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3 non-editing skills you need to excel as an editor

Can you spell? Are you a grammar expert? Do you know AP, APA and CMS rules?

These used to be the top skills required for editors. But not any longer. As the channels change for content, so do the skills editors need.

To capture the attention of an increasingly sophisticated and busy audience, editors need to expand their skills. And I use the word capture with intention ... it is no longer enough to passively publish clear, accurate content and wait for readers to find it.

Here are three skills editors need to develop to meet these new demands.

1. Become a student of behavioral psychology

You cannot expect to achieve any content goals if you can’t get inside the heads of your audience. And to do that, you need to edit with a few basic psychology principles in mind.

All content needs to solve a need. Sometimes an audience just needs entertainment, but, the majority of the time, consumers are looking for the solution to a problem – especially online.

Let’s use this blog as an example.

The market is flooded with talented editors looking for jobs in an industry that is experiencing rapid change. Many of us are worried whether we have the skills we need to stay employed.

This blog post is designed to help solve those problems or fill those needs.

That means my headline, intro, body content and visual elements all need to be written through that filter so you know why this blog would be worth them investment of your precious time.

There are a variety of sources out there addressing the psychology of audience behavior. My favorite — because it’s not tied to publishing or digital content trends — is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Simply put, we are driven by:

1. Physical needs: we need food, water, shelter

2. Safety needs: We need security and safety.

3. Belonging needs: We want to be a part of a group, have friends, colleagues

4. Esteem needs: We need to feel accomplished, successful

5. Self-actualization: We need to reach our full Portugal, be creative, innovative

The first two are physical needs, the second are psychological involving others and the third is fulfillment involving ourselves.

Looking at this blog again, it’s addressing a few needs: physical (job so you can eat), psychological (being among the best editors, being successful and self-fulfillment (being the best editor).

Not every piece of content touches on every need, but your words to address at least one. If they don’t, your content has no relevance for your audience and just becomes more noise in the information landscape.

As an editor, you must understand these needs helps you write the headline, organize the content and remove information that doesn’t ladder up to that need.

(For more information, check out this website or this video.)

2. Be able to reflect the voice of your audience

Editors need to bring an objective eye to content, but that doesn’t mean you should be uniformed. In fact, you should be an expert on the audience that is consuming that content. If you don’t, your content is won’t capture them, much less spur them to take action.

What types of content are they consuming? What are the words, the tone and style of their favorite content? You need to find out and parrot their language to talk (write) as a fellow insider.

Looking back at the lead of this blog, I referred to CMS and AP style. If I had written “writing rules established by authoritative sources” would you have checked out? Or maybe viewed me as a less-authoritative source?

Or, if I was writing this post for journalism editors, I would not use the Oxford comma. If I was writing for a CMS audience, I would. I may hate the Oxford comma, but the post isn’t about me. It’s about the audience and I should write/edit in a way that builds a connection by using their own vernacular, idioms, style, etc.

3. Learn all you can about voice-assisted search

We’re moving into a world of screenless search. More of us are talking to our devices versus typing information in. And how we speak is different than how we type.

Here are some stats:

• Roughly 20% of all searches conducted on Google with mobile devices are with voice

• 71% of people 18 to 29 are using voice assistants; 39% of 45- to 53-year-olds • 31% of teens use voice search • $11 billion sales will be done via voice orders on Alexa/Echo • There will be 1 billion devices featuring voice assistants by the end of this year

What’s this mean for you? You need to edit/write for natural language search.

1. Voice searches are longer than text searches (more than 5 words)

2. They tend to be in full sentences versus keywords

3. They tend to be in a more conversational tone

3. Content should be written as Q and As with full sentence questions and answers right next to them

4. Use full question headlines

5. The answer should be in the very first paragraph of your content

If you were looking for this article using traditional search, you might type: digital trends, editors, future skills.

If you were asking Alexa, you’d be more likely to ask her as you would another human: What are the top skills editors need in the future?

For this blog to be optimized for voice-assisted search, my lede should be completely different:

What skills do editors need to be successful in the future? Editors need to understand human psychology, specific audience vernacular, and how to edit for voice search.

And because we speak different than we type, knowing your audience’s voice becomes more critical.

(If you want to geek out more on keywords, read Katie Walsh's post on LinkedIn about content for voice search.)


Want to learn more about content strategy? Register for my "Content Strategy for Editors" webinar on Thursday. It's free for members of ACES: The Society for Editing.

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