We can’t clone humans yet, but could outsourcing content come a close second? Your fingers can only type so fast; your brain can only grind away so long. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could hire someone else to think, type, and edit the same as you?
At least, that’s the dream. Every blogger faces the temptation of outsourcing content. Most U.S. bloggers will need to publish 300-500 articles to earn a full-time living. If you’re researching, writing, editing, publishing, and maintaining two articles a week … that’s 3-5 years (gulp). Outsourcing content can shorten that curve significantly.
But before you take that plunge, I have one question for you …
(Actually I have about 37 questions, but I can only ask one per blog post)
… Can you edit someone else’s writing?
A Writer Does Not an Editor Make
Most writers compose from the gut and the ear. They write what sounds good, what feels good. They don’t think in terms of compound sentences, prepositional phrases, transitions, and subject-verb agreements. They just write instinctively.
And this works surprisingly well. Since most writers are also readers, they’ve absorbed syntax, vocabulary and grammar patterns from their favorite books and magazines, which were edited and proofread by a small army.
But just because you can write doesn’t mean you can edit.
Over the years, I’ve contracted with dozens of writers. I’ve worked with freelancers from all over the world, all ages, all backgrounds. Today, I typically hire via Upwork. Other people prefer Fiverr or content agencies like Textbroker and iWriter.
If you want to grow a website portfolio, then you’ll have to outsource eventually. You can’t wear all the hats!
But outsourcing content is … incredibly risky. You’ll need to learn how to manage a team, offer constructive criticism, winnow out the weak, and save time while doing it! But the first step to outsourcing blog content isn’t finding a qualified writer.
No, you need a vision for what good writing is.
What Is “Editing,” Exactly?
Before we walk into the weeds, I want to clarify what I mean by “editing.”
In academia, there are five types of editing:
- Developmental Editing: Thesis, scope, person
- Substantive Editing: Style, hack n’ slash editing, voice
- Copy Editing: Paragraph order, transitions, table of contents
- Line Editing: Grammar, syntax, word choice
- Proofreading: Punctuation errors, typos, etc.
(To learn more, go read this article at the Purdue OWL. I can’t expatiate better than the OWL.)
Developmental and substantive editing are often lumped together, as are copy editing and line editing. But they are separate disciplines.
Let’s bypass the top and bottom of the list. Tools like Grammarly have largely taken over proofreading and even basic line editing. And unlike free-form essay writing, we bloggers tend to follow tried n’ true organizational patterns (listicles, FAQ roundups, interviews, etc.) that guide our development.
Instead, the rest of this post will focus on substantive editing and copyediting.
Don’t Outsource Your Blog Content Until …
Before I launch into my list of tips … here are my top three cautions for bloggers considering outsourcing:
1. Don’t outsource content until you’ve done it yourself!
Don’t outsource content until you’ve written for at least six months or 50 articles. Never begin a blog by outsourcing the content! Every tree is only as strong as its roots. You cannot outsource content until you’ve written it yourself! You need a crystal-clear vision of:
- Your audience demographic
- Preferred style, tone and voice
- Post length and format
- Reader call to actions
2. Only work with writers with personal experience!
After working with dozens of writers, I simply will not work with a generic “freelance writer.” I’d much rather have a poorly written article from someone with hands-on experience, full of insider information, than a well-written article that simply restates existing research. One can be easily improved; the other cannot.
3. Avoid ghostwritten content.
I don’t publish ghostwritten content. If it has my byline, I wrote it. If someone else wrote it, they get the credit.
IMHO, ghost writing kills your personal brand equity. A loyal Reader can tell what’s you and what isn’t. Be proud of your voice! I’d rather read a magazine with a wide variety of authors, like Forbes, than a blog I know is mostly ghostwritten (sorry, Neil Patel).
What to Expect When You Outsource Content
It’s time to get uncomfortably honest.
Unless you are paying at least 10 cents per word (that’s $100 per 1,000 words), everything you receive will require significant copy editing and/or substantive rewriting.
You will work primarily with college students, stay-at-home parents, new college graduates, semi-retired professionals dabbling in their writing hobby, overseas writers, and expat digital nomads.
- You will receive blog posts with long, bloated introductions and recap conclusions.
- You will receive blog posts without a single statistic, citation or hyperlink.
- You will receive blog posts that are merely rewritten regurgitations (and sometimes outright plagiarism).
Don’t misunderstand me – I love my team of writers! On the whole, they do a wonderful job. But since I usually don’t pay $100+ per post (in which case it makes more sense to write it myself), I know I’m working with people with less experience or expertise. That’s the tradeoff. If all goes well, I come out ahead. Editing is part and parcel of the game.
With that, here are 10 tips for substantive editing of outsourced blog content.
