Ok, so you’ve got your first draft. This thing is, like, done, right?
Probably not 😕
In all copywriting jobs, editing your piece can take just as much work as writing it. That’s why most creative writers dread editing and why most copywriters simply toss a rough draft over to the editor and move on to their next to-do.
So let’s begin here. Why should you edit your piece? Isn’t that what an editor is for?
As you learn how to become a copywriter, you should strive to deliver a draft that is as close to perfect as you can possibly make it. For two reasons:
- Any editor worth their salt is going to make you make these revisions anyway. This process will probably take longer than it would take to simply do it right the first time. If you have an in-house copywriter job at an agency or organization, you want to be the copywriter who editors love to edit.
- Your job isn’t just to produce copy — it’s to make your clients’ lives easier. If pieces tax the timeline because they languish in the editing phase, it leaves a bad taste in the client’s mouth. If your drafts take three or four rounds of revision rather than just one or two, you’re not saving your client much hassle.
To land more copywriter jobs, your clients must enjoy working with you, and that stems from having confidence in your abilities to practically nail it the first time, on time. Being dependable for producing high-quality work creates job security and, through word of mouth, more gigs.
The five layers of editing
To make it as a copywriter, your editing game needs to be on point. A good copywriter doesn’t just edit a draft once. They edit a draft five times before a client ever sees it. At agencies, this is a standard protocol for copywriter jobs.
The good news is that this process can actually save you time because each round of editing evaluates a different quality of the piece. That way, you don’t have to be on the lookout for every type of mistake every time you read over a draft.
Layer 1: Structure
When you’re in the thick of drafting, it’s easy to digress a little too far or over-explain. So before diving into the nitty-gritty, take a 30,000-foot view of your piece.
- Does your piece say everything it needs to say, and does it say it in the right order?
- Does each section have a point, and does each point logically lead into the next?
- Does this piece meet the reader where they’re at?
If you’ve outlined your piece, the first two bullets should be a piece of cake. If you haven’t, look at each section and distill the main insight, thought, or takeaway into one sentence.
When you read those sentences in order, does it make the best logical sense? If not, you have some rearranging to do.
Once they’re in the right order, you can use your single sentences to interrogate their respective sections. Trim and retool to ensure each section supports and adheres to its main idea.
The third bullet can be a bit trickier.
In any copywriter job, you’ll often find yourself as an interloper, a chameleon, or an imposter in whatever industry you’re writing about. The readers of your piece are probably more familiar with that industry than you, so don’t tell them things they already know.
This is a tough trap to avoid! You’ve absorbed so much during your research and discovery process that the first draft of your blog can amount to a “here’s what I’ve learned” thing that starts at a place too basic for the reader.
The cure for this is best administered on the front end by simply asking the client, what does this reader already know? The answer to this question is likely the place your piece should begin.
Layer 2: Syntax
With bones in place, your piece can stand on its own two feet. Now, flesh it out by tightening it up at the sentence level.
- Is it clear what you’re trying to say?
- Does the cadence of the voice flow smoothly?
- Are the jargon and vocabulary correct and used appropriately?
- Purge crutch words like “just” or whatever you accidentally say all the time (mine is “ultimately”).
- The economy of word – could you say something in fewer words?
- Minimize passive voice and verbiage.
- A hack from one of our team members: If you can add the phrase “by zombies” to your sentence, and it still makes sense, it’s passive voice.
- Passive: My first vacation to Sweden will always be treasured by zombies.
- Active: I will always treasure my first vacation to Sweden.
This layer of editing achieves two objectives:
- The piece is enjoyable to read.
- It sounds like you’ve “been in the room.”
That is, you sound like you know what you’re talking about. For instance, when writing about cybersecurity, there’s nothing wrong with “security processes” or “security implementations,” but the phrase genuine cybersecurity technicians use is “security controls.”
Sounding like you’ve been in the room doesn’t come immediately. This is where you should rely on the editor and truly absorb their feedback rather than clicking “resolve” on their comment and moving on. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. It shows you care.
Over time, with more copywriter jobs, you’ll grow to know the lingo.
Layer 3: Brand voice
The first two editing layers are pretty black-and-white, aimed at the “rough” of your rough draft. Now you just have…a draft. A blank slate. The third editing layer imbues your piece with your client’s personality.
- Does it sound like the client wants it to sound?
- Does it sound like everything else out there?
- Does it stay away from certain words, themes, or stylistic elements that the client doesn’t want to include?
- Are branded products and services named and formatted correctly?
- Are there opportunities to slip in branded phrases around products or services?
- Have you linked to other blogs, pages, or resources on the client’s site?
There’s an element of CYA here. One of the worst things a client can say in response to a mistake in your piece is “We already told you that.” Nobody wants to repeat themselves or feel like they wasted their time in your discovery process.
On the other hand, when you incorporate the client’s stylistic specifications, it buys a ton of goodwill with your client. They feel like they’ve been heard.
An example: We once had a client who made commercial-grade security cameras. They never wanted us to say “surveillance,” even though we found several valuable SEO terms that included “surveillance.” Additionally, they never wanted us to talk negatively about other security instruments like guards, gates, or doorbell cameras, even though these tools were adjacent competitors.
TBH, all these rules were a huge pain at times. But they knew their brand and their audience and took them very seriously. You should, too.
In your discovery phase, be sure to ask for their style guide, and refer to that guide in this layer of editing.
Layer 4: SEO
This may vary from one copywriter job to another, or from client to client. Depending on your relationship with them, you may have to do some selling on the value of SEO, or you may be simply taking orders. In the latter case, make sure you do as they ask.
At a minimum, they’ll give you a key phrase to target.
Be sure to include that phrase:
- In the title of the blog, if possible
- In at least one header of the blog, if possible
- 6-8 times in the body copy for every 1,000 words, no matter what
- In your 150-character meta description
Interested in learning more about SEO? Check out our SEO 101 blog here.
Layer 5: Grammar
Now we’re back in familiar territory, right?
Grab the free Grammarly browser extension, and run it on every draft after it’s been through all the other layers of editing. Just remember, Grammarly won’t pick up everything. After you’ve Grammarly-ed your draft, give it one more read with your own two eyes.
And make sure you adhere to the client’s grammatical preferences.
- Do they adhere to APA, MLA, Chicago, or other some other style manual?
- Do they use the Oxford comma?
- Do they format their headings in title case or sentence case?
- Are bullet points and lists formatted consistently?
- Are names and abbreviations formatted correctly? E.g., is it “ThisPlatform,” “This-Platform,” or “This Platform?”
Your reputation as a copywriter hangs in the balance. If a client points out extraneous commas or misspellings, it’s egg on your face, big time.
Once more, with feeling — better editors get more copywriter jobs
Look at that, your raggedy draft is all spruced up. Give it one more read before sending it out the door.
Five layers of edits may sound excessive, but remember, you’re making the jump from a hustler-hobbyist to a professional copywriter. This is what it takes. This level of consideration will elevate you above other copywriters and prompt clients to brag about you behind your back.
Riley Manning is a Content Strategist and Director of Content Operations at Content Workshop. He is also a fiction writer who received his MFA from the University of Tampa. Riley’s work has appeared in Archetype, Hobart Pulp, Rejection Letters, and Bridge Eight Literary Magazine.
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