Edit Your Blog Posts With Seven Simple Steps

A lot is taught about the importance of writing great blog posts, but it is in the editing of your writing that your post can really be made to shine. If left unedited, it can create a very different impression that can hurt people’s view of you and your blog.

In today’s episode, I want to share with you a simple 7 step process to editing  your posts. We’re going to talk a little about proof reading but also some bigger picture editing too – because really fixing spelling and grammar edits are just a small part of this.

problogger_168So, if you know your posts could be lifted in quality by having a simple process to walk through to edit your posts – this one is for you. And if you know a blogger who could benefit from this episode – please do share it too.

Listen to this post in the player above or here on iTunes.

Further Resources on 7 Steps to Editing Your Blog Posts

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Hey there and welcome to Episode 168 of the ProBlogger Podcast. My name is Darren Rowse and I’m the blogger behind problogger.com, a blog, podcast, event, job board, series of ebooks and a real book as well which you can find on Amazon all designed to help bloggers to grow their audience and to make money from their blogs. You can learn more about ProBlogger at problogger.com. You can also search for that book over at Amazon, just searching for ProBlogger.

In today’s lesson, I want to talk about something that I think is really important for bloggers, and that’s something that I know some of us attend to avoid. That is editing our blog posts. Let us talk about the importance of writing great blog posts and creating great content which is definitely important but it’s the editing of our writing where our post can really be made to shine. Left unedited, it can be kind of left pretty average. Not editing our posts can really hurt the impression that people have of us and our blog. It can come across as really careless when we don’t edit.

In today’s episode, I want to share with you seven simple steps to editing your blog posts. We’re going to talk a little bit about proofreading which I know is what many of us think about when we think about editing but we’re going to get way beyond just proofreading our content because editing really is a much bigger picture thing. Fixing your spelling and grammar is important but it’s just a small part of the process.

If you know, like I do, that your post could be lifted in quality by having a simple process to work through to edit your posts, this episode is for you. If you know a blogger who could benefit from this, please do share it with them. You can share it by sending them to problogger.com/podcast/168 where I will have lots of further reading for you as well. I’ve got quite a bit of material that I want to point you to.

Editing is so important. I want to present to you seven steps for editing your blog posts.

The first one is something that you need to do before you start writing. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that good editing starts with good planning. Planning before you write will help you so much in the editing process. The more planning you put into your blog post, the better it will be in terms of structure, quality, and the more benefits you’ll have for your readers as well.

One of the things I try to do before I create any blog post, before I create any podcast, before I create any talk is to outline the content that I’m trying to create, to come up with the main points and to come up with some sort of structure and to know the journey that I’m going to take my readers on. To actually thought through the structure means that when I come to writing and creating the content, I’m in the flow. I don’t have to be using that part of my brain that’s thinking about structure. I can just write because I’ve already got it sitting there in front of me. I can really just create.

One of the things I’ve learned and I have talked about this in previous episodes is that I think, and I don’t know this because I’m not a scientist, but I think we use different parts of the brain for different parts of the creating process. Planning is one part of the brain, we use one part of the brain. Writing, creating is another part, and editing is another. I really do think it’s important to separate out those tasks, to actually put some time aside before you write to outline. Then, to put some time aside to create. And then, the next part of course is to put time aside to edit.

First step, make sure you’re outlining your post. This doesn’t mean that you can’t add to your outline later. This is something I do all the time while I’m in the flow, I’ve got my outline in front of me, and then I’ll think on the fly of another point that I can make. There’s no problem with doing that. At least having some idea of where your post is going to head will help to create something that won’t need as much editing later.

Point number one, good editing starts with good planning. Point number two, put some space between when you write and when you edit.

I’m a big believer that we use different parts of our brain for the writing and the editing. When we’re writing, we’re in the creative flow, hopefully that’s where we’re aiming for at least. Sometimes it doesn’t quite get there, sometimes it does feel like it’s a hard job. We all know that feeling of being in that flow. That’s where we’re aiming for. When we’re editing, we use a different part of our brain.

Really, what I’m doing when I’m editing is I’m still trying to be creative, I’m still trying to improve, but I’m using a part of my brain that is a little more judgmental. I’m trying to look a little bit more critically at the content. Sometimes, I find it really hard if I’m in the middle of the flow and then I start editing on the go. This is what you definitely want to avoid, editing while you’re writing. That’s something that I think really can stop that creative flow.