10 Tips For Editing Outsourced Blog Posts
1. Slash n’ Burn
If you are editing long-form (over 1,200 words) blog posts, you will need to do slash n’ burn editing. You’re not dissecting a post with a scalpel; you’re hacking it apart with a machete. Entire paragraphs go up in flames. H2 sections get moved like chess pieces.
Here are three big reasons slash n’ burn editing is necessary:
- Writers dynamically think on the page. For instance, the first and second sentences in a paragraph are often reformulations of the same idea. You don’t need both. That’s redundant (just like this sentence). Kill the bad one and leave the good. It’s not uncommon to cut word counts by 25, even 50 percent.
- Writers are prone to semantic drift. Beginning writers have trouble staying on topic. Ask for a how-to guide on adding sound-deadening insulation to your car, and you might get a why-what post on the health effects of loud noises from highways!
- Writers restate background information. If a writer is researching a topic new-to-them, they’ll be tempted to include all the background “topic 101” information they learned along the way. No good! Unless you’re targeting a Reader who knows nothing about the topic, background information is a distraction. Don’t waste time telling the Reader what they already know.
2. Add Subheadings
When writers come from an academic background, they are often afraid of subheadings. You might find a couple of timid, scattered H2’s. Ruthlessly box up content by adding H2 and H3 subheadings wherever possible.
An easy trick is to simply rephrase the topic sentence of every paragraph as an H3 subheading.
3. Tell a Story
One reason I only work with writers with hands-on experience in their topics is because I want stories! Gross, funny, scary, pathetic, adventurous – I’ll take them all. I’d much rather a blogger begin a post with a personal anecdote than yet another generic “funnel” introduction.
Even an allusion to a story is powerful. If a writer says, “After growing orchids indoors for the last six years, here are my top 10 tips,” I’m inclined to listen. After all, I’ve never grown orchids indoors (or at all) – and here’s someone who has! In the bloated blogosphere of Amablogs and “content curation” websites, isn’t personal experience so refreshing?
4. Break It Up!
A good compound-complex sentence is a thing of beauty. A bad one is just a hair-pulling distraction. You can often improve the clarity of a poorly written blog post just by breaking up long, stilted sentences into short, sweet statements. Use transition words like also, then, and, but, and however rather than stacking clauses atop each other.
Also, keep paragraphs short. 2-4 sentences on average, rarely longer than 5. Nothing wrong with a 1-sentence punch, either.
5. Use Bullet Points
I advise never using bullet points in PowerPoint presentations and always using them in blog posts. Bullet point lists, pros and cons tables, and other visual formats improve the scannability of your content.
Almost any paragraph longer than 3-4 sentences can be broken down into a bullet point list. It’s so easy! Just turn each sentence into its own list item, and rephrase the sentences so each begins with a verbal for a parallelism effect.
6. Make ‘Em Cite Numbers
I often tell writers I require at least one number in every H3 section. That forces a writer to provide some nugget of useful information: a statistic, price, comparison, or list. Otherwise, many writers start endlessly pontificating.
As Lord Kelvin said:
“I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind.”
You can also require a hyperlink, citation, or quote in every sub-section. This will give your post more of a journalism feel.
7. Shorten Introductions and Conclusions
People read blog posts because they have problems they want answered. Long introductions and conclusions are antiquated holdovers from the days of “tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, tell ‘em, then tell ‘em what you told ‘em.”
Keep introductions and conclusions short, 3-5 sentences on average. Unless the conclusion is a call-to-action or a real ringer, you can often omit it completely.
8. Read It Aloud
Most blog posts, even those written in a smart text editor, will require some line editing and proofreading. (If you’re working with ESL writers, look out for awkward synonyms and solecisms!) You can fix most of these errors simply by reading the content aloud and rewriting along the way.
A trained ear is a better sleuth than a skeptical eye. You’ll easily find comma splices, repetitive sentence structures, lack of parallelism, subject-verb disagreements, and other common copyediting problems.
9. Give A Concrete Solution
The number one problem I see in many blog posts is the lack of solutions. Bloggers spend all their time describing the problem the reader faces – and then never give a solution! Or they offer useless advice like “check it out,” “stay safe,” or “consult a professional.”
I hate this. As a blogger, your job is at least to point the Reader in the right direction – maybe even hold their hand the whole way! Every problem should end with a solution. Give ‘em the secret sauce recipe!
- Recommend a product
- Link to an in-depth informational resource
- Embed a YouTube video
- Provide a step-by-step how-to
10. Don’t Outsource
Red Smith said on writing, “Writing is easy. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”
Don’t outsource content unless you have to. It’s a difficult craft. No blogger-for-hire will ever share your same vision. (If you’re publishing an Amablog, then fine, outsource, it doesn’t matter.)
You can easily outsource your Pinterest management, post publishing schedule, bookkeeping, or web design.
But if your goal is to outsource your unique voice, then that’s the one thing that can’t be given away. And that’s a good thing, isn’t it?