Why editing for preference is the biggest waste of time in content marketing and journalism

Estimated read time: 4 minutes


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Everyone who creates content likely has had an editor who edited for preference only.

They change words because they like another word better. Not because it actually makes a difference to the audience or impacts that story’s performance.


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I even once had an editor who admitted that he edited to “add value, and it’s my job.” That was true for the moment.

OMG, people – I mean editors – who are people, too. If your preference is “no acronyms” that stands for OH MY GOD (or GOSH) – again, depending on your preference.

See, that paragraph was a total waste of time. LOL.

Preferential editors with perceived or actual power over writers are part of a group of today’s content marketers that I call obstructionist marketers. Marketers in that group add unnecessary processes and barriers and, in general, slow things down. Many times to a halt. Usually it’s all unnecessary, and they end up asking why it hasn’t worked yet! Well, because we’ve been busy slowing things to a halt.

They don’t like something? They’ll schedule 48 committee and sub-committee meetings, and by the time you are done, you forget what prompted the meetings. They wrap you in a bubble of business – I mean busyness. Despite the closeness in spelling, busyness hardly ever leads to business in content marketing. Deliberate busyness that shares useful content does, though.

Marketing obstructionists also aren’t a generational thing – for everyone getting ready to blame the Baby Boomers or Millenials here. I’ve seen members in both groups and the ones in between.

Please hold the letters to the editor defending marketing obstructionists or preferential editors. No. 1, this isn’t a newspaper and I don’t publish letters to the editor. No. 2, I’m not against editors (or marketers) at all. Just the ones that add no value.

I’ve worked with fantastic editors. Ones that made my work better. Much better. Ones that saved me from publishing embarrassing mistakes. Ones that explained the difference in similar words to me.

Great editors:

  1. Make the work better.
  2. Find a way to get it published.
  3. Teach their writers when teaching is actually needed.
  4. Explain their edits. (For example: This is not in-line with the strategy.)
  5. Break down barriers – instead of putting them up.
  6. Are not rude.
  7. Never look down on writers, which is measured by how they talk with writers and how writers perceive that communication.

I’m all for high-quality content, but one person’s preference isn’t the deciding factor here. I remember days when I was part of a project that took forever, and when the piece was finally in that perfect stage, it was published.

And then we called a committee meeting to launch an investigation into why nobody was reading it. It was perfect, after all. LOL.

They weren’t reading it because we missed:

  • The window of opportunity when people actually cared about it.
  • That our “perfect” wasn’t the audience’s “perfect.”
  • That distribution was just as important as the production.
  • That our process needed to evolve from 20 years ago.
  • Admitting some people’s egos were the barriers.

If you edit to make content more relevant to the audience and catch mistakes – thank you. Keep going. Stay audience-centric.

If you edit and only think of yourself – stop.

One way to do that is when you edit is to actually edit for a specific purpose. For example, copy on the web shouldn’t be at a super high reading level. Somewhere between eighth and 10th grade would be preferred.

As long as edits make the reading level simpler – no not dumbed down – if can help the content.

How do we know what the level is? Some content management systems have that reading build in. You can also turn it on in Word, like this, according to Microsoft:

  1. Click the File tab, and then click Options.
  2. Click Proofing.
  3. Under When correcting spelling and grammar in Word, make sure the Check grammar with spelling check box is selected.
  4. Select Show readability statistics

If the reason for it it’s is to make it more readable it’s really never a preferential edit. Of course now since we’re not riding on typewriters it’s much easier to measure the readability of content.

This was first written in 2017, updated in May 2018 and a podcast was added in September 2019.



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