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Your Go-To Editing Guide (Snag Our Checklist)

Kelly Fiorini
September 26, 2023

When it comes to editing, people have opinions

As content marketers and writers, we dread the thought of a someone lurking in our doc, judging our work, ready to kill our beloved darlings.

At the same time, we love the result—a final draft that sings at the sentence level and hits all the right notes for the reader.

As both a freelance writer for companies like Hotjar and G2 and a contracted editor for Beam, I’ve seen how good the editing process can be. Done well, editing is supportive, not nitpicky. It’s collaborative, not terrifying.

With a few solid editing strategies in your back pocket, you create content that clients love and readers rave about.

1, 2, 3, 4: I declare a behind-the-scenes glimpse into Beam’s editing flow

Let’s start with some context. At Beam, we edit every piece not once, not twice, but FOUR times before we ship it off. (We’re not messing around over here!)

  1. The writer’s pass: The writer receives the brief and the subject-matter expert (SME) interview, writes their draft, and self-edits before submitting.
  2. The developmental editor’s pass: Our superstar editor Olivia Adkison takes a turn. She focuses on high-level questions like: Does this piece address all of the points in the brief? Does it make a logical argument? Olivia makes her edits in suggest mode and tags the writer back in for revisions.
  3. The line editor’s pass: The piece then heads my way. 👋 I look for moments of awkward phrasing, wordiness, passive voice, and punctuation errors. I edit the piece directly so the writer doesn’t have to jump back in again.
  4. The Head of Content’s pass: Finally, it’s time for Anthony Marovelli’s inspection. He gives the piece a once-over and makes final changes before sending it to the client.

Whew. Anyone tired yet? Even though we have some of the best writers in all the land, it’s still 100% a multi-step, collaborative effort to produce high-caliber content for our clients.

In this guide, we’ve pooled our collective knowledge to provide an actionable editing framework. Whether you fly solo or work with an extensive team of freelancers, you can improve your editing skills and produce fire pieces (without wanting to set pieces on fire). 🔥

Developmental edits: Make it make sense

In the developmental round of editing, your job is to ensure organization is solid and that the piece delivers on its promises. This means resisting the urge to replace words or fix typos. Instead, you focus on whether the piece makes logical sense.

(Spoiler alert: this involves asking why, repeatedly, like a three-year-old.)

1. Pay attention to purpose and intent

Yep, these are two separate things (that admittedly sound very much alike):

  • Purpose comes from the writer/company. Why are you producing this content? For example, you might want to present yourself as an expert in the field or encourage users to start a free trial.
  • Intent comes from the audience. Why did they click on this piece? Maybe they want to learn how to use ChatGPT for meal planning or discover cool marketing automation tools.

As you’re editing, try to shape your content to sit in the sweet spot between the two, satisfying both purpose and intent. Cut sections that don’t further your goal, and add content that’ll make your audience happy they clicked.

2. Get to the point

Writers often start a piece without knowing precisely what we want to say. But we dive in anyway—and eventually hit our stride and arrive at actionable takeaways for our readers.

Here at Beam, we call this ‘clearing your throat.’ (No relation to the similarly titled 1996 banger by DJ Kool, which lives rent-free in my head.)

When you’re editing, look for where it all starts to come together—that moment where you say, “Ah, okay, so that’s where we’re going with this.” Then, scroll back and see what you can cut or reorganize to get the reader to the value faster.

3. Show some love to the skimmers

People are busy, and attention spans are short—but we are still willing to consume long-form content if it’s quality.

“Most folks scan articles (especially on mobile) before they go all in,” says Anthony. “That means your headline, subheads, transitions, and white space need to tell a story all on their own.”

When you edit, scan from a skimmer’s perspective:

  • Do the first couple of sentences hook you in?
  • How’s the alignment? Do the H3s make sense under the H2s? Does everything make sense under the H1?
  • Do the sections follow a logical order?
  • Do you use bullet points, callout boxes, and images as visual anchors?

Brooklin, one of Beam’s founders, points out in the Google doc comment below, you can use bullet points to prevent big blocks of text—and stop skimmers from peacing out. ✌️

Line edits: Make it concise and conversational

Your piece can say all the right things and make a rock-solid argument—but no one will read it if it’s boring or convoluted.

(Someone had to say it.)

Line edits walk the delicate balance between keeping content clear and concise while still making it engaging to read.

1. Cut the fluff

Sometimes writers make a case for filler words by saying they create rhythm and voice.

Aucontraire! You can achieve the best of both worlds—concise writing and a clear voice—without fillers and fluff.

Some common culprits to cut include:

  • The word that: If you see a sentence with that, re-read it and see if it still makes sense without it. For example, “The company hoped that the product would attract new customers to the brand.”
  • ‘It is/there are’: These are also known as expletive constructions because they send the reader to snoozeville. For example, “There are many ways to integrate consultative sales strategies…” could become “Reps integrate consultative sales strategies…”
  • The words can or will: Use the simplest verb form that makes sense in any given situation. Most of the time you can live without helping verbs.
  • ‘Has the ability to’: Okay, this is a case where can works. Why use four words when you can use one?
  • Adverbs: These little words, often ending in an -ly, describe a verb. A sentence typically makes sense without them.
  • The word help: If you search for help in an unedited draft, don’t be surprised if 20+ results pop up. Think ‘helping improve’ and ‘helps teams stay connected.’ After a while, it starts to sound stale and even weakens your point. Find ways to re-word some of them.
  • Jargon: Let’s put jargon in the filler category, too. Why? Because some industry buzzwords are so commonplace that they’ve lost their meaning. Remove them, or replace them with something fresh.

