If you think this post is going to be filled with clumsy, juvenile double entendres, I hope I do not disappoint. But if you are squeamish at that thought, this post is really about editing text. Dirty, filthy, slutty text.
It’s the Story, of a Lovely Project…
In my daily travels, I often connect people to writers. If someone comes to me looking for writing help, I am not always able to jump in there myself, much as I’d like to. But I do know lots of writers, so I can often connect the dots. Such was the case recently, when a good client came to me seeking some content on getting paid to take surveys online.
I was booked solid (yay!), but had a good fit (I believed) so I connected the client and the writer. I actually worked as the go-between here, telling the writer what the client wanted in this site’s copy, and working with them both. I even wrote the home page to get things started.
The writer I connected here does fine work – she’s a very smart lady from the deep South who always hits the mark. She got the brief specs from me, and wrote her 5 pages. I gave her drafts to the client, and he coded them and posted them. Because I sent the client her unedited drafts, I also offered to edit these pages if the client wanted me to do so…I paid the writer, and cut her loose after she drafted the basic content for us.
Coining the Term: Big Sausages of Text!
The client thought her copy was well conceived – but the way he received it was not exactly what he wanted. He referred to her pages as having “great big sausages of text.” I thought that description was pretty funny, but when I went to the site, I definitely saw what he meant.
You can see it pretty easily…these are swollen fat things for sure.
Again, there was no issue here with the content itself, but these sausages of text needed squeezing.
Some clients use me time and again simply because they know I am an expert at squeezing the sausage.
So it was on.
Handling Your Sausage
The best way to handle your big ol’ sausage, is firmly. The time to be gentle is over once it is fully drafted – it is then time to really wank it and make it work harder for you. Slap it around a little. My writer would have done this herself if we had asked, but we had already sent her on her merry way…off to make other clients happy.
Fixing a piece of sausage text takes all kinds of forms. Sometimes, you need to just rub it a little bit, putting-in or taking-away some simple stuff to make it work better. Sometimes you need to get more drastic in the presentation to achieve something that works as well visually as it does cerebrally.
Because the client here liked the copy but not the general sausageness of it, I knew I simply needed to squeeze this a little to bring it off.
The first thing I did, was read it thru and edit it a bit. I made sure the ideas were fluid, moving logically down the pages, supported when appropriate…which they were. Made sure there were no errors or grammatical gaffes, but again – the client was fine with the writing, the writer was experienced and solid, so I just made sure more than actually changing anything.
Space – the Final Frontier
The next thing I did, and one of the most important steps here, was to insert some space. Web readers don’t like to see a big sausage of text – they can get intimidated, and often leave without touching it. We can’t have that.
So I look for logical places where I can bust-up the blocks: I find where I can really squeeze that sausage. Like most articles, these had lots of spots where I could put in a line break and not ruin it.
Web readers are good (generally) with about 2-3 lines at a time, so this is often my loose target. I give audiences credit for having no attention span whatsoever, and work from there. However, this is a text-driven and very text heavy site so I knew the paragraphs were going to be longer naturally (unless I edited much more deeply). Given that the goal was not to re-edit everything here, I stayed with what was on the page…but I also knew that size matters.
I also searched for places in the writing where I could use bullets or a blockquote, knowing these are other easy ways to create space. Again, most often you will find any well-constructed article will suggest some of these callouts to you – they feel very natural.That was what I found here, too – a few natural places to utilize this tactic.
So in a very short time period really, I was taking advantage of many simple ways to make my content work harder.
With the text broken-up more on each page and some bullets, I looked for places where the ideas changed a little bit and added-in some headers. Normally, I create headers as I am writing – but as this was a editing gig, I was seeking kind of “obvious” places where I could accent shifts in textual or conceptual nuances with a simple header.
Headers allow a reader to scan a page quickly and see what it’s about – making them another simple way to work the content harder. Additionally, headers are a fine place for a little SEO, so with minimal effort you can make them contextually relevant as well as strategically crafted.
I should comment too, that this is one area where new writers tend to need work – in the ability to create headers that tell the story, entice the reader to read, and answer SEO needs all at the same time. It does seem easier than it is, but it is an area where many new writers can actually step up their game, in terms of how their work will be received.
In this particular case, I was not overly concerned with the SEO but it is certainly never too far from my mind when working on a website. I was more about the visual here – I had this sausage now well in hand, and was eager to finish-off. I was about done spanking and squeezing it, so getting my headers in there brought this off beautifully.
The Finished Page
That was really about all I did to squeeze the sausage from these five pages – but the difference in them is pretty clear to see, even at a distance.
The client liked the changes, and posted them.
The difference in her text and mine is only space, bullets and the headers – otherwise, they read almost exactly as she submitted them.
Since the site is new, there is really no analytic data we can compare, to see what effect this has, if any. If I were to do this on an existing site, I would look at the time spent on the page before and after you squeeze the sausage. It should increase, you would hope. You also might look at paths into and out of the content, and bounce rates – the measures of engagement.
Now that wasn’t as bad as you imagined, was it? 😉