You might be editing your own articles, or perhaps there's an editor at your company who checks your drafts to make your writing better. Either way, you might be wondering how content editing really works, how editors spot flaws in your writing, what sets ChatGPT's writing apart from human's, and how editors make improvements without hurting a writer's feelings. In this interview with Yuriy Bilokobylskyi, our Content Editor, we'll try to answer all these questions and more.
We've divided this interview into three sections:
- Content quality
- Collaboration with writers
- Being an editor
Feel free to bypass certain sections and dive into the one that piques your interest the most. Or you can read the whole interview from start to finish – we promise it's going to be interesting.
Let's start with content quality.
Is content quality subjective?
Interesting question, let me put it this way. Every person has their own perception of quality – that’s what I believe – BUT there are plenty of things that differentiate good content from bad content.
Imagine you have two pieces of writing, the first one is poorly structured, doesn’t have any logic or convincing arguments and it’s tough to get what point the author is trying to deliver. The second one is the complete opposite. Which one would you read to get the answers to your questions? The answer is obvious.
How do you determine if a piece of writing is good?
I think that a good piece of writing is one that the writer cares about. Of course, grammar and punctuation are important, but what makes an article stand out is when the author isn’t trying to copy the top-5 articles from the search results, but giving their own perspective, bringing something new to the table.
Let me give you an example. I was once reviewing an article about a product discovery workshop. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of such topics, but the author did his best to have my attention. He started by drawing… a bicycle:
Draw a bicycle on a piece of paper. Does it look exactly like the one I’ve drawn below?
I bet it doesn’t. We’re two different people, so naturally, we imagine bicycles differently. The same happens when it comes to software development since you and your tech partner have different understandings of the product you want to develop… And there is no better way to communicate what kind of product you want than running a product discovery workshop.
This bicycle is something I’ll remember forever, so charming it is.
What do you believe are the critical elements of an excellent article?
There are many things to highlight, but to my luck, we’ve been discussing this a lot at Kaiiax. In fact, we even summed everything up in a table called “Kaiiax principles of content quality”.
So, in a nutshell, an excellent article has to be:
Here’s an image of our 4 “content quality pillars,” as we call them, and how they could be achieved. Check it out in Figma.
To write effectively, you need to connect with your readers. Can you share your approach to evaluating if an article resonates with the writer's audience?
There are two things that help me out in this case. The first thing is the direction our team adds for each article. It’s not your classical technical task that writers must obey no matter the case. It’s rather a series of recommendations that can help them come up with a great piece of writing. Thanks to the direction, both the writer and myself are able to learn the reader’s JTBD (Job To Be Done), which helps a lot when evaluating the article.
One more thing I personally like to do after studying the direction is method acting. Now, I’m not telling you to sign up for acting classes, but in my case, method acting lets me immerse myself in the reader’s role. This way, I’m not guessing whether the target audience will enjoy the article or not, I become the target audience and share my honest opinion on the piece of writing based on the JTBD.
How do you approach fact-checking and ensuring accuracy in articles?
First and foremost, if we’re talking about numbers, stats, quotes, or else, I always ask writers to link this type of information. It’s very crucial in terms of credibility, and when there’s no link proving this info, it’s just us saying “Trust me, I know this for sure”. Secondly, when there’s certain information or a debatable episode that is beyond my expertise, I either ask the writer directly to explain how this or that conclusion was made or reach out to our team to help me verify the information. Collaboration is key, and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions so that you can understand the topic better.
How can you tell the difference between text generated by ChatGPT and text written by a human?
ChatGPT has caused a lot of buzz initially, making people believe that the sci-fi films weren’t lying after all. And let’s be real, we all use it from time to time now. Still, when it comes to writing a whole article for someone, it’s not that hard to tell the difference between ChatGPT and the text written by humans.
- ChatGPT likes long explanations. Unlike humans, who can explain themselves using their own style and be laconic (and that’s what I strongly recommend doing), ChatGPT tends to explain things by providing the longest explanation possible, using as many bullets as it can.
For example, I asked ChatGPT why content editing is important, and here’s what I was left with:
And it’s just the first 10 points, there are 6 more.
- ChatGPT gives you wrong answers in the most plausible way possible. If you're curious about recognizing a writer who neglects fact-checking, ChatGPT serves as a prime example. There are plenty of cases to prove it, but my favorite one is when ChatGPT was caught lying about Elon Musk being the CEO of Twitter (now X) as of 2021. Was the tool predicting the future? Who knows.
- ChatGPT is extremely verbose. What stands out the most to me is that ChatGPT often delivers overly grandiose responses, resembling a classic literary author. Most of the time, it looks more like an act of graphomania, but hey, you can make some good memes out of it.
So, whenever I see a long text filled with words I haven’t heard in a while and the narrative itself doesn’t make a lot of sense, but sounds convincing, I usually suspect that the text has been ChatGPTed.
So guys, please, don’t make ChatGPT write texts for you. Use it as a helping tool it was designed to be.
Collaboration with writers
How do you balance preserving the author's voice and making necessary editorial improvements?
I always encourage writers to be themselves. At the same time, it’s my duty to remind them that the Internet is a vast place, so when you want to share a personal example, tell a joke, whatever, make sure readers can get it easily. So when I see a personal example or the writer’s own interpretation of the term that is somewhat hard to understand without sufficient context, I try to brainstorm it with them so that the idea becomes clearer.
