checkers, by the way, aren’t always right, so I would caution people not to lean too heavily on them.

Q: What is your typical editing process?

A: I read the piece through once, not really looking for anything specific, except to get a feel for the piece. I read to see if it has a good intro paragraph, conclusion and logical flow. I check to see if it sounds professional. Then, I’ll go back through and read it slowly and carefully. I dig into the details, looking for typos, incorrect punctuation, spelling, dangling participles, etc.

When I have the luxury of time, I’ll put a piece aside at the end of the day and come back to it the next day, especially if it’s an intense or particularly meaty topic. I do better with fresh eyes—fresh eyes find things that tired eyes miss. Setting things aside for a day is a good habit to develop. When you come back to it, often you’ll find errors you initially overlooked.

Q: Do you take any special steps for technical content, like financial writing?

A: I always double check sources and look closely at numbers. We’re all human and we all make mistakes—maybe a number gets transposed, a digit is dropped or it’s not the correct year. I check facts, and if it’s a nuance I’m not familiar with, I’ll look it up to make sure the writer shared the information correctly. That applies to legislation, statistics, data, places and people’s names. Green writers often misspell names, which is an egregious mistake. Basic things are critical to double check, like “Jon” versus “John.” Being sloppy can ruin your reputation, and a good editor can help you clean up these errors.

Q: What advice do you have for people who aren’t professional editors, but frequently serve as content reviewers?

A: A great tip is to read things aloud. Sometimes your mind misses things—it’s easy to read over an error or a missing word. But if you read the text out loud, you’ll often find things to fix. Another idea is to share the piece with someone else in your household, a colleague or a co-worker you respect. A second pair of eyes can be valuable.  And with editing, like anything else, you’ll get better with practice.