When I say “edit your content” to translators, their minds naturally go to looking for mistakes, or trying to perfect something. But what I actually mean when I say edit your content is something a bit different. Editing your own work is tough, there’s no doubt, but it doesn’t have to turn into a hyper-critical, self-loathing exercise ending with a keyboard-imprinted forehead (yours.)
It’s about strengthening your writing.
Think of self-editing as a weights routine for your content. Instead of making yourself insane by agonising over semi colons and subordinate clauses, try hard to write in your own true voice. Our profession can make us a slave to dictionaries and grammar text books, and, although I’m not asking you to eschew all your orthographical and grammatical learning, I am saying that sometimes, especially when you’re writing content that’s aimed to appeal to readers, make them feel and, ultimately, compel them to act, it’s okay to play a little fast and loose with the rules.
Edit Your Content = Break Some Rules
In my opinion, there are some rules which are okay to break (we’ll get to those) and some which you really shouldn’t. My two main “rules” on the please-never-break-these-or-puppies-will-die side are…
Don’t Capitalise Every Single Word
For the record, I don’t think I really need to tell translators about the F7 shortcut (spellcheck is part of our daily lives) and incorrect capitalisation is a pet peeve of many a colleague…but just in case you ever get the urge to feel the caps love in a mistaken bid to create urgency….don’t.
So let’s look at the rules (I feel) it’s okay to break.
When I was in school, I was told I should never start a sentence with any of the words I’ve listed above. Mind you, when I was in school I was also told that languages weren’t a “sensible” thing to study at university and weren’t a viable career option….
Sometimes only a split infinitive (or a split verb) will do – in fact, in English, with the infinitive consisting of 2 words, it can be clumsy to keep them together. I say, use your own judgment.
We’ve probably all worked on documents where the use of “that” and “which” has seemed a bit…off. Most of the time though, it’s down to how the text is read, and a simple comma can add the necessary pause to “fix” the error. You’re probably aware that, gramatically speaking, whether you use “that” or “which” depends on the type of relative clause that’s going to follow, i.e. a non-restrictive relative clause or a restrictive relative clause.
You’ll also know that using “that” with a non-restrictive relative clause will sound strange, so that’s probably a rule you’ll naturally follow. However, using “which” to introduce a restrictive relative clause is absolutely fine and really, when you sit down to edit your content, it’s probably better to focus on the clause that follows “that” or “which” rather than worrying about the word preceding them.
The use of who and whom has, over the years, become tinged with a little snobbery. I’ve heard people disdainfully correcting others who’ve used it “incorrectly”, and yes, there is a (pretty simple) rule to help you figure out when to use whom, but in truth, “whom” sounds a bit stuffy, and old-fashioned, and Downton Abbey to our 21st century ears. It’s up to you though….and, of course, if your ideal client would visibly recoil if they saw a who in place of a whom on your website….you know what to do.
Dangling your prepositions. Sounds kind of…torturous, doesn’t it? I’ll let you in on a little secret though – they don’t mind. At least not in English. The idea that they can’t, or shouldn’t, be stranded at the end of a sentence came (apparently) from the poet John Dryden, who seemed to want us to treat English prepositions similarly to their Latin equivalents, which, incidentally, were attached to the noun and could not be separated from it. My advice? Don’t worry about having prepositions at the end of a sentence. They probably like the peace and quiet.
Edit Your Content – A Checklist
Now that we’ve covered some rules it’s okay to break, I’d like to share my checklist for editing your own content. As I mentioned up-post, this is not designed to make you (even more?!) critical of your work. It’s designed to help strengthen your writing, so here goes…
No long sentences
Check your sentence length by looking out for commas. Can you cut your sentence in two (or three or four?) Do. Make sure you don’t have an inordinate number of subordinate clauses in your content. Stand alone sentences are stronger.
Go easy on adverbs, adjectives & redundancies
Can you use a strong (descriptive) verb in its place? Do. Let’s look at some examples:
Swap: “run fast” for “sprint”
Swap: “laughed uproariously” for “guffawed”
Swap: “move slowly” for “inch”
Swap: “grew exponentially” for “exploded”
Don’t do “that”
We talked about using “that” and “which” earlier, but this is a different issue. In the majority of cases, the use of “that” is unnecessary. Sometimes, it does clarify a sentence, but often, it’s a boring “filler” word. (I’m sure we’ve all edited a text where the author seems to have used “that” to hit a word count!) “That”’s even wordier cousins, “in order that” and “in order to” should also be banned from your writing.
Cut out “very” and “really”
They’re really not necessary and they’re not necessary. Does that sentence make sense? No, because you’re saying the same thing twice. When you add in a “very” or a “really” you are usually emphasising something that doesn’t need to be emphasised. Or you’re being lazy and not looking for stronger wording. Is it very warm or is it hot? Your content’s message needs to be strong. Strong messages don’t need crutches like “very” or “really”. Be confident in your writing.
Let your tenses tell the time
“Currently”, “at the moment”, “at this present time”, “in the past”…all completely unnecessary. All weakening your writing. “I am currently in Madrid.” OR “I am in Madrid.” Both mean the same. Unless your time-teller is vital, for example, you are currently in Madrid but your plane is about to take off so you won’t be for much longer, then you don’t need to include it.
All of the tips and tricks in this post are my own personal take on the rules I feel can be broken (and those which can’t) as well as some techniques to produce content that’s strong and confident. You may have a different take on it. In fact. I hope you do. These rules suit me and my style of writing. Some of them, I hope, will help you give the editing equivalent of a bench press when you sit down to edit your content, but you need to sprinkle them with your own brilliance, and customise them to your voice and that of your own ideal clients.
As you’ll know by now, this week’s Copy Blitz has accompanied the celebrations for my copywriting course’s 1st birthday, so each day there’s been a blog post and a discount on the course price. Today’s discount is 10%….because I’m such a nice person, I decided to keep yesterday’s discount as a feel-good Friday treat!
Just follow this link to sign up and click on any of the Copy & Content – Translated birthday images on the page, or you can click on the one below this text…for one week only the Premium version is also the same price as the regular option!)