That’s not to say that you can’t fix a spelling mistake that you see while you’re on the go but really allow urself just to write in that writing process and then edit it once you’re done. I do think it’s important to have a little bit of space between when you edit. Now, that might simply be getting up and walking around your desk three times and then sitting down to edit. Probably a little bit more time might be useful, you can go up and get a coffee, have some lunch, even sleep on it. Having said all that, I do think there’s some arguments for not leaving it too long.

I personally find that if I write something and then I leave it for a week to edit that I come back to it and I’m not really as energized by the topic. I’m not really as excited about the topic. Sometimes, if I leave it too long, it means I never actually finish it. There’s a bit of a balancing act there, you want to have some space between your writing and editing but you don’t want to leave it too long. Separate out those tasks.

Number three, let’s actually get into some editing now. The first thing I do when I’m editing a blog post, I will say that I have people who help me to edit my content now, particularly some of the fine tuning stuff. One of the things I always try and do when I’ve written a piece of content is to do some big picture editing first. I don’t start with spelling, I don’t start with grammar, I don’t start with the visual editing and trying to format the post. I’m thinking in a bigger picture.

Ali Luke wrote a really great post which I will link to in the show notes. She wrote it back in 2014. She actually goes through nine steps for crucial self editing of blog posts. One of the things I love there is that she really does talk about stepping back from your content and not going straight to the spelling and grammar and thinking on this big picture. I would recommend you read that.

One of the things I try and do in this bigger picture editing is ask myself a series of questions. I haven’t ever written it down but the questions I’ve just gotten the habit of asking are these ones.

Firstly, does my post have a point to it? – I think it was Chris Garrett who once said that you should always, as you read your blog post, ask yourself the question so what. Does this post have any benefit for my readers? It’s surprising how many times I’ve written a post and I ask myself that question at the end and I go there probably wasn’t any benefit, I’m probably just getting something off my chest here. Sometimes, I will at that point then say well, I’m just going to scrap this post. That’s the ultimate edit, delete. Many of the times, you can reshape your post to really bring a benefit to your readers. You want to bring some benefits to your readers. How are you going to change their life in some way with your blog post? That’s one of the questions I’m asking. I’m particularly asking that because I have teaching blogs. You might have a different goal with your blog and so your so what might be a little bit different.

Is it a good post? This is big picture questions here. This is part of the editing process. Is it something that your readers are going to want to share? Is it something that they’re going to wow, that’s life changing, or I’m glad I read that. If your answer to those questions is no, then you need to do some big editing on your content. It may even be editing your idea of the post.

Other questions you can ask about the big picture is is this post meaty enough? Could I add some depth to it? Could I add some more information? Does it need a story? Does it need an example? Does it need a quote? Does it need some further reading, links to make it more understandable and to make it more useful in some ways? Again, here we’re not talking about the nitty gritty of the post, we’re actually trying to judge is this post good enough, is it deep enough, is it meaty enough, is it gonna be useful to people?

Another question to ask is is this post too repetitive? Am I repeating the same thing over and over again in different ways? Could I take something out to stop that repetition?

Is the ordering of the ideas right? Do I need to shift a paragraph around? Is it a logical flow? Am I actually taking my readers from one point to another and building my argument, building the idea, or should I present it in a different order?

Is there a relevant information in the post? Have you written a paragraph or two that’s really in a side, a tangent that doesn’t really enhance the post in some way?

Another one that I try and ask in this sort of big picture thinking is does this post sound human? Is it in the right voice?

I did a great interview, I think it was a great interview, with Beth Dunn back in Episode 52. It’s one of the most popular episodes I’ve ever done. Beth Dunn is an editor at HubSpot. She presented ten tips on how to write in a more human way. I would encourage you to go back and listen to that, make a note of that one. You can go to problogger.com/podcast/52 or iTunes. She talks about ten things that can help you to write in a more human kind of voice.

I think this is part of that big picture, sometimes you get to the end of the post and you think that’s just a bit too formal, it’s not as conversational as I might normally write. Asking yourself some of those sorts of questions, she gives some really practical tips about using contractions, using can’t instead of cannot, using you’ve instead of you have, those types of words. Using short, clear words instead of fancy ones, avoiding jargon. She’s got some really great tips in that particular episode. I guess ultimately there, we’re trying to understand is it written in the right voice and a voice that’s consistent with your blog.

