Like many writers, I am my own worst editor. This is because writers — as human beings — are inclined to read our words as we intended them and not necessarily as we typed them.
Of course, the typo we missed or “M” state we misabbreviated or paragraph we copied and pasted from another website without attribution is the first thing others notice.
Clear, consistent, error-free content is especially crucial for freelance writers, many of whom also serve as their own freelance editors. Freelancers whose copy routinely needs heavy revisions from a partner’s internal editor or other content manager don’t tend to last long as freelancers.
Following are a few practical tools that can help blog writers, brand journalists, SEO content creators, and other freelance writers and editors produce accurate, clean, coherent copy that registers with clients, resonates with audiences and clicks with search engines.
AP Style Remains en Vogue
Long the style bible for journalists and public relations professionals, The Associated Press Stylebook has in recent years been adopted by numerous industries, educational institutions, government entities and other organizations as their in-house guide for content consistency and clarity.
Why? The AP Stylebook is accessible, concise and well-organized. AP style emphasizes straightforward language, and many of its standards — such as those relative to numeric functions — apply more naturally to web-based content than academic guides like The Chicago Manual of Style.
The AP Stylebook is further distinguished by detailed sections on punctuation, media law, business-writing principles and social media guidelines. AP style is also continuously updated to reflect current linguistic trends and the appropriate use of descriptive terms.
Of course, freelancers should defer to their clients’ preferred style guides, but if one isn’t provided or specified, The AP Stylebook is a solid foundation for consistency. Oscar Wilde may have believed consistency “the last refuge of the unimaginative,” but style uniformity offers familiarity and precision, and it is critical to effective content marketing.
Even if you remember all the grammar-school rules about the likes of apostrophes, comma splices and sentence fragments, it’s — or its? — easy to make simple syntax mistakes over the course of writing a 1,000-word blog.
These blunders are often overlooked when freelance writers edit their — or there or they’re? — own work and read what they meant rather than what actually ended up in print. Most document-processing applications have built-in, if limited, spelling and grammar checkers.
Freelance writers (and freelance editors) seeking a backup assessment of grammar and readability may want to use a more in-depth resource. Grammarly, which utilizes artificial intelligence to identify grammatical errors and imprecise language, and make suggested replacements, has emerged as the most popular digital text assistant.
Unlike the English language, Grammarly’s interface is idiot-proof. The platform is also fast and available in a free version. Other solid grammar-checking applications include Hemingway, Linguix and Outwrite, which offer varying levels of additional writing and editorial tools under their free and paid services.
Beware that while these programs are generally reliable, their suggestions aren’t always on point with the most readable usage or a writer’s linguistic intent. Passive voice, for example, can be purposefully employed, but most grammar-guidance platforms flag passive verbiage by default.
It Doesn’t Pay to Plagiarize
“To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism,” quipped comedian Steven Wright, “to steal from many is research.”
Yet in the process of translating research to original content, writers occasionally and inadvertently plagiarize. If your writing relies on substantial research and multiple resources, it’s advisable to run the completed content through a plagiarism checker to prevent the potential embarrassment and penalties of pirated content.
Grammarly offers a free plagiarism checker that compares text with billions of web pages and academic databases. Grammarly’s premium paid service additionally provides details to properly cite sources.
Copyscape is another popular plagiarism detector that offers tiers of free and paid services. Like Grammarly, Copyscape is web-focused, which makes these platforms particularly valuable for freelance writers and editors who focus on web-based content.
Plagiarism should be distinguished from duplicate content, which these applications and SEO-centric content platforms like SEMrush often identify as the same. Plagiarism is the intentional or reckless theft of another’s ideas or words, which are then presented as one’s own; plagiarism checkers will generally register three to five consecutive repeated words from multiple sources as plagiarism or duplicate content. Duplicate content is text that appears on more than one web page; duplicate content is not always plagiarism (consider the calls-to-action or organizational background information often tagged onto the ends of web pages, blog posts and press releases).
One of the great SEO myths is that Google and other search engines essentially demote sites where they detect duplicate content. Google itself has stated that duplicate content is not a negative ranking factor, though the fallacy persists.
That said, plagiarized content is trouble. When caught, plagiarism can lead to web pages or full sites being pulled from the internet, and even criminal charges. Protect yourself from plagiarism by paraphrasing others’ ideas and content, and citing sources for others’ works and words.
Search-engine optimization is a data-driven but somewhat conjectural trade, the best practices of which are often conjured from fragments of the little information Google shares about how it ranks websites and self-perpetuated via blogs that clog the worldwide web and are sufficient proof that Google doesn’t care about duplicate content.
Still, SEO is inescapable for most freelance content creators. Online brand content is expected to do more than connect with and inform audiences; it must also address search queries, contain established keywords, link to trusted resources and produce measurable results. Fortunately, this SEO overload has generated several applications to help freelance writers and editors conform content with known search-engine standards.
Moz, a longtime leader in SEO software, offers assorted free SEO tools, including headline/title tag and meta-description previews. Moz’s website is also stocked with practical resources regarding keyword research and use, links and link-building, and other SEO factors.
SEMrush is a robust SEO-marketing platform with free and paid services. SEMrush features content templates that call out vital search-engine information, an SEO writing assistant, SEO content analysis and multiple research aids.
It’s easy for freelancers to get distracted while trying to balance content creation, client collaboration and new-business generation.
When you need to concentrate on writing without the disturbances of desktop notifications and glowing menu bars, some apps can effectively black out the rest of your screen and focus on your content. Write Room bestows a full-screen writing background for Mac users, and it also furnishes a live word count and approximate reading time.
Dark Room is a Write Room clone for Windows, though with fewer functionalities. Additional distraction-free variations include CalmlyWriter, ZenPen and OmmWriter, the latter of which includes the option to incorporate natural backgrounds and soothing music.
A search for distraction-free writing tools will yield even more platforms. The best option comes down to your personal display preferences and desire for on-screen writing amenities like word-counters or time-trackers.
The Content Age
The content-creation industry is booming as organizations seek to strengthen bonds with their current bases and capture new followers across diverse platforms, and the field of freelancers is flourishing with it.
There are several tactics by which freelancers can distinguish themselves, such as developing specialized knowledge of a market niche, but success ultimately depends on the quality of a freelancer’s work. Is it accurate? Is it comprehensible to its audience? Does it have a consistent tone and style? Does it provoke the desired emotion or action?
The tools mentioned here can help freelance writers ensure the answers to those questions is “yes,” while also adhering to applicable style, ethics, legal and SEO criteria. And catch those annoying typos we writers miss but readers inevitably spot.
Steve Lysaker is an award-winning journalist, marketing writer and educational-content developer, and an experienced creator of successful SEO content. He lives in Denver with his partner and their maniac dogs.
The PowerPublish writer marketplace is transforming how modern brands outsource journalism-quality content with unique access to the world’s best business journalists and subject-matter experts.