How sub-editing can transform your content from sub-par to sublime

The secret to great content may not be glamorous or high profile, but it might just save your blushes

Creating engaging and inspiring content can be an exciting process; ideas powered by the hive mind of a content production team.

The path from brief to finished product can see content passed through various stages and people – editor, writer, design department and more.

An oft-neglected step in the process is that of sub-editing. But to miss out on that stage is to risk undermining the content itself.

Sub-editing is the art of whipping copy into shape. In old newspaper terms subs would be adding headlines, sourcing photos and writing captions, rewriting sections that require more attention, weeding out typos and grammatical inaccuracies. In essence: turning a page of writing into an article.

These journalistic principles, refined over centuries, have plenty to offer content marketers.

There are countless examples of bad grammar, bad phrasing and inaccuracies in newspapers, magazines and ad campaigns. What about the children’s education software exclaiming its products were “so fun, they won’t even know their learning”? Or the advice for curing hiccups by inhaling carbon monoxide (hastily corrected to dioxide in the next issue)?

Amusing? Slightly. Undermining? Definitely. Avoidable? Wholly.

As content marketers, the bare minimum is to fulfil the brief. But to stand out from the crowd – which is, in reality, the true bare minimum – you should be out to impress. Effective sub-editing is an obvious way in which to improve.

Subbing not only corrects faults or stylistic lapses, it provides a sense of consistency. Using “ instead of ‘ for quotations isn’t necessarily wrong, but if both are used in a piece for seemingly the same purpose, it looks ugly, sloppy, and lazy. Do you write eight or 8? Which words are capitalised? A former colleague of mine once told me that the national newspaper he worked for referred to Bill Clinton as President of the United States of America, but switched to the lower case president when George Bush was elected. The implication was clear.

Creating slickly formatted, error-free copy adds a layer of professionalism to the content. A typo here or a repeated word there there is highly distracting and detracts from the (undoubtedly stellar) quality of the work.

In the modern world of print media, sub-editors are a species in fear of extinction. A culture of cutting costs means that, more and more, journalists are expected to sub their own work – entirely missing the point of ‘another pair of eyes’.

Unlike print media, content marketing is a growing industry. The huge demand for fresh content across the board makes it a fast-moving, highly competitive world.

The people involved in creating your content can help make it stand out from the crowd with its freshness and innovation, but investing time (and money) into sub-editing can provide the real point of difference.

Perhaps a ready-subbed piece of work should already be assumed as standard for anyone creating or commissioning content. But it’s not – and there’s your chance to shine.

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