The last thing I’ll say about the big picture editing is an exercise that might help you. Try and put yourself in the shoes of your reader. Actually imagine one of your readers reading your post from their perspective. You might actually have an actual person in mind or you might just imagine one of your readers. Put yourself in their shoes and read the post. Would they understand it? What questions might they be left with at the end of the post? What objections might they have? How would they feel as a result of reading it? Have you written it in a way that’s uplifting or one that’s gonna leave them feeling a little down?

Asking those types of questions, reading a post through the eyes of one of your readers can really change your post and inform the way that you need to edit it. It might also help you to write a more comprehensive post because you suddenly realize that they have a question that’s not answered in the post. Maybe this exercise will help you to write in a more conversational, personal, emphatetic tone as well.

Step number three is to do some big picture editing. It probably means reading through your post without really being drawn to the nitty gritty and asking yourself some of those big questions. Once you’ve done that, you might be changing some paragraphs around, you might already be starting to cut some things out, you might be adding some things in, adding some examples or story. I don’t really know what the result of that will be, it will be all kinds of things.

The step that I do after that is to try and really focus on cutting stuff out. This might be just be but I find most of the time when I create a piece of content, I look at it in a critical way, I realize there’s stuff that I could remove from it. I find that I overwrite. I can, with an edit, make my content simple and briefer.

I think it was Albert Einstein who said make it simple, as in brief, but not simpler. You wanna make it briefer, you wanna get to the point quicker, but you don’t want to cut the meat out of it, you don’t want to dumb it down. I’m certainly not saying cut out the good stuff, I’m just saying there’s a lot of words that you’ve probably used that you can cut out.

In that article that I mention from Ellie before, she suggests particularly focusing upon your introduction and refining that. Your introduction is all about hooking people. If you get too vague or too wordy or you don’t get straight to the point, you’ll need to rewrite it. You’ll lose people in that first paragraph. Really, your whole blogpost could probably do with some cutting down.

Many times, I actually find that my first paragraph, I can almost delete it because I’ve waffled there. I’ve tried to explain why I’m writing the post when I should just get straight to the meat. Sometimes, my second paragraph is a better first line than my opening one. Really, you want to look at that opening, I’ve got some further reading in the show notes about writing great opening paragraphs.

Look critically at your whole post. What could you cut out? What is unnecessary? What’s repetitive there?

Step number five is now to start to look at the details. This is where we get more into the nitty gritty. Up to this point, we’ve been looking at the structure, we’ve been looking at paragraphs and the ideas in the content and editing those things. But now, we really do need to turn our attention to some of those details.

One of the things I like  to do when I’m doing an important one and I really want to edit it well and I don’t have one of my team to help me, ideally I do like to get someone else to look at my content.

If I have to do it all myself, one of the things I like to do is to print out my posts. I will print them out on a piece of paper and I will grab myself a red pen or a green pen or something that’s really bold. I will slowly read through my post, sentence by sentence. I force myself to do it slowly. This is the first pass. As I’m doing it, I will mark up my post. I’ll circle things that have spelling mistakes, I will highlight punctuation that’s not right, and I’ll make any edits on the page. I don’t like to do it in the post, I like to have done this all on the page first.

The second pass for me is I read it out loud. When I read things out loud, I always pick up things that I would never have seen by just reading silently in my mind. I also find as I read it out loud, it helps me to make my content sound more human and write in a more conversational tone as well.

If you really want to take it up for a notch, and I will do this for an important post, if it’s a guest post on someone else’s site or it’s one that I really feel passionate about, you can take it up another notch and read it a third time to someone else. I find this really does change things. You’re very conscious about how your content sounds when you read it to another human being.

From time to time, I might say to Vanessa, “Can you listen to me read this post?” I will pick up things in that hat even she wouldn’t pick up as she’s reading it. Ideally, you probably want her to read it as well. She’s a lawyer so she picks up those nitty gritty things. Reading it out loud to another person will help to highlight things and it will help you to work out whether your post is written in an understandable way because you’re thinking about how they’re hearing it.

