The secret to better content? Get your QA right. Here's how...
by Lucy Seymour on 3 July 2019
It’s all very well writing great content, but the real skill is in the editing process. Successful author, Nick Hornby, says:
“Anyone and everyone taking a writing class knows that the secret of good writing is to cut it back, pare it down, winnow, chop, hack, prune, and trim, remove every superfluous word, compress, compress, compress…”
While, who could forget the shocking advice of Stephen King when he told us to:
“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
Even if it hurts, having a process for you and colleagues to follow to help you cut down word count, focus a topic, and hit the brief is essential. An internal process for your Quality Assurance (QA) is just as vital as having a content-creation process to begin with. They go hand in hand with one another.
If you’re in the business of content creation, you need a QA system which you can turn to and use to review every piece of content. It needs to be comprehensive and robust, ensuring the final piece that reaches your audience is bang on the brief. So here we share the essential steps to help you own your QA process.
QA should start when the content is being created. While it should never be the sole responsibility of a writer to check customer-facing content, it’s important that QA becomes a habit of their own writing process, rather than purely the responsibility of the editor they pass content on to. Encourage your writing team to QA themselves as they create content, giving them the tools to do so.
Top tip: Put the following points at the top of the document you use to draft copy, as a constant reminder to be checking them as you write.
During this first part in the content process, a writer needs to ask themselves:
Once the writer feels they have hit each of these criteria, it’s time for them to pass on to their editor. If your business doesn't have a dedicated editor or sub-editor, someone else in the content team, or a colleague who is associated with the campaign, will still be a great choice to perform the next stage of QA. Whatever your resources, ensure a second person is built into your QA process.
Their first job is to check the exact same points as are listed above. If the writer and editor disagree about any of these points, they need to discuss and troubleshoot this between them: now is the point to action these changes. The ‘big picture’ checklist is full of fundamental decisions. If the content isn’t hitting the mark at this stage, the rest of the checks will be redundant as the content is essentially incorrect. Fix these points now, before you get any further.
It often takes a second pair of eyes which are fresh to the content to spot subtle errors. While a writer might consider themselves a perfectionist, it’s far too easy to read the same blog post over and over and miss the fact that they’ve made a typo.
The second stage of QA is largely about precision and accuracy. Once the ‘big stuff’ has been agreed in the first step, the editor now needs to search for any finer details that are missing or incorrect. Again, this is something the writer needs to be looking for in their own work, but it needs to be part of the QA process for the editor, too. This time the editor needs to ask:
Well-written, accurate content is the mark of a business that cares. If you’re going to take care in crafting your copy, it follows that you will take care in other aspects of your business, too, such as customer service, product development and delivery. It only takes one typo, an example of incorrect English or a broken link for a reader to question your attention to detail, and thus reconsider working with your business.
This final step in the QA process really can make all the difference when it comes to spotting errors and securing a fine-tuned, perfectly presented piece of content.
This step might be completed by an entirely new, third person who hasn’t had anything to do with the content yet, or by the editor who completed Step 2. In this final step, the editor needs to:
At ESM Inbound, we use the Playbooks tool in HubSpot to record and sign off our QA system as a virtual top sheet. We find this is a great way to keep a record of comments, and ensure everyone who sees the content is working from the same document to avoid confusion and repeat copies appearing.
However you choose to run your QA process, make sure you have one. With our tips, you have a working, tried-and-tested QA process to implement right away. With accurate content comes greater trust and happier customers: it’s time to step up your quality-assurance measures and apply them to every piece of content you produce.