How would you handle a situation where a writer disagrees with your suggested edits?
I usually ask them why they don't agree with the suggestion. I'm always up for a chat, but if there's no good reason to disagree with the edits, it might be more of a personal preference. In those cases, I get the team involved to help us work things out, making sure everyone's voice is heard.
Have ever worked with sensitive writers who question every edit you make? How did you handle them?
Of course, I have. Such cases are not common, luckily, but when they do occur. I often suggest scheduling a quick call with the writer to share their feedback. It’s important to remember that when working online, writers interpret you in their own personal way. So, for example, when they see many comments left for their article, they could think you hate their article guts, when in fact, you enjoyed reading it but wanted to share some suggestions on how the writer could make it even better. And for that matter, quick Slack huddles or Google Meets help a lot.
How would you suggest content improvements to senior content writers?
At Kaiiax, we treat each writer equally, so even when I am working with a person who has a lot of experience in the field, I’m not trying to change my attitude or idolize them. We all make mistakes; the only distinction is that senior writers supposedly make fewer of them.
Anyway, when it comes to suggesting improvements to the text, I’m trying to be as specific as possible, so that writers don’t get the feeling I was just being pretentious. Clear and detailed feedback is what writers can expect from our team when it comes to suggesting content improvements, no matter the seniority or past experience.
What are the typical mistakes writers make? How do you help them avoid these mistakes through your editing?
One of the most typical mistakes writers make from my standpoint is info dumping. You see, many writers have this feeling that their article isn’t convincing enough, so they start attacking you with all the topic-related information they were able to find. That is similar to ChatGPT, but while the latter is a machine and we don’t have to be too mad at it, writers must have critical thinking and understand what will be interesting and beneficial for their article and what can be tossed out.
When I am just starting to work with a new writer, we usually have to shorten the narrative. Sometimes, we’re talking about removing half of their narrative. It’s all thanks to facts and side stories that aren’t even connected to the topic of the article but are still in the text for whatever reason. So I always point at what could be shortened and recommend some ways to simplify the text.
What is your advice on how to improve the quality of writing?
Read (duh). While being quite obvious, reading books and related articles is a thing one shouldn’t neglect. When you’re looking for some inspiration, consider checking out Animalz, contentfolks, and similar. But if you prefer watching stuff, consider having a look at Kate’s videos on her channel where she talks about ways you can improve your writing.
One more piece of advice is… don’t stop. What I mean is, you shouldn't settle for your current results and should continuously strive for self-improvement. The audience is changing, new trends emerge, and what is considered awesome today can easily become boring tomorrow. See what other writers do, take a look at their articles, and keep your fingers on the pulse – maybe there is something in the world going on that you could use in your next piece of writing.
Being an editor
Describe your editing process
Normally, my editing consists of 4 key stages. Let me break it down for you.
1. Reading the Content Direction
For each upcoming article, we at Kaiiax give our writers so-called directions. These are NOT your common SEO briefs, but rather pieces of advice with helping material for authors to come up with their own ideas on the topic.
Here’s what our direction normally looks like:
2. Discussing the outline with the writer
After the writer is done with the research, they have to prepare an outline to discuss the upcoming piece. It could be done after the article is written, but it’s much easier to brainstorm ideas and share thoughts on the upcoming article prior to writing it since rewriting something from scratch is much more painful. By the way, we wrote a separate article on how to write an outline, so if you’re curious, go have a read.
3. Reviewing the article and sharing feedback
Once the first draft is finished, it’s my time to shine. I’m diving into the text, becoming its first reader and correcting it as an editor. Based on Kaiiax principles of content quality, my job is to conclude whether the text is well-written and we could publish it, or if there’s some work to do still.
Normally, I have three types of feedback:
- Red. Red feedback means that the text isn’t ready for publishing, and requires significant reconsideration.
- Orange. The text is OK grammar- and style-wise, but there are some things that could be added so that the writing becomes more competitive.
- Green. This means that the text is well-written and no significant changes are needed.
4. Looking at the article one more time when needed and we’re done
In cases when I leave orange or red feedback, I usually come back to the article and look at it once again to verify that everything is fine and we can proceed with the publication.
What do you particularly like about your job?
I would say, people. I am lucky enough to work with individuals truly passionate about their job. Such creative minds always try to bring something fresh to the table, and it’s always nice to learn something new from them.
What do you dislike about being an editor?
What I find challenging about being an editor is impatience, especially when writers are in a hurry. I don't like when writers are looking to get their drafts edited as soon as possible and start asking me questions that get me distracted from editing.
What do you do to grow professionally?
When it comes to professional growth, I try my best to find some interesting sources or sign up for courses aimed at helping editors as well as up-and-coming content creators. For example, I have recently signed for Ryan Law’s course about content editing. I also read such sources as Superpath, contentfolks, and The Content Studio, as well as follow content marketers like Jimmy Daly on LinkedIn. All in all, there’s more than enough experts to learn from.
Do you think companies must hire editors? Why or why not?
All in all, editors are needed, not only for correcting someone’s grammar but more as a second pair of eyes. For example, there are cases when a writer is very good at self-editing and when there’s a team behind their back, constantly contributing to the content quality. In these cases, editors may be needed as an outside perspective. But when there’s a need to train writers, and share some practices so that they could improve, having an editor by your side is a must.