Each does a great job of breaking down the value of proofreading. But if you really want to know where proofreading adds value, all you have to do is see what happens when it’s skipped over.
And therein lies the problem: by the time you think you need proofreading, it’s too late. Damage: done. Credibility: shot. You: putz. And all you can do is think to yourself: for $25–$50, I could’ve spared myself the embarrassment and the$2,500 — $5,000 to fix my mistake.
That’s why we say it’s important to think about hiring a proofreader BEFORE you need one. Have a proofreader on your speed dial or in your contact list and have them look at everything before it you hit send or publish so….
You slaved over a piece for days. You researched thoroughly. You wrote, rewrote, did some copy editing and rewrote some more. You made sure every thought, phrase and word was on point. And you feel great about it.
You shouldn’t. Not yet at least.
There’s absolutely no way you can be objective about anything you’ve written. And that’s true whether you’re a seasoned copywriter or a novice scribe. Why? Because you wrote it. So of course you think it’s brilliant.
But yours is the last opinion that matters. Your natural bias is overwhelmingly powerful, and it will obfuscate obvious issues.
Every professional writer knows this. In fact, we’d argue that knowing this is what separates the pros from the amateurs. It’s why newspapers and magazines have managing editors. It’s why ad agencies have creative directors. And it’s why, if you’re creating content for your business, investing in copy editing before you publish is 100% in your best interests.
A good copy editor gives you and your work perspective. They play the role of your audience and evaluate your work from the perspective of someone who hasn’t been staring at it for seven hours.
They’ll call out the groan-worthy wordplays that made you giggle at 3 am but are actually quite silly. They’ll question the assertions you think hold water but really don’t. And they’ll make sure you’re saying what you think you’re saying.
Think of the copy editing process like a dress rehearsal for your work — a chance to perfect it before it goes live.
But before you hand your “masterpiece” over to a copy editor, internalize these truths:
Accept that your work is probably going to get ripped apart in copy editing.
Don’t take it personally because it’s not personal. It has everything to do with what’s on the page. This is why you should never have a friend copy edit your work. They’ll pull punches to spare your feelings (sometimes, they don’t even know they’re doing it). A well-taught copy editor is trained to judge what’s on the page and nothing else. And they’re taught to be honest — which is what you’re paying for. Better you get that honesty from one person you’re paying than a million people you’re counting on to take action after reading what you’ve written.
You are NOT obligated to agree with everything your copy editor recommends.
In almost every case, you’ll know your material better than your copy editor does. If they’ve deleted a thought you know is critical, put it back in. A responsible copy editor will track all their changes and provide rationales for any major changes they made or are recommending you make. This’ll make changes super easy to accept or reject. And don’t feel bad if you reject them. Editors have thick skin.
You have every right to ask your copy editor questions.
They work for you. Not the other way around. They’ll tell you what they think, but that’s all it is: an opinion. Now granted, it’s an informed opinion backed by a copy editing education and (hopefully) a ton of experience. But that doesn’t mean it’s the gospel of Luke. If you don’t understand why your copy editor did what they did, speak up. If you want a deeper explanation of their choices, ask for it. A quality copy editor will have answers for you.
You’ll get a better end product if you answer your copy editor’s questions.
Every heard of WYSIATI? It stands for “What You See Is All There Is.” Here’s a fabulous explanation from the acronym’s coiner:
It’s a very important concept to grasp if you want to understand the copy editing process, because it’ll remind you that copy editors aren’t mind readers. This is why editors are trained to ask their clients probing questions that help them understand what they see so they can recommend improvements.
And like any other professional, copy editors get into a groove when they sit down to work on a piece. So the sooner you can answer their questions, the more efficient you’ll make them. Since more and more copy editors are starting to charge by the hour as recommended by the Editor’s Association of Canada, more efficiency for them means a lower bill for you.
Your writing WILL be better.
And not just the piece you’ve sent through for copy editing. The more you work with an editor, the more little tips and tricks you’ll pick up. And over time, you’ll see fewer and fewer major changes and comments.
