By Chris Williams published June 21, 2010

How to Avoid a Never-Ending Edit Cycle (The Dangers of “Just a Few More Changes”)

Meet Lou. Lou is a marketing manager for XYZ Corp.

Lou receives new website content from his copywriter and sends it to the internal team to review. The sales manager emails him afterward. “I love it!” he says. “I have just a few small changes to make.”

Lou’s brain twitches. A “few small changes,” you say?

Lou receives the “edited” content. Lou must now resist the urge to yell obscenities that’d make a college football coach blush.  Why? Well…

  • All five of the most common grammar mistakes? They’re now present.
  • A five-line paragraph has been made out of one sentence.
  • “Few small changes” translated in this case means, “Let’s double the length by talking about ourselves incessantly!”

So Lou has his writer edit much of this out and sends the content in again. The sales manager responds with even MORE “small changes,” like…

  • The content’s entire progression – moving the reader from Point 1 to Point 2, all the way to the call to action – is now mangled by 4 unrelated topics.
  • Corporate-speak has been jammed in at every possible point.
  • The entire piece is now virtually illegible.

So Lou has it edited once more. His writer tries desperately to fix the content! Another draft comes back. Lou pleads for it to be approved.

But the VP says, “Oh wait! I forgot a few more things until just now!”

As most of the marketing pros reading this know, this never-ending cycle of edits happens all the time. And too much of that time, what comes back to us for review is some weird mutated content that’d make HP Lovecraft stare.

A Project Backfiring: The Dangers of Back-and-Forth Content Changes

The reason this happens is simple. People want to give their own input, their own “two cents.” However, when boundaries aren’t set (or someone decides they’re a better writer than the one they are using), “two cents” can become “a suffocating pile of pennies” pretty fast.

When that happens, edit cycles lengthen. And when edit cycles lengthen, the project is in jeopardy. Risks like these can pop up:

  • Multiple edit rounds create more work to fix, eating up project time.
  • Everyone involved is in an awkward position. Who will be the one to stop the back-and-forth?
  • Lost time disrupts the project cycle and pushes back deadlines.
  • Everyone loses sight of the content’s original purpose – to inform/persuade CUSTOMERS.

Oftentimes people don’t even realize that too many edits will affect their audience readership. Content that’s been edited to death can actually harm readership – by turning off an audience from any engagement the client had with their previous content.

Now of course, editing is necessary. Maybe the writer didn’t get a piece of information and its absence shows. Or something isn’t explained accurately. That’s why content should always be reviewed before it goes live.

Taking over the writing, though, isn’t a good idea. Isn’t this why we use copywriters in the first place?

How to Break the Edit Cycle and Still Deliver Content Your Clients Will Like

Don’t let endless editing ruin the whole project. Take steps ahead of time to put a limit on the content editing cycle.

These are four suggestions anyone involved in marketing can use to break a lengthening edit cycle.

Have a plan
If there’s a content strategy in place beforehand, it can serve as a buffer against endless edits. “Not in the plan” comes close to “not in the budget.” People are less likely to keep changing things if they’re aware it will mess up someone else’s plan.

Remember that you don’t have to do it all at once
If the client/manager wants to add more things every round, suggest leaving further additions like this for the future. Content is no longer static; maybe a change that they want now might be better used next month? Offer this as a suggestion.

Remind them of their wallets
Remind the client/manager that you’re in danger of exceeding the project’s alloted time.  This is especially effective if you are have hired a copywriter:  you’ll have to pay extra if they want another round of edits. Hear those brakes squeal.

Stick to Two Rounds of Edits
In initial project discussions (and your standard contract), lay out  a clear editing policy. I call it “getting ahead of the collapse.”

As a freelance copywriter, my recommendation for such a policy? Stick to one simple principle: Two rounds of editing incorporated in every project. Any more costs extra. You can use this same principle when using internal copywriters as well.

Be specific about this too. Point out what each round entails.

  • First round: Major changes (e.g. rewriting segments).
  • Second round: Style changes and/or minor edits.

Avoiding a never-ending edit cycle is always preferable to breaking one in progress. But as marketing pros, we will run into both many times. So take the precautions you can ahead of time to avoid an incessant editing cycle. And if one comes about anyway, try to break it using these steps. Whichever works best at the time.

Have any more tips to improve the editing process? Got a “never-ending edit” story like this one? Share it with us in the comments.

Author: Chris Williams

Chris is a freelance Web writer and editor in the San Francisco Bay Area. Whenever a project or shiny object isn't distracting him, Chris blogs about Web writing, content marketing and (occasionally) SEO at blue-ferret.com. If you're in any creative industry, follow his heavily-satirical "Copywriter's Internal Monologue" tweet series at @blueferret.

Other posts by Chris Williams

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