Editing an Article: Transform Your First Draft Into Something Unforgettable

Stephen King Quote on Editing

Two distinct processes go into producing great content – writing and editing.

Writing is the easy part. 

I’m not suggesting that producing a magnum opus is as simple as tying a pair of shoes. But getting the words onto the page is a breeze compared to turning those words into something useful.

Editing is the hard part.

Editing is where the magic happens. It’s where the ordinary is elevated to extraordinary, banal becomes mystical, and dull blocks of copy are sculpted into entertaining, valuable, and high-converting content.

Fortunately, editing isn’t some esoteric witchcraft. It’s a learned skill that, when applied effectively, becomes your most helpful writing tool.

From Meh to Magnificent: 8 Tips for Editing an Article

Ernest Hemingway Quote About Writing

Let’s be honest – there’s no such thing as a perfect first draft.

Even the greatest writers rely on a heavy editing process to transform their work from a rough collection of thoughts into a polished article. 

But how exactly do editors work their magic? And how can you apply these methods to your own writing?

Here are a few ways to do it.

1. Edit With Your Audience in Mind

Approach the entire process with your audience in mind.

Remember that the person reading the final article will most likely find it by typing a query into a search engine.

Your content should answer that query and stay on topic.

So when editing, put yourself in your audience’s shoes and ensure that the article matches their search intent.

A good way to do this is to put together brand guidelines before you start editing.

Brand guidelines create a clear picture of your client’s business objectives, their audience and competitors, and what they want to achieve with your content.

Here’s a part of the brand guidelines I use for a B2B client:

Audience and Brand Guideline

 It clearly states who the audience is, so I know who to keep in mind while editing.

Ultimately, tools like brand guidelines help you streamline your thoughts, tone of voice, and syntax in relation to your client. It gives you a point to aim toward as you craft your message.

2. Take Stock of Your First Draft

When reading through your first draft, you’ll find (many) places where the writing doesn’t flow, sentences don’t connect smoothly, and you used the wrong word for what you were trying to say.

Don’t sweat it – this happens to everyone.

Take some time and read over your first draft from top to bottom. Approach it from a more general perspective, looking for obvious mistakes. For now, don’t worry about more complex grammar and concepts (those come later).

The first pass is also a great opportunity to insert any quotes or stats that can tie the article together or give it more authority.

Once you’ve read through the first draft and have a general idea of where you want the writing to go, it’s time to start. Again.

This time with a much more critical eye.

3. Make Your Headline Convincing

Most people don’t read an article further than the headline. That means it’s likely your only chance to make an impression. And we all know how important first impressions are.

A headline should do two things:

  • Hook the reader
  • Convince them the article is worth reading

So how do you craft a convincing headline?

With precise, emotive language. You want to target a specific audience, address a problem, offer a solution, and stand out to the reader. 

As a general rule, the broader the appeal of a headline, the less effective it is. 

A broad headline doesn’t say much, but a precise headline lets the reader know that your article has the specific information they’re looking for.

4. Be Concise (Kill Your Darlings)

Ornate, flowery writing is a pleasure to read in a novel. Unfortunately, it doesn’t make for great content.

If the sentence is too long, then one of two things needs to happen:

  1. You need to break the sentence up.
  2. You need to murder it.

Killing your darlings is necessary – and brutal. 

No one wants to see their hard work go to waste. But no one wants to read an article full of excessive, overly-complicated language, either.

Be liberal in how you metaphorically slaughter and remove everything that isn’t essential to the core of the article.

An excellent tool for helping with this is Hemingway App. It helps make your writing concise and to the point. It lets you know where your sentence is too long, hard to read, or uses too much of the passive voice.

Remember – Hemingway is just a smart tool and can’t fully replace the ingenuity or creativity of a human mind. Use it as a guide, but if your sentence needs to be a bit wordier to make a point, don’t let an app dictate your writing style.

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5. Learn Proper Grammar

Remember what I said about first impressions?

Make sure your grammar and spelling are impeccable.

Even the most fastidious writer makes grammar and spelling mistakes, but no one likes wading through pages of them.

If you’re using Google Docs or Microsoft Word to write your content, use the integrated spell check to take care of any glaring errors.

Free software alone won’t pick up every mistake in your writing – but there are other options.

The best is Grammarly. I use it to cover all my bases and ensure that my writing is as tight as possible. Grammarly will highlight mistakes in real time, helping you edit as you go and suggesting better or more concise versions of what you’re trying to say.

Their free version is pretty good, but if you want to eliminate any doubt as to whether or not you should use that Oxford comma, I recommend getting a subscription.

6. Give it Time

Once you’ve finished your initial edit, shelf the article.

Go for a walk, drink some coffee or have a nap. Work on something else, then come back to it tomorrow.

Since editing is mentally intensive work, your brain will feel fatigued after a full day of looking for incorrect capitalizations and missed em dashes.

Once rested, edit again with a fresh pair of eyes – you’ll be amazed at how much you missed the previous day.

7. Get a Second Opinion

After you’ve made it as good as it can be, get someone else to look at your work.


Another person proofing your work will not only discover small mistakes you overlooked but can suggest different ways of writing a sentence or linking two paragraphs together. 

If you have access to a spare pair of eyes, use them.

8. Use a Content Checklist

There’s a lot that goes into editing, and it can be difficult to remember all the steps involved.

Use a content checklist to minimize the risk of making a mistake or overlooking an important step.

Your content checklist is essentially a tool that covers most of the editing rules you need to abide by. It will help you reduce the number of errors when trying to make your article as perfect as possible.

Each editor’s content checklist will look different, but it should contain an ever-evolving list of things to look out for when proofreading an article. 

To give you an idea of how it could look, this is part of a content checklist I use for one of our clients:

Content Checklist

As you can see, I separated the checklist for this particular client into different sections. Each provides a framework to help me ensure that every article adheres to the same standard.

Some articles might require additional or fewer steps, so the checklist shouldn’t be followed too rigidly. Also, if you’re editing for different clients, they’ll likely have different requirements.

Writing and Editing Articles is Tough, Maybe We Can Help

Editing has the power to transform your content into a valuable resource that drives your business.

It’s a powerful tool for distilling your messaging and drawing readers in – it’s also something we do really well.

Check out our content marketing services to see if we might be a good fit for you.

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Get more leads with less effort.

If you want a steady flow of targeted leads, we’ve got a proven process for driving organic traffic and converting it into qualified leads.