In the age of information overload, content must stand out for its value to the readers. You need to find the right angle and bring out the most trustful information you can. Jenna St John, B2B&SaaS Editor at Grizzle, knows for a fact that it’s a strategy for the win. We talked to Jenna about her unique approach, the future of editing and what qualities should a good content writer and editor have to succeed. As well as, asked what her favourite Spotify playlists are:)
How did you get into editing? What makes it the best work for you?
I totally fell into editing. I studied research psychology in college, did a Master’s in Teaching and then became a teacher for 10 years. I did some copywriting on the side before I had kids and realised it was a lucrative hustle. Post baby number two, I decided I wanted to be at home more and my copywriting business was going well. An agency I worked with at the time asked if I wanted to do some editing for them and I realised I loved it! I then did a course to brush up on my skills and took on more editing work until I stopped writing copy altogether.
I absolutely love it. The work is challenging, and when you work for a content marketing agency with several clients, it changes all the time. A big part of my draw to the profession is the ability to work remotely, but I also love helping to develop our writers’ skills.
What makes your approach to editing unique?
I’m a big stickler for fact-checking information. Probably bigger than most. This probably comes from my background in research and seeing how information can be manipulated. I’m very fortunate to have found a company that will let me fly that flag and protest against the spread of bad information through my fierce checking!
I’m also fairly resourceful. I’ll work to find a source or an angle that provides more value to the reader, probably more than other editors. This is often left to the writer, but I believe in team work.
How do you connect with your clients?
Understanding their goals is the most important thing. It helps you make even the smallest editorial decisions. We meet with clients and I get involved when there’s something editorial to talk about. Mostly we communicate in drafts, Slack and email. Lately, we’ve been communicating via voice message and video too, which adds another human layer to comms. Our vibe at Grizzle is to be like an extension of the client’s team, and I think that mindset really helps to build up positive relationships with clients.
What in your experience makes the content effective and valuable?
I work for a content marketing agency, and a lot of people go straight to SEO, thinking we chase keywords all day. Which is partly true, but there’s a lot of consideration for the reader in what we do. First, we’re always thinking about search intent (What does the reader what to learn? What jobs do they need to accomplish using this information?). That underpins a lot of the decisions we make when it comes to creating angles and outlines. We look at what competing articles are doing and think about what they’re missing (Have they offered an alternative? Have they talked about what to do if it doesn’t work? Where does the reader go next?). Finally, everything comes down to the outline. The outline phase is super important. It’s where we see the narrative take shape and what the argument looks like.
What qualities should a good content writer and editor have to succeed?
Editing in content marketing is quite different to editing elsewhere (book publishing, academia, etc.). A lot more rules can be broken, but often way too many are broken and need to be reined in.
To be a great writer, you need to have excellent research skills. You need to know how to uncover search intent, you need to know what the reader is looking for around a topic and you need to know how to tactfully deliver that information. Sometimes it will be a more thought-leadership piece, where you need to form a logical argument and support it with well-sourced evidence. Sometimes it will be more explanatory or informative and prescriptive. You’ll need to know how to write using different styles of writing and for different audiences and for different tones of voice. It also helps to have a good grasp of grammar and punctuation (and be able to switch between styles if you write for different clients).
As an editor, you’ll need to know how to recognise the quality in the above, so you can give positive feedback alongside requests for changes. This often means wearing different lenses and training yourself to compartmentalize the process: looking at a piece at different levels (a high-level for content issues, a granular level for punctuation errors).
You seem serious about informational hygiene. What are your rules to maintain a clear digital space as well as head?
I am evangelical about informational hygiene! If I could get on a stage and communicate one thing to writers and editors everywhere, it would be to support your arguments with good sources. Easier said than done, right? This is some of what we train our writers to do: maintain a pool of reputable sources (PEW research, Gartner, McKinsey, etc.), search these sources for your information first and avoid round-up blogs (very low editorial standards and easy to get lost in an original source black hole). When you find a good source, keep it somewhere safe (we use a database).
When I’m editing, I’ll check that what we’ve said is contained in the link. I’ll also check that it’s likely to be true. If a source uses a small sample size or doesn’t seem legit, I’ll question it and try to find a better one.
What trends in editing will prevail in the near future?
I think editing for the online space will gather more of a following. At the moment we content editors have to follow general editing spaces that are heavily geared towards books and periodicals. It’s really very different to these fields and I think there’s enough of us now to form our own community. I’m attempting this now through social media but I can see it being bigger in future!
I also think that inclusivity is here to stay. Watch AP Style and CMOS for their updates on issues like pronouns and neurodiversity.
If you decide to change direction, what would you do in life?
Oooh. Interesting question. Mostly because I’ve already changed direction! I think if I was ever to change again, it would be back into an educating role. I’d likely bring editing with me and teach about writing, though. So not too much of a change.
Can you recommend a Spotify Playlist?
Can I!? I listen to a lot of instrumental music because sometimes lyrics distract me when I need to focus. If I’m doing a light edit or something quite administrative, I can get away with words.
This is what I’ve been listening to lately with lyrics:
This is what I’ve been listening to lately without lyrics: