Jessica Barker

There’s no place for sloppy copy in your digital marketing.

It wastes your reader’s time. It erodes the trustworthy, authoritative brand your team has worked so hard to establish. And it’s kind of embarrassing if you’re a professional who wants to create work you’re proud of.

Whether you’re an up-and-coming content writer or an experienced editor, you can easily fall into bad habits that lead to weak writing if you aren’t careful: Poor time management. SEO confusion. Overconfidence or imposter syndrome. All of these factors and more can wreck your writing quality. But they’re all fixable if you know what to do. 

In this guide, we’re covering the most common pitfalls of the writing and editing processes that result in subpar copy. 

Ready to hone your skills? Sharpen your proverbial pencil and circle any of the sections below that apply to you. Whatever you’re struggling with, we’ve got a solution for you. Tough love included. 

Why Does Good Content Writing Matter?

Simply put, the quality of your content writing can make or break your marketing efforts. Excellent writing supports reading comprehension and audience engagement. It’s a safe harbor for readers who are tired of wading through a sea of mediocre content.

It’s also great for SEO. Search algorithms prioritize helpful content. A disorganized blog riddled with errors isn’t as helpful as a clear, concise one. 

Plus, good writing is essential to establishing trust with your readers. As Edelman’s 2022 Trust Barometer found, consumers’ distrust and fake news fears are at an all-time high. We can all agree: Poorly written content just looks sketchy.

What Is Good Writing, Anyway?

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as objectively good writing. As a writer or editor, you can train yourself how to spot and strengthen mediocre copy.

At a basic level, good writing should be:

  • Grammatically correct.
  • Well-organized, with a seamless flow between ideas.
  • Built on the principles of logical reasoning.

There’s more to it, of course. An HBR piece about the science behind effective business writing sums this up in a series of eight S’s to follow:

  1. Simplicity: Make your copy easily digestible to help readers understand your writing. Long-winded sentences and passive voice can reportedly slash reading comprehension by 10%. 
  2. Specificity: Make every word count. Precise language helps get a deeper message across.
  3. Surprise: Give readers a novel experience — no pun intended. One study found that articles containing elements of surprise were 14% more likely to get shared.
  4. Stirring language: Enhance your message with emotion. This sparks a stronger reaction in the brain compared to cut-and-dry content.
  5. Seductiveness: Allow readers to follow their curiosity and anticipate what’s to come. 
  6. Smart thinking: Let readers have “aha” moments along the way. These create flurries of brain activity and contribute to feelings of delight and satisfaction.
  7. Social content: Insert a person-centric angle into your copy. Any sort of human connection will stick with readers longer than an impersonal explanation will.
  8. Storytelling: Build a captivating narrative into your copy and you’ll tick many of the other S’s on the list.

Run down this list and see if your copy includes enough of these characteristics. That’s a good “do” to start with.

Now, what about the “don’ts”? Let’s jump into the writer pitfalls that may be tripping you up and hampering your content quality:

As a Writer…

1. You’re Rushing Through the Writing Process

When deadlines loom large and time is scarce, you may be tempted to prioritize speed over quality. But hastily written content often features sloppy errors, lacks coherence and fails to engage readers. 

The fix: Give yourself sufficient time to research, draft and revise. With ample time to craft your content thoughtfully, you can take a second pass to ensure your copy is clear and free of mistakes before you hit publish.

2. You Lack Confidence in the Subject Matter

If ever you feel uncertain or uninformed about the topic you’re writing about, your readers will know right away. Content that lacks depth and authority won’t resonate with your audience; it will only undermine your brand’s credibility.

The fix: Start by familiarizing yourself with the subject matter. Arm yourself with foundational knowledge before diving into in-depth research. Once you’re ready to hit the blank page, pull on your “confident content writer” hat and remember to write in an authoritative tone.

3. You Aren’t Self-Editing

If you fail to review and revise your work before it goes live, you can easily end up with copy that’s riddled with grammatical errors, inconsistencies and awkward phrasing. These mistakes can sneak in when you’re busily typing away or toggling between tabs of research, notes and project briefs. Overlooking simple errors will diminish your writing’s quality and erode your readers’ trust.

The fix: Edit along the way. Take a break from your copy and review it with fresh eyes one more time before you finish. Focus on clarity, coherence and conciseness. Look for places where sentences can be tightened, ideas clarified and errors corrected. Try to catch and fix as many writing issues as possible before your editor can spot them.

4. You Don’t Realize You’re Making an Error

With so many grammatical rules for professional writers to keep track of, you wouldn’t be alone if you unknowingly break a few. But knowledge gaps can lead to errors that look like lazy mistakes to discerning readers.

The fix: Commit to enhancing your understanding of writing mechanics. Read about common grammatical errors and learn the correct usage. Lean on resources like grammar guides, online courses and copywriting workshops to deepen your knowledge. Until you commit the do’s and don’ts to memory, create a self-editing checklist or display important writing rules on sticky notes so they’re impossible to miss.

5. You’re Having an “Off” Day

You’ve no doubt experienced days when your creativity seems out of reach and the words refuse to flow. These sluggish stretches can feel frustrating and demoralizing, but yielding to them leads to sluggish copy.

The fix: Find strategies to reignite your creativity and restore your focus. Whether you prefer to take a walk, switch to a different task for a while or make yet another cup of coffee, find something to help you snap back into the task at hand. Don’t let those pesky “off” days dictate your writing quality. 

6. You’re Struggling to Meet Word Count Requirements

Fulfilling high word count requirements can be daunting, especially if you’re working under tight deadlines or with limited source material. Be careful, though: Padding your content with wordy, fluffy filler content will dilute its value.

The fix: Prioritize clear and concise writing. Eliminate redundancies and fluffy passages that don’t contribute to your overall message. Do additional research or examine your topic from new angles to gather more material. There’s always a way to write more; just make sure your version of “more” is truly worth reading.

7. You’re Trying to Squeeze in Awkward Words or Phrases for SEO

Incorporating keywords unnaturally will disrupt the flow of your content. You’ll end up with forced, clunky copy that won’t meet “helpful content” SEO objectives, anyway.

The fix: Prioritize the reader experience. Work keywords that enrich your content’s value into sentences that flow naturally. Consider cutting any random phrases that don’t quite fit in; this can only improve your writing quality and it most likely won’t ruin your ranking potential. 

8. You Aren’t Applying Previous Feedback or Guidance

Ignoring or overlooking constructive criticism can stall your project and limit your growth as a writer. It can also make it look like you don’t listen or take direction well — not great for your reputation as a professional content creator.

The fix: View feedback as an opportunity to strengthen your writing skills. Keep notes to track one-off suggestions and recurring themes, then actively work to address them in your writing. A self-editing checklist or sticky note reminder can help here. If you aren’t sure how to implement a piece of feedback, reach out with questions. Whatever you do, don’t just ignore it.

9. You Aren’t Working With an Editor

If you’re too protective of your work to let an editor touch it, you’re seriously missing out. Avoiding collaboration in the editing process can leave your work half-baked and vulnerable to criticism later on. Plus, you won’t have a peer to learn from or partner with.

The fix: Buddy up with an editor who can identify errors and suggest improvements in your writing. Take their notes seriously; even if you don’t agree with a recommendation, carefully consider their reason for making it. At this point, your editor is a stand-in for your end reader. If they call out something sloppy and you don’t fix it, you may be exposing your content to the same critique from your intended audience.

So far we’ve talked about common pitfalls writers can make. Of course, editors aren’t perfect either. That’s why it’s best to avoid leaning too heavily on a peer reviewer. There’s a chance they’ll miss a typo or let a quirky mistake slide. It’s pretty frustrating when you pass your copy through a round or two of quality control only to find out that it still contains a handful of errors.

What if you’re in the editor’s seat? Let’s take a look at some of the bad editing habits that can trip you up and lead to lackluster writing.

As an Editor…

1. You Aren’t Using Any Writing Tools or Resources

If you don’t check basic writing assistance tools while editing, your work may be prone to overlooked mistakes and inefficiencies.

