By Chandra Turner
I never thought when I became a recruiter so much of my job would be working as a translator. But it turns out placing editorial talent in non-media content roles requires constantly deciphering corporate lingo used by my clients — many who are creating editorial-like content for the first time — and translating it into terms that editorial candidates will understand.
In fact, in my recent survey, 58% of editors said the most challenging part of pivoting outside of media was understanding corporate speak. “There were times early on when I felt like the calls I would sit in on were in another language altogether!” wrote one editor.
The terms are oftentimes maddeningly generic; for instance “assets,” “collateral,” and “product” or repeatedly using the words “content” or “copy” to describe anything (images, stories, newsletters, video) with little insight into their creativity or specificity. And worse: many terms are misused like “copywriting,” “copyediting,” and “content strategy” which get thrown around in job descriptions but have different meanings depending on which hiring manager wrote them. (Btw, never in my 20+ years as a magazine editor did I use the word “strategy” to describe what I did, although in hindsight it was 95% of my job!)
After rewriting dozens of job descriptions for my non-media clients to appeal to the talented folks who come from the traditional editorial world, I’ve come up with a list of terms that they should adopt. Many of these words have been around in journalism and editorial content creation for decades. They were devised to explain the nuance and depth it takes to create engaging, high-bar editorial. In the same way that some communities have fifty words for “snow,” editors have as many for content creation. Here are just a few that I hope will begin to bridge the gap between the Country of Editorial and the Country of Corporate if brands start using them in their job descriptions:
AN A-to-Z Guide of Editorial Terms
ASSIGNING Explaining the required voice, style, target audience, sourcing, length, and formatting a piece of content needs for a (often freelance) writer to deliver clean, on-brand copy. Assigning also often entails rate negotiation, contract management, and handling diverse personalities and difficult egos.
BLURB As “shortform” as it gets, a blurb is a collection of words, no more than a couple sentences, that provides a quick contextual description of something, usually of a product, event, or service.
COPYEDITING The skill of editing for grammar, house style (usually based on AP or Chicago style guides), and proofreading copy so that it reads clearly, succinctly, grammatically correct, and without typos. It does not involve restructuring, editing for context, “packaging,” or providing “voice” or personality. (See “line editing” and “zhuzhing.”)
COPYWRITING This term was once nonexistent in editorial (probably because of its ridiculous redundancy), but has been adopted from the marketing industry to describe any writing that promotes consumer products or services, especially in ecommerce and affiliate content.
DISPLAY COPY All the copy surrounding a story, including the headline, deck (the bit of copy under the headline), subhed (the section headers), the caption, and the pull quotes. It’s the smartly written short-form copy that draws the reader into the story.
EDITORIAL JUDGMENT Being able to (almost instinctively) determine if a piece of content is right for a particular audience or is conveyed in the proper context in which it will be engaging and impactful with that audience. This is often the secret sauce that brands are looking for in their editorial hires, but often can’t articulate in their job descriptions.
FACT CHECKING A dying term if there ever was one, fact-checking is what it sounds like: Checking every fact and quote in a piece of content to ensure that it comes from an original source, is accurate, in context, and is not misleading to the audience in any way. Fact-checkers sometimes have the title of Research Editor, which is a more accurate description of their work.
FLOW The pace of a story and its ability to transition from one point to another in a way that is seamless and effortless for the reader. It’s what entices you to read a story to its end. Being able to edit for flow is one of the nuanced skills of a strong line editor. You miss it when you don’t have it, but it’s hard to describe what’s missing when it’s not there.
LINE EDITING Shaping a piece of copy, word by word and line by line, to ensure that it not only reads clearly, succinctly, and contextually but also is structured well, “flows,” and has no holes in logic. Line editing is more big picture than “copyediting” and more granular than “packaging.”
LONGFORM A feature, essay, or piece of journalistic reporting that usually includes researched sources, facts, and/or opinions and is comparatively more in-depth and highly resourced than other quick-hit content. Longform was once used to describe 7,000-word articles in The New Yorker; now it can be used to describe anything longer than a “blurb.”
MANAGING EDITOR The ME’s job is operations focused more than it is creative content development, i.e., developing editorial calendars, enforcing deadlines, creating workflows, solving production issues, managing budgets, and liaising with internal stakeholders and outside vendors. They are essentially the Project Mangers. The ME’s job is often the only one in the editorial org chart that is not involved with the copy. Although due to their organizational and right-brain thinking they often start out as “copyeditors” or research editors.
PACKAGING Taking the 10,000-foot view on how a piece of content fits into the larger picture and piecing it together with other pieces of content to enhance storytelling. The term can be used to describe pulling together different assets (articles, timelines, sidebars, Q&As, photos, illustrations, and graphics) or different content formats (blog posts, emails, video, social, audio, print) to weave a cohesive story about a particular topic or initiative to make it more impactful and comprehensive.
POLISHING See “zhuzhing.”
PROOFREADING See “Copyediting.”
SERVICE COPY Content that teaches the reader something or helps them understand a complicated topic. This includes all educational content, how-tos, step-by-steps, and explainers.
SHORTFORM See “Blurb.” Used mostly in comparison to its editorial opposite: “longform.”
STRATEGY, CONTENT This is a term that has become so generic that it can be meaningless. Content strategy involves being able to use all the tools in your editorial toolbox (including those in this A to Z guide) to inform the creation of content so it engages with its audience in a way that achieves a company’s goals. When using the term in a job description it’s important to specify the specific strategy skills needed.
SEO Editing Adding or replacing key terms and phrases into a piece of copy and its metadata to optimize that content for the latest algorithm update by search engines, especially Google. (Maybe soon Bing?)
TOP EDITING An added layer of editing above a line editor with a greater emphasis on packaging, filling logic gaps, providing context, and/or polishing or inserting voice and tone, and “zhuzhing.”
WRANGLING Using your editorial lasso and connections to entice (and book) celebrities, influencers, or other public figures to partner with or represent your brand in your storytelling. It involves deep relationships and intense schmoozing with publicists and managers as well as the powerful people that they represent.
ZHUZHING The je ne sais quoi of strong writing and storytelling, this is the art of turning a piece of accurately written, ho-hum content and turning it into something fun, funny, thoughtful or otherwise engaging, surprising, or delightful — and hello: still accurate. (Ever heard the phrase, You can’t polish a turd? Well, a zhuzher can.) This is another secret-sauce skill that brands are looking for but can’t put their finger on. And another reason why #editorsmakethebesthires.
Have a term that I missed that you think should be added to this list or an edit to how I’ve defined a term? Email me at [email protected].