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  • Writer's pictureSarah Lustig

How to edit digital content

Having recently completed the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading’s course on Editing Digital Content, now felt like the perfect time to share some tips on that topic.

There are many ways in which editing digital content is exactly like checking any other content. You should apply the same rigorous editorial standards to content, no matter where it will be published.

For now, though, I’m going to consider some of the unique requirements of editing content for digital plat

1. Using templates

If content is going