There are particular some things that I’m looking at as I’m doing this process of printing it out, reading it out loud. I’m looking at the headline, I think it’s so important to get that right. Obviously, you don’t want a spelling mistake in your headline. Also, you want to spend some time getting the headline just right. I’ve got some further listening tips for you to do, I think it was Episode 156 where we talked about headlines.

I’m particularly looking at that opening paragraph. I’m also looking at the conclusion and any calls to action that we have. Again, back in Episode 23, I did a whole episode on calls to action. You want to ask yourself, do I have a call to action? It’s amazing how many blog posts you’ve written and you don’t ask your readers to do anything. You should always give them something to read or ask them a question to comment on or ask them to do something in some way.

Could your call to action be clearer, do you have too many calls to action, is it confusing? Really hone that.

The other thing to really pay a careful attention to and that I always try and do before I publish a post is to give it a visual edit, to preview the post before you publish it. In WordPress, you hit the preview button. How doe the post look? Is it interesting? Does it create a good, strong first impression? Could you add a beautiful image or an intriguing image right up at the top of your post to make people look twice at it? Does it need better formatting? Do you need to use headings? Are those headings edited right? Are they intriguing? Do they make people wanna read the content after those? Visual edit is really important and again I’ll give you some further reading on the show notes on that.

The last thing I’ll say about the nitty gritty is are you being consistent in your post? Ideally, you probably want a style guide for your overall blog so that you can have consistency in your editorial style between posts. We talk about that in the interview with Beth Dunn. Within the post, it’s really important that you have consistency. People are going to be reading your post. If you use a different spelling of a word, say you might use the US Spelling of one word, color for instance. US versus UK, it’s got an extra U in it. If you use two different versions of that, some people are going to pick that up and it’s going to create an impression. Stick with one style of spelling.

The formatting of words like the word ebook. Sometimes, people use it all lower case. Sometimes, they put a capital B, sometimes they put a hyphen in it. You can really do whatever you like there but stick to it. If you use the word three times in your post, don’t write it in three different ways.

Another one is are you writing in the first person or are you writing in the third person? Sometimes, you skip between the different persons that you’re writing and the position that you’re taking with the article. You want some consistency in that. Consistency is certainly part of that detailed edit that you do.

The second last thing that I do is an SEO edit. I don’t tend to spend a lot of time on this but one of the things I do ask myself before I hit publish is what would someone be searching for on Google to find this content? Really for me, I’m asking that question as I’m thinking about the headline of the post. Before I hit publish, I’m asking myself could I weave those words, those keywords into other parts of the article? Headings into the content itself.

Ultimately for me, I’m writing for people first and Google’s machines later. Ultimately, you can do a bit of both and that’s a great thing. But ultimately, you really do want to serve your readers, you don’t want to make your content awkward but there are some times some ways to weave in your keywords a little bit more and to optimize your post for search engines.

The last thing I do is to publish. That’s the last step. I will say that I think it’s really important not to let this whole editing process stop you from publishing. I know there will be some of you who will be listening to this who have had the experience that you get so caught up in perfecting your post that you never actually published it. I guess what I would say to you is you can always improve it after you’ve published it. You can always go and do another edit once it’s live, you can always fix that typo that you missed, you can always add another paragraph or take something out, it’s totally fine to do that. It’s your content, you can do what you like with it. Don’t get caught up in this whole editing process, don’t feel that it has to be perfect before it goes live.

I do find that for some bloggers, and I have had this experience myself, that the editing process can actually kill your passion and excitement for your topic, for the content that you’ve just written, but also for your whole overarching topic. If that’s you, you need to really set some limits on how much time you’re going to spend editing. Maybe a deadline might help with that, and maybe outsourcing might help with that as well. That certainly has helped me to be able to say to my team I’m going to do some big picture editing on my content, but I really want you to focus on the small picture stuff. That’s probably another topic for another day. Good editing starts with good planning.

Number two point was to put space between when you write and when you edit. Number three was to do big picture editing first. Number four was to cut down your content, to really look at what you can take out of it without taking the meat out. Number five was to look at the details, to print it out, read it out loud, read it to another person. Pay attention to your headlines and conclusions and visual editing, consistency in your writing. Number six was to do an SEO audit and then number seven was to hit publish.

