This is a guest contribution from Ali Luke of Zen Optimise.
Have you ever glanced at a post the day after publishing it … only to notice a glaring error?
In an ideal world, you’d have a professional editor helping with your posts, making careful adjustments and double-checking things with you until your post is the polished masterpiece it deserves to be.
In the real world, chances are you’re on your own. If your post is going to be edited, it’s up to you to do it.
Whether you’re a highly experienced writer or a new blogger who’s very unconfident about their writing, spending some time editing (and doing it right) will result in dramatically better posts.
9 Tips for Editing Your Own Blog Posts
#1: Plan Before You Write
One of the best editing tricks takes place before you even write your post.
By spending five to ten minutes creating a plan, you can save yourself hours of frustration trying to whip your post into shape later.
Your plan needn’t be complicated: a list of your subheadings is enough. My plan for this post began like this:
1. Plan before you write
2. Avoid editing while writing (link Daniel’s post)
3. Don’t go straight from writing into editing
#2: Avoid Editing While Writing
Have you ever started a blog post, got a paragraph or two in, scrapped your introduction, started again… and then ended up bogged down mid-way?
A good plan will help a lot here, but you also need to get out of the habit of trying to perfect every sentence while you’re working on the first draft. It’s an inefficient and often frustrating way to work.
I wouldn’t go quite so far as Daniel Scocco, who suggests you should never hit backspace when you’re writing – personally, I think it’s no big deal if you quickly correct a typo or occasionally restart a sentence. But at least 90% of the time, you should be making forward progress with your first draft, not going back and rewriting.
#3: Don’t Go Straight from Writing into Editing
If you’re in a hurry to get a post out, or simply in a blogging mood, you might finish drafting your post and immediately start editing.
While this is OK once in a while, it’s definitely better to allow your post to rest a bit before you start editing.
This has a couple of benefits:
You won’t be so close to the material, so you’ll see where you might want to add something in, take something out, or rearrange paragraphs. (You’ll also be more likely to spot all the good bits!)
You’ll hopefully come back feeling refreshed, so you’ll be in a better position to spot typos, grammatical errors, and other tiny but distracting mistakes.
How long should you stay away? If you can leave your post overnight, that’s perfect; otherwise, a lunch break or even a coffee break can be enough.
#4: Edit the Big Picture First
When you hear the word “editing,” you probably think about fixing spelling mistakes and debating over word choices. That’s definitely a big part of editing … but before you get into the details, you need to take a look at the big picture of your post.
Think of it this way: you don’t want to spend ages getting a paragraph just right, only to later realize it doesn’t belong in your post at all.
So spend at least a few minutes reading through your post and deciding whether you should:
Cut out information that might not be relevant (or that’s repetitive).
Add in information that readers may need in order to understand the post.
Move around paragraphs or subsections that aren’t currently in the best order.
At this stage, you’re focusing on paragraphs and perhaps sentences, rather than individual words.
#5: Cut Down Your Introduction
Most blog posts benefit from some cutting … and introductions are a great place to begin.
The first few lines of your post need to hook the reader and encourage them to read on. If you spend several paragraphs explaining the inspiration behind the post, or if you start to repeat yourself, readers may well switch off and click away.
One handy trick here is to delete your first paragraph and see whether the post works without it. If not, just add it back in.
If you’re stuck, try How to Write Irresistible Blog Intros for some great tips.
#6: Add a Call to Action
If you included a call to action during your first draft, good for you! Missing calls to action are one of the biggest mistakes I see when I’m editing guest posts or training bloggers.
A call to action, in case you’ve not come across the term before, is a clear prompt to the reader to do something. It could be “click here to buy my ebook” or “tell us what you think in the comments” or “if you enjoyed this post, please share it on Facebook” … or almost anything else.
The best place for a call to action is right at the end of your post, because that’s the point at which readers will be deciding what to do next. If you’re not sure what to write or want to see how other bloggers do it, check out 6 Action-Inspiring Ways to End Your Blog Post (and 12 Examples).
#7: Don’t Let Spellcheck Do Your Proofreading
Although it’s definitely a good idea to run a spellcheck on your post, you shouldn’t trust spellcheck to catch everything.
When you proofread, look out for:
Inconsistencies in how you write a word or phrase (e.g. “e-book”, “eBook”, “e-Book” or “ebook” – pick one and stick with it throughout).
Missing punctuation marks – I sometimes find I’m missing the period at the end of a paragraph, and it’s also easy to forget to close your parentheses.
Missing words, especially small ones like “a”. Sometimes, these errors creep in when you edit a sentence and don’t change everything you should.
Spelling mistakes, especially with words that sound alike – e.g. “you’re” vs “your”.
One good trick you can use here is to read your post out loud. This forces you to slow down, and often means you’re more likely to notice mistakes. (Alternatively, you could print your post and read it on paper, with a red pen in hand.)
#8: Don’t Agonize Over Making it Perfect
One of the great things about blog posts is that you can edit them after publishing them. (Obviously that’s a fair bit harder if you print a set of business cards … or 500 copies of a book.) While it’s definitely important to have a well-written, polished post, if a typo remains, it’s not going to kill your chances of blogging success.
If you’re spending so much time editing and proofreading that you’re struggling to actually write enough for your blog, or if you’re losing your enthusiasm for blogging, cut back.
And don’t feel that you have to use every single tip on this list on every single post you write – though it’s definitely worth checking off each point if you’re editing something really important, like a guest post or a piece of flagship content.
#9: Preview Your Post and Check the Formatting
Get in the habit of previewing your posts – sometimes, a problem that’s not obvious in the text editor will stand out sharply in the preview.
Even if there aren’t any problems, you may find yourself spotting typos, or simply seeing things that you decide to tweak to make your post more visually attractive. This could mean:
Adding in formatting … or taking some out if you’ve gone over the top with the bold text!
Editing the title or subheading to avoid one word wrapping onto the next line.
Changing a link so that it doesn’t wrap across two lines.
Putting in extra space, perhaps after a list (some blog themes tend to squish lists and the subsequent paragraph together).
Of course, all of this is very nit-picky – but if you do spot something that’s quick and easy to change, this is a good opportunity to make your post even better.
So, those are my nine best tips. Which ones(s) will you be putting into practice this week? And do you have a tenth to add? Let us know in the comments…
You can find Ali Luke over at Zen Optimise, where she blogs about content marketing, social media, and more. For help with planning and writing, as well as editing, take her free video training (45 minutes) on The Writing Process for Bloggers.