Want to Produce Better Content, Faster? Set Up an Editorial Workflow

There’s a popular stereotype that writing is a fundamentally solitary activity. You turn off your phone, power up your laptop, and hammer out the blog post or article. Like all stereotypes, that’s partly true. Yet as any experienced writer knows, curling up to write is just one step in a far longer journey. From pitching an initial idea to getting it published takes time—and organization. 

Sometimes known as ‘editorial workflow,’ getting ideas from the drawing board to the page have been part of publishing since Guttenberg. But in the relentless world of modern marketing—where audiences have ever-shorter attention spans and every piece of work has to educate and entertain in equal measure—it’s more vital than ever. 

Beyond the essentials, after all, editorial workflow is really about quality: ensuring that every piece of writing that comes down the pipeline is just as good as the last, and that any errors are squashed before they reach readers. How you actually do that varies by company—but here’s one way to get your workflow down and your content perfect.

Set your parameters 

Many stories start with a single, fantastic idea. But it’s important to refine it before you get going. How long will the article be? How will it be structured? Will it include visual aids? To save time and effort later, it’s important to ask yourself all these questions early on, before you begin. 

Make sure everyone—from the writer (if that’s not you) to the editor to any other stakeholders involved—understands the scope of the project, and has weighed in on the shape of the story you’re putting together. As business guru Amy Pascal notes, crafting content is a joint effort. “Brands should think of themselves not as storytellers but story builders,” she explains. “We plant seeds of content and let our community build on it.”

Note: beyond establishing parameters for a specific piece of content, it’s also helpful to set parameters for an entire campaign. Let’s say you want a series of 12 short, pithy blogs. Set the length (max 400 words, let’s say), structure (open with a FAQ, provide two paragraphs of “Why It Matters,” context), and desired user takeaway (close with a single action readers can take to address the FAQ). Giving your content such a design up front will make the resulting 12-blog campaign all the more cohesive and useful.

Get writing—but don’t forget it’s just a first draft

Once you’ve planned out your structure, it’s time to get down to work. Within said strategy, allow yourself—or your writer—room to write freely, to experiment, to try different things. Let go of the need to get it perfect on the first try. Such pressure kills off creativity and makes for tame and uninspiring thinking.

You want life, gusto, and surprise in your content—that’s what draws people in, and keeps them reading. So remember what Hemingway said: “Write drunk, edit sober.” And don’t expect that a first draft will flutter magically to publication without a second glance. Dive into the creative process with abandon—just be sure to stay on strategy when you do.  

Editing, where too many chefs spoil the broth

Arguably the most vital part of the editorial workflow process, editing should flow seamlessly from writing. Editors or Quality Controllers (QCers) should understand the content brief, and clearly outline any changes that need to be made, and why. Workflows should be designed with deadlines in mind—for everyone involved. 

To put it another way, though getting the content shipped on time is obviously the main consideration, editors should also have strict limits on how much time they’ll spend going back and forth with writers. Leave uncompleted pieces hanging for too long and you risk losing momentum. 

More broadly, it’s a good idea to have editors that specialize in particular subject areas or content types within your editorial workflow.  That’ll ensure they become experts in their niche, adding in technical vocabulary and tweaking structure until it’s pitch perfect for the intended audience. Obviously, this improves the quality of every piece that comes their way. 

Aligning an editor to one stream of the workflow is also a great way of attuning them to your writers’ foibles—in my case that’s inserting misplaced Britishisms. To put it another way, vigorous editorial workflows loop back into the writing process, improving first drafts and ultimately speeding up the whole system.

On a related note, robust editorial workflows also prevent duplicating tasks. That’s particularly true when it comes to editing. Having multiple QCers fiddling with the same piece of work wastes time and money. It also risks confusing the writer, who has to juggle two sets of edits from two pairs of eyes, each with their own demands and suggestions. 

Remember to be flexible

Editorial workflows have to be clear enough that everyone in the chain—from writers to QCers—understand what’s expected of them. But that doesn’t mean they’re inviolable. After all, a workflow is fundamentally there to help you and your colleagues. If it doesn’t, change it. 

For example, what if you become so confident writing for a particular client that the editing phase can be shortened, or even abandoned altogether? Or what if you’re so excited about a task that you jump straight into writing, only contacting the client after a first, frantic bout of creativity? 

In the right circumstances, that’s totally fine. Even so, no marketer should ever let their workflow disappear completely. That way lies chaos—to say nothing of lost revenue and wasted time. 

Want to improve the structure of your own marketing outfit? The organizational wizards at our copywriting agency can plug into your workflow to help churn out pitch-perfect content.

Andrea is originally from London, and came to New York after a stint in journalism. He loves everything to do with writing—as well as obscure language facts, decent wine, and chocolate cake.

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