I would love to know what you would add to this process because I’m sure there are different approaches to editing, maybe you do find that you edit best straight after you write. I’m open to learning from you if you’ve got any other ideas. You can find all the further reading, and there’s quite a bit of it today, and leave a comment to let us know how you do your editing over at problogger.com/podcast/168. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve got a great article there from Ali Luke on editing and some further listening and reading on things like getting your titles right, getting your openings right, getting calls to action right, and quite a bit more.

Thanks for listening. Before I go, I will say last week’s episode, Episode 167 was a challenge episode. It was all about getting things off your someday list onto your today list. I’ve just been overwhelmed by the amount of people who have sent me emails this week and people who have been leaving messages in the ProBlogger Challenge Group about the things that you’re getting done. I’m so excited to hear so many of you kicking goals.

Some of the emails that I’ve had this week have been just mindblowing, the things that you as a community are doing. I’ve had people say that they’ve started vlogging this week, I’ve had numerous people say that they started a blog this week for the very fist time. Some of you are launching new websites and completing redesigns of your blog. I have one person writing a resume to get back into the workforce, another person who’s hiring a VA, someone else who’s created an opt-in this week, someone who just switched their email providers, someone who cleaned their desk which is exciting, someone who’s entering a contest for the first time writing a new series of content, someone who started a new strategy in promoting their blog and someone else who’s just started to plan and publish a series of blog posts. One more person who just literally emailed as I was recording now who just said that they’re finishing an ebook which is exciting.

If you’ve got stuff on your someday list, if you’ve been procrastinating on something, please go back and listen to Episode 167 and please join our Facebook group and let us know what you’re going to get off your someday list and put on your today list. Thanks so much for those of you who are reporting back, I’m looking forward to seeing you actually get the things done that you’ve nominated. You can update us over in the Facebook group as well. Just search Facebook for ProBlogger Challenge Group.

Thanks for listening today and I’ll chat with you in a week’s time.

How did you go with today’s episode?

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  • I’m writing furiously at the moment trying to get a lot of content on my blog. I agree with leaving space between writing and editing. I add an extra process at the writing stage. As soon as I get an idea, I just free write and brainstorm, just let whatever pour out, it can be a heading, a word to point me to something to develop, notes for pictures to include, it has zero structure and then I save and close. I then work on another post and have few bubbling away at the same time. I then flesh them out later, move some things around, save and close, edit again and then follow a editing process similar to yourself.

  • Gvz Glasshouses

    Hi Darren,

    A friend of mine who has his name on the cover of more than 100 non-fiction books once told me that the best way to write a book was to outline the whole thing and then fill it up. That’s the best advice I’ve ever come across.

    I think that it’s equally applicable for posts, as you mentioned.

    For myself, I seldom know the end from the beginning, and so outlining the whole thing isn’t possible. Instead what I do is start by making notes on a topic. Usually, that activity sparks an idea, and from then on I engage in a kind of “stream of consciousness” style of writing. I may write the entire post, or get stuck part way through. Regardless of what happens, I then set aside the writing until at least the next day. Then I read it through again. Usually that’s enough to be able to clean it up and finish it, or finish the draft if I got stuck the last time.

    As you say, reading your post out loud is the most effective way to catch mistakes. Language has a rhythm. When it doesn’t flow properly, it makes it more difficult for readers to digest what you have to say.

    Occasionally, I’ll come across a paragraph that just doesn’t feel right. In those instances, I’ll break it up phrase by phrase, double-spaced in between each one. Then I can look at the ideas and the sentence construction. I’ve found that that is a particularly valuable way to improve my writing.

    Thanks for your ongoing commitment to making us all better bloggers.

    Bruce

    • “outline the whole thing and then fill it up” Simple and brilliant.

      • Love that too!

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        Agree with you.Love that too!

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  • lovely tips i will try this on my blog now a days there is a lot of competition in growing blog industry.

  • Steve George

    Great advice! For me, the most important one is the outline. It’s amazing how much time can be saved by taking more time initially, to plan what you want to write. Outlining first has made my posts much easier to edit and kept them ‘on point’.

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  • Amy Urquhart

    Listened to this episode while washing the dishes this afternoon, and I thought it was an excellent episode. I especially found it interesting that you print your work and physically put your hands on it in the the publishing process! I also like the idea of reading your own work aloud before publishing. Some great tips, as usual, thanks Darren!

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