The bottom line: each word and sentence in the draft should serve a purpose. Scrap anything that doesn’t further the narrative. By removing extra words, you make a piece clearer and punchier—i.e., better. 👏

2. Vary sentence structure

Okay, here’s where we keep the rhythm and flow of the piece despite having chopped tons of words.

In a recent chat with Anthony, he mentioned the importance of editing like a poet.

“Yes, content marketing is all business, but language is still musical. Long sentences will leave readers short of breath. Too many commas will be disruptive. Too many short sentences in a row will feel choppy. If you can make music with your edits, your readers will thank you.”
–Anthony Marovelli, Head of Content, Beam

I mean, can we pause for a moment and appreciate this take? 👏😍🔥

It reminds me of this little piece by Gary Provost that floats around the internet every few years:

Two tips for achieving musicality when editing include: 

  1. Read the piece aloud. Your eyes might not naturally notice sentence variation, but your ears likely will.
  2. Look at how sentences start. Do sentences tend to start with a noun? A short transitional phrase? An -ing word? Often, we writers fall into writing habits we don’t even notice. But if we make the same move enough times, it affects the reader’s experience. Changing up the structure of one or two sentences is usually enough to bring the flow back to life.

3. Ditch redundancy 

Sometimes redundancy happens at the structural level—we need to remove a section that says the same thing as another. But it happens on a smaller scale, too.

Here’s an example where a sentence contains three variations of the word ‘rely’:

🤔 Instead of relying on in-person programs to satisfy regulatory requirements, L&D teams should rely on finding and deploying a digital learning tool that can deliver reliable, verifiable results every time. 

Let’s remove and condense—and kick fluff to the curb while we’re at it: 

✅ Instead of relying on in-person programs, L&D teams should look for a digital learning tool that delivers consistent results and ensures compliance.

Much better.

Copyedits: Make it clear and consistent

Now we get into the copyediting/proofreading realm. Or, to borrow from the B2B vernacular: it’s time to get granular. 

Details matter. A piece has to look polished and professional to earn the reader’s trust.

1. Convert passive voice to active

Active voice is absolutely superior. The subject performs the action, which just makes sense. It’s clear and concise.

👍 Active voice: Carlos reads the manual. 

🤔 Passive voice: The manual is read by Carlos. 

With passive voice, we don’t find out critical information until the end of the sentence, if at all. It creates friction—and confusion. 

Let’s look at a more complex example: 

Passive: Software companies know this, which is why so many of their ad types are designed to drive conversions.

The second half of the sentence is wordy and contains passive voice—a double whammy! But it’s easy enough to fix:

Active: Software companies know this, so they’ve designed their ads to drive conversions.

Now it’s clear who’s doing what—and we reduced the word count by a third. 🙌

2. Check for punctuation

It may seem insignificant, but punctuation packs a punch. 

Proper punctuation: 

  • Establishes tone
  • Improves flow
  • Clarifies meaning 

You’ve probably seen this poster, likely in your English teacher’s classroom:

Commas are important but difficult to use correctly. I could write a long-form guide just on commas, but no one would read it. (Note that the second sentence needs a comma before the word but; the first does not. It’s confusing, people!)

The problem with commas is that you often need to know about clauses and phrases to use them 100% correctly.

But if you tuned out during English class, you can still learn some tricks that make an impact during proofreading:

  1. Be consistent. When in doubt, strive for consistency and clarity above all else. If one image caption has a period at the end, ensure the rest do too.
  2. Use an AI assistant. I sometimes see vitriol toward grammar-checking software on social media. But honestly, I’m a big fan. Sometimes Grammarly spots a typo or an extra comma I would’ve missed.
  3. Fill in the gaps. Keep learning. Check out the Grammar Girl website or podcast, or watch experts edit content on Tommy Walker’s YouTube series The Cutting Room. Oh, and follow Beam Content on LinkedIn for random gems about the all-important em-dash.

3. Check for accuracy

You want to earn readers' trust so they keep returning to your content. This means doing a final read-through for any issues before publication. Keep your eyes peeled for:

  • Typos. They happen. It’s easy for an extra letter to slip into a word.
  • Spelling mistakes. Pay close attention to the spelling of proper nouns. I do lots of Googling—and check LinkedIn to see how our SMEs spell their own names.
  • Links. In a piece with lots of links, this takes a minute. But clicking on wrong or broken links frustrates readers. (While you’re at it, check the publication date on all sources to make sure they’re current.)

Remember the golden rule of editing

It’s not “treat others how you want to be treated.” (But that’s a good idea, too—and if you’re an editor, it’s essential. Be polite and respectful in your comments to your writers. We need to restore the reputation of the Anonymous Otter!)

The golden rule of editing is this: Every choice you make should reduce friction and increase satisfaction for your readers.

Beam’s Editing Checklist is a good starting point—but it’s not exhaustive.

Run each editing decision you make through the golden-rule filter, and you’ll produce content that’s consistently *chef’s kiss.*

If you’d rather leave your content writing and editing to the pros, let us know. We’re here for you!