The fix: Embrace the wealth of (mostly free!) writing support resources out there. From grammar checkers to style guides, these tools act as additional sets of eyes to catch issues and clear up confusion. A few Brafton Editorial favorites include: 

2. You’re Rushing Through the Editing Process

Editing in a hurry due to tight deadlines (or, let’s face it, procrastination) causes you to miss errors of all sizes. Once you’re a few paragraphs in on an editing project, you might realize it’s a bigger job than you expected. It can be tempting to skim through the copy quickly to get your part over with. Don’t!

The fix: Prioritize thoroughness over speed. Build buffer time into your schedule for a detailed review process, and start your editing work sooner than you think you need to. 

3. You Aren’t Being as Thorough as Possible

Top-notch editing isn’t just about catching all the Oxford commas and calling it a day; it calls for a big-picture perspective, a keen eye for detail and a commitment to thoroughness. If you’re distracted or trying to cut corners, you probably aren’t reviewing the copy as meticulously as necessary. The result? Missed mistakes, unpolished content and a team that’s probably as annoyed at you as you are.

The fix: Adopt a systematic and comprehensive editing strategy. Break down the content into manageable sections and take breaks along the way to keep your editing senses alert. Be sure to focus on higher-order concerns like clarity and coherence, as well as grammatical accuracy. 

4. You’re Letting the “Little Things” Slide

You may feel like it’s good etiquette to prioritize glaring issues while cutting the writer some slack on the minor ones. But you’re not actually doing them a favor at all. Even seemingly insignificant errors can detract from the overall quality of the content and erode the trust of your writer and their readers.

The fix: Take pride in being a meticulous, eagle-eyed editor. Adopt a zero-tolerance approach to errors and inconsistencies to ensure your whole team meets the highest standards of excellence. From formatting inconsistencies to spelling slip-ups and broken hyperlinks, every detail matters. 

5. You Don’t Know How To Explain or Fix the Issue

Identifying a problem in a piece of writing is one thing; knowing how to explain or resolve it is another. Uncertainty about what’s wrong and how to fix it can lead to hesitation, wasted time and ineffective editing.

The fix: Broaden your editing vocabulary through continuous learning and professional development. Take a deep dive into the ins and outs of grammar and writing mechanics to arm yourself with the correct terminology. When you can quickly call out something like a misplaced modifier, you’ll save yourself the headache of trying to explain why that weird sentence feels off. 

6. You Don’t Realize There’s an Error

Depending on the strength of your editing skills and gut instincts, you may not always catch every grammatical misstep or organizational oddity. But a piece of copy that looks just fine to you might seem careless to an attentive reader.

The fix: Immerse yourself in continuous learning so you can master the intricacies of language and editing. Consider asking seasoned editors to audit your own writing and editing remarks. They’ll be able to point out issues you missed and may even introduce you to writing conventions you never knew about.

7. You Think Something Is Wrong but Aren’t Confident in Your Assessment

Have you ever doubted your editing judgments? A lack of confidence can creep up on you when you’re editing work by a writer you look up to. (“I have to edit my CMO’s article? Agh!”) You can also lose your bearings when editing copy about a complicated subject. (“Is it just that I don’t understand this, or is it objectively confusing?”)

The fix: Trust your gut. You were chosen to edit the copy for a reason, after all: Your writer — no matter how experienced they may be — wants your input. If you think something in their writing sounds iffy but you aren’t sure, make a note of it anyway.

Here’s to Healthy Writing Habits

If you feel like we’re calling you out for corner-cutting, rushing or ambling along with an underdeveloped grammar vocabulary… Well, we are. 

Just know that we’re coming from a place of love. Love for language. Love for impressive content. And love for our fellow writers and editors out there who are working their butts off.

Everyone who writes wants to become a better writer. But the only way to become a better writer is first to identify where you’re falling short of greatness. Once you know where you’re going wrong, you’ll be able to develop the tools you need to improve. Then you can practice and perfect your craft as you go. 

This process takes time, sure, but even the greatest writers had to start somewhere.
And if you take absolutely nothing else from this article, just please, please, please use spell check. You make us all look bad when you don’t.