7 things you need for a strong editorial QA process

Editorial quality control isn't just about double-checking grammar and spelling. Managed properly, it's a process designed to ensure that every step of the content creation cycle contributes to the best possible output, every time. Here are 7 key elements of a robust editorial QA process…

 7 things you need for a strong editorial QA process

Run effectively, a strong editorial QA process can cut down on production costs and help you get the most out of your content budget, because you’re getting it right, first time.

But editorial quality control isn’t just about making sure there aren’t any typos on your website. It’s about approaching every step of the content creation process in a way that promotes, and ensures, a great-quality finished product – from putting together a robust content plan, to using trained, skilled writers.

Here are 7 things you need for a strong editorial QA process…

1. A content plan

It’s nigh-on impossible to produce effective content without a plan. That’s to say, an editorial plan-of-action, which for each content activity maps out exactly what you’re going to do, and how.

First off, it’s imperative to answer questions like:

  • What do I want this content to achieve?
  • Who do I want to read it?
  • What do I want those readers to think, feel or do afterwards?

Once you’ve got these answers, you can use them to establish:

  • What should the piece look like?
  • When’s the best time to publish it?
  • What’s the best source material – do I need a subject matter expert to input?
  • What’s the call to action?
  • Where will the content be published, and how will it be promoted?

From here, you can sharpen up your content idea, establish a set of deadlines, and identify who needs to review and sign off on the piece. And then, pull together a really strong written brief…

2. A written creative brief

This is your bible, as far as content is concerned. Here you’ll record what you intend to do, when and how you intend to do it.

Not only does this help the writer get a clear idea of what you want, you can use it to refer back to in review and signoff.

See Content confidential: Your friend, the creative brief

You could include:

  • a synopsis of the piece
  • key messages
  • deadlines and publishing date
  • what content format is most appropriate
  • your target audiences
  • where the content will be published and promoted
  • source material
  • call to action
  • links
  • keywords
  • who signs off
  • compliance considerations

If you have multiple stakeholders, circulate the briefing form to them before you begin writing. That way, if they have any feedback on your approach, they can offer it before your writer invests any time in producing the piece.

3. Trained copywriters

One of the key elements of QA is getting the right person for the job in the first place.

It’s tempting to ask product owners or other subject matter experts to produce copy – especially if it’s on a specialist subject. But the risk here is that you’ll just create a bigger job for yourself in the edit. And if you publish poorly written content, you can turn off readers, lose prospects, and actively damage your brand.

Skilled, trained writers don’t just make the piece read well. They understand how to make copy usable, how to structure content so that it’s navigable for scan-readers, how to balance the claims of brand voice and seo, how to work in persuasive nudges to optimise the chances of a conversion and so on.

4. Rigid deadlines

It’s impossible to keep your content production slick and manageable without well-enforced deadlines.

When you’re planning, always factor in time to produce a first draft, a deadline for stakeholder feedback, time for a second draft, and possibly a third.

A useful tip here is to stagger the reviews so that the most senior people see the content first. From there, they can give you broad direction on what needs to change, as well as what’s already working.

This direction will inform the reviews of the less senior stakeholders, and stop them giving the sort of feedback that could get overruled further down the line.

You must reserve enough time for a thorough editorial review, too. This is where your editor comes in…

5. A consistent editor

You must have at least one hands-on content advocate, with editorial expertise, who oversees the quality of each piece. If your content operation is serious, it makes sense to put in place a full-time person with editing and proofing responsibilities.

The role should include writing, or contributing, to the initial brief, as well as collating and taking in feedback, and putting the finishing touches to every piece.

Having the same eye over everything, regardless of channel or message, means you’ll have a consistency of voice and purpose through everything you produce.

Your editor will be a brand champion, know the intricacies of your style guide, and have a natural feel for what works with your audiences, and what doesn’t. If you don’t have a style guide or any language guidelines, they can start to draft these and see that your output is consistent.

6. A second pair of eyes

According to our State of Digital Copywriting Survey, nearly a fifth of respondents (23.1%) say a typo on a website indicates the company doesn’t care about the quality of its writing.

While a typo in a piece of copy doesn’t invalidate its editorial quality, such slip-ups in published material can undermine your brand, detract from the content’s credibility, and give the impression of carelessness or lack of professionalism.

So naturally you need a process to minimise typos. The key to proofreading is to find a way to see the copy afresh – once it becomes very familiar to you, you stop reading it properly and errors can easily get missed.

Professional editors use a variety of tricks to help them see the copy anew – reading sections from the bottom up, reading on paper, reading with a ruler, and so on.

Above all, make sure you always put every piece of written work in front of a second proof-reader, preferably an editorial person, just before it goes live.

7. Time to reflect

To keep driving up the standards of your content’s quality, make time to reflect on your output. Whether you do this on a weekly or quarterly basis, it’s vital to have a regular space where key team members can review your content and ask such questions as:

  • What are we doing well?
  • What could we be doing better?
  • What should we be doing more/less of?
  • Is there anything missing from the QA process?

Take note of the insights and learnings you gain from such conversations, and feed them into your QA process. Quality is a never-ending challenge, so always be on the lookout for ways to take your content to the next level…