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Sub editing Tips to Improve your Writing Skills

Anybody involved in creating text-based content, from writing emails and blogs to the company newsletter or reports, will be using basic sub-editing skills. It’s an important task that doesn’t need to be daunting. Follow these sub-editing tips to improve your confidence and writing skills:

Print Your Copy

It might sound old-fashioned in the digital age but you need to be sharp-eyed and objective to sub edit effectively. Even short-form ad copy will look different on paper. That will help you to concentrate, especially, when you are very familiar with the content and more likely to miss mistakes.

Take your time

Even when you have a tight deadline, always read the copy through. Make notes about things that don’t seem right to you. That includes any structural problems in longer content or a boring tag or headline that will help you get a sense of the scale of the subbing task ahead.

Work with a checklist

Create a list of questions that you may ask yourself about the content. It will give guidance on whether you are heading in the right direction or not. For example:

  • Does it meet the original brief?
  • Is it written to the house style and the right length?
  • Is the information or message pitched at the right level for the target audience?
  • Is it factually accurate?
  • Is it legally sound?
  • Is it a good read (grammar, punctuation and spelling)?

Learn to prioritize

If it needs a lot of work, break down the task rather than trying to sort out all the problems at once. Deal with the big stuff first such as repetitions, unclear paragraphs, structural improvements, queries that require extra research. Then adjust the style and grammar.

Ask the writer

It is the sub-editor’s job to question everything. You are the gatekeeper of quality. If something doesn’t sound right or clear, ask the author what they meant.

Invest in media law training

There’s no substitute for expert advice in this fast-moving area. Gain hands-on experience and learn the latest developments or considerations in the writing field because it’s essential to stay ahead of all the changes.

Full stops are a quick fix for rambling

It’s important to preserve the voice of the writer, however, don’t get bogged down in rewriting large chunks. Focus instead on adjusting sentence length and active sentence structures.

Save some time for headline writing

If the copy is being published on the web and you want to get more traffic, you will need to research relevant keywords. If you are going for a more creative impact, you will need word combinations that challenge, intrigue and surprise your reader.

Keep up to date with modern usage

A confident sub-editor will keep track of shifts in acceptable grammar and punctuation. They will make sure that the new grammar standards are met and applied appropriately.

Separate proofreading from writing and subbing

Try to concentrate on what sub-editing entails. Keep the proofreading task as a final series of checks but don’t disregard it.


If after these sub-editing tips you still want to learn more, try our two-day Sub-Editing Intro course. It will give you an eye for detail and the ability to work quickly under pressure while being taught by a writing expert.

by Cristina Moraru | 13 Jan 21

3 Interesting Courses For You

  • Work to a brief
    Write for different platforms
    Identify audience and tone of voice
    Keep copy fresh and engaging
    Proofreading and editing
How to Write Effectively
  • Plan your writing
    Structure your copy
    Write words with impact
    Use active sentence structures
    Write for different audiences
Sub-Editing Intro
  • Re-writing problem copy
    Reader engagement
    Light touch edits
    Headlines and titles
    Captions and callouts