Your first draft may still stink, but it’ll be poo instead of shit.
Writing a white paper? It should be educational, comprehensive and formal, right? We agree with the first two, but we’re vehemently against the third.
This isn’t to say that when you’re writing a white paper, you should be writing in slang or that the material shouldn’t be presented in a well-organized, easy-to-follow-fashion. But if you want someone to actually read your white paper, you should keep in mind that your reader is a person. And a person, no matter how conservative they are, doesn’t want to read something that puts them to sleep.
First: what is a white paper?
According to our friends at Wikipedia, (and we’re paraphrasing), a white paper is meant to thoroughly explain an issue, thoughtfully solve a problem or aid in the decision-making process. But in that definition, there’s no reason why, when you’re writing a white paper, that you can’t be engaging, interesting and possibly even entertaining.
When most people sit down to write a white paper, they flush themselves of anything resembling personality because they think the more buttoned up they are in their writing, the more credible the white paper will be.
That’s hogwash. And here’s why.
Explaining an issue requires comprehension
If you go into writing a white paper thinking jargon = credibility, you’ll have spent all that time writing it for nothing, because no one’s going to read it.
A probable reason your reader even picked up or downloaded your white paper in the first place is because they don’t understand the issue: most likely due to an inability by everyone else in their personal or professional lives to explain the issue to them.
The last thing they’re going to want is more confusing language.
So while you should prepare heavily, write lightly. Simplify concepts. Choose real-world examples that the average person would get. Break down the issue as invitingly as you can. And don’t be afraid to inject a bit of personality. Like our man Jules Whitfield said, personality goes a long way.
Yes, we’re extremely thorough in our research. Yes, we’re crystal clear on our client’s stance. And yes, we consider the audience we’re writing it for. But no matter the demographic, as we said above, the people reading it are people who want a better understanding, and who don’t want to have to work too hard to get it.
Tip: As you’re writing, ask yourself if you would read it. If you really think you’d glaze it over, the chances are extremely good that someone else will too. And boring your readers is worse that insulting them, because if they’re insulted, at least they’re engaged.
Solving a problem requires direction
We love IKEA for a whole whack of reasons, but a big one is the wordless instructions. As writers (and admittedly non-visual people), we’re blown away by how well they convey concepts. Their style embodies the “pictures say a thousand words” axiom. Mental Floss did a fantastically funny piece about IKEA instructions ¾ definitely worth a quick glance.
But what does IKEA have to do with white papers (besides the fact that IKEA instructions are printed on white paper)? The answer is a commitment to simple problem solving.
Complex problems might require more complex solutions, but that’s all the more reason to present them in the most non-complex way possible. Not many people can take meaningful direction from gobbledy-goop. And if they do, it’ll take far too long.
Tip: If your white paper is of the problem-solving variety, use bullet points wherever you can. They make directions easier to follow, especially if your readers are meant to refer back to it as they solve the problem. Here’s a quick guide to bullet-pointing in business writing from Montana State University’s Bracken Business Communications Clinic (amazing that it’s a “clinic”).
Decision-making requires confidence
Have you ever been staring at a restaurant menu, completely baffled by the descriptions of the dishes to the point where you legitimately can’t decide what to order? In that case, it’s the restaurant putting style before substance, and it usually winds up costing them in the long run (especially if that menu frustration is shared on social media).
Think of your decision-based white paper the same way. You want to give your reader the confidence to say “yes, I will try that tonight,” or “oh my god, I need to learn how to do that.” If you want someone to do something — and especially if you want someone to think something, you have to give them the confidence to think it. And that’s only going to happen if they clearly understand their options, which will only happen if their options are presented simply and fairly.
The more confidence you can instil in your reader, the more likely they’ll be to solve problems. Them doing that is directly related to how well you can teach them. And no one wants to be taught by a rambling, big-worded show-off.
Tip: When you’re done writing, read it over as if you were your ideal client. Do you get it? Do you see the value? If you can answer “yes” to both, you’re in good shape.
