Wednesday, 07 December 2016

9 things to do before you hit 'publish'

9 things to do before you hit 'publish'

Far too often I read copy that has clearly been prepared in haste. It’s never good. In fact, if anything it only serves to damage the brand a person is writing for along with their own reputation. Whether it’s missing words, incorrect punctuation, syntactical errors, spelling mistakes, or factual discrepancies it matters not. Frequently it’s off the shelf marketing garble that irritates me. If what your audience reads are hackneyed cliches it will harm you.

Something I run into frequently is what I lovingly term the pre-publishing rush. I used to call it the post-writing rush, but I feel my new term is more accurate. The reason is because people often feel the pressure to get something out into the world as fast as possible.

And here’s a grand place to mention a fact: note that I haven’t been referring to writers or copywriters, but rather “people”. The reason is that many of us are expected or required to write as part of our daily jobs but have little or no experience, training, or natural writing ability. There’s nothing wrong with any of that. Professional copywriters know what to do after they’ve finished writing. There’s a process that forms part of a project. Non-writers rush. Marketers are particularly bad for this because they always want to get content out fast, rather than making sure it’s good first. Which is odd, when you think about it.

So for sanity and out of pure generosity (call it a Christmas present) here’s a list of what to do after you’ve finished writing something. And you’re not normally a writer.

  1. Walk away

    After you’ve finished writing and honing your piece take a break from it and come back with fresh eyes. Leave at least half an hour between writing and proofreading a piece because it’s simply not possible to catch all the errors or mistakes having stared at the thing for a while. Need to get it out right now? Rubbish - it should have been planned better. Pressure from above? See point 5.
  2. Grab a cuppa

    Coffee, tea, water… whatever it is that will help you settle. My usual is to grab both tea and water because I’m very aware that I don’t hydrate enough. Have a biscuit or something as well to keep your energy up.
  3. Edit

    When you’ve got your beverage and biscuit of choice (Jamie Dodger, obviously) come back to your piece and check it over to be certain that it makes logical, coherent sense. Check the facts. Check the dates, links, references, quotes. Check everything. And rejig it if it’s confusing or wrong. Check the tone as well - if it’s off brand, overly aggressive, too passive or anything else you don’t want now’s the time to change it.
  4. Proofread

    Don’t judge the words as something you’ve written - just as something you’re reading. Don’t skip ahead either, but give every word and sentence the attention it deserves. You’re looking for spelling, punctuation, and grammatical errors (SPAG). Make any changes needed and check those apostrophes. If you’re not sure on a punctuation mark (say, a semicolon) then don’t use it. Full points are fine.
  5. Proofread

    No, this isn’t a mistake. I’ve put it in twice. Let me be very clear: have someone else read your work. With a few exceptions (personal blogs, for example) only an utter fool would publish something without a second pair of eyes looking over it. There’s no way in unholy frozen hell that you can accurately and neutrally edit your own copy for style, SPAG, tone and so on. You’re too close to it. Anyone who says otherwise is fibbing. You might do a bloody good job proofing your own work, but someone else will usually pick up something you haven’t seen or thought about. If they don’t then it’s just nice to have the confirmation that what you’ve done is fine and you are a writing god.
  6. Re-read

    After proofing round two read your piece again to make sure it still has the core message you wanted to convey. Make sure it makes sense. Make sure it’s still you or the brand you’re writing for.
  7. Upload

    Put your lovingly crafted uber-prose into whatever platform you’re going to publish in and ensure you’ve stripped any erroneous HTML and styling. Add your hyperlinks and pictures. Check your paragraph breaks. I won’t write an exhaustive checklist here. Maybe in another post. If you’re printing this opus you’ve written be certain it’s put into the right format (does the publisher or designer need a PDF, Word file, Google Doc, plain text file etc.?)
  8. Publish

    If it’s up to you - hit the big scary button. If it’s not, inform the person whose job it is to hit that button for you.
  9. Have another cuppa

    And enjoy a job well done. Obviously.