Nobody expects to enjoy a white paper
We say it on our website. And it’s 100% true. Buck the trend and surprise your readers.
As entrepreneurs, we’re big fans of Dragon’s Den, Shark Tank, The Pitch and every other showcased opportunity for dreamers to present their ideas to people with money. And while we get to see their spiels, we never get to see the pitch decks. And it’s too bad because without a good pitch deck, they’re not getting any money.
We think it would be interesting for all budding entrepreneurs to see how others articulate their thoughts. What works? What doesn’t?
We’ve put a lot of pitch decks together for a lot of clients. Most were successful. Some weren’t. But when it came time to submit, the pitch decks all had these six things in common:
A table of contents
It seems like an afterthought, but it’s actually critical. Think of your pitch deck’s table of contents like a primer for your potential investor. It sets them up for what they’re about to read, and it pre-organizes their mind. You’re telling them “I’m going to talk about this, then this, then that.” And if you can keep it short (more on that later), you’ll increase the chances that an investor will read it. No one wants to read a 30-page deck.
TIP: Use the table of contents language to establish positivity. You might have a page that details the business problem. And you can absolutely call it the “business problem.” But you can also call it the “opportunity.”
A demonstrated understanding of the space you want to be in
If you’re at the point of standing in front of investors, you’d need some kind of balls to not have invested a ton of time to attain expert-level knowledge of the industry, the market, the audience, the competition and the trends. This needs to be in your pitch deck because it instils confidence that there’s a need for your idea and, therefore, a reason to fund it.
TIP: Pick six to eight stats that tell the story and put them on one slide. Then include the rest as an appendix. And when we say tell the story, actually think of the stats as story-telling: beginning (this idea doesn’t exist ¾ and closest competitor is XXX); middle (XX% of people report that they would use this product); and ending (we can expect to convert XX% of the market in year one).
A competitive advantage
Something has to make your idea different or no investor will have a reason to fund it. And that point of difference has to be clearly stated in your pitch deck, as close to the front as possible. Again, if you’re at the point where you’re in front of investors, you should know what makes you special.
TIP: Think of your competitive advantage as an “unfair advantage.” It’s what should be keeping your competition up at night with cold sweats. And when you articulate it, it should induce those cold sweats. Consider “our competitive advantage is the way we make our silk” versus “our competitive advantage is the proprietary silk production process. It turns 3,000 years of silk production on its head, making it infinitely cheaper and faster.”
An exit strategy
Here’s the thing about investors: eventually they want their money back and then some. And they’ll want to know how that’s going to happen. In other words, what company is going to value your company at 100 times what you’re asking your investor to currently value it at? Now, obviously, a lot of things have to go right for this to happen, but investors want to know that you’ve thought about this and can make a legit case.
TIP: Be specific. If you think a telecom will eventually buy your company, indicate which telecom and why. In Canada, if you’re an entertainment property, you’re much more likely to get bought out by Bell. If you’re a technology company, you’re much more likely to get bought out by Rogers. As a founder, you need to know this, because a savvy investor will.
Yes, investors buy into ideas and companies. But they’re really buying into people. Without confidence in the human beings being the concepts, it doesn’t matter what the concepts are.
TIP: Keep bios short and on-point. Investors don’t need to know where you went to high school (unless you’re still in high school). But they might want to know what your passion has been since you were a kid.
A clear offer
What are you asking for, what is your investor getting and what will you be doing with their money? There’s no room for conjecture here, and definitely no room for wishy-washiness.
TIP: Give a high-level expenditure plan in the deck, supported by a full financial plan as an appendix. The more specific you are, the more confidence you’ll create.
Last word about pitch decks
Investors receive hundreds or thousands of pitch decks a year. They have no patience for loquaciousness and no desire to read through a novel. If your idea is solid, it won’t need a lot of verbiage.
Tip: Approach your pitch deck like you’d approach an elevator pitch. If this document was in a person’s hands for 30 seconds, what will it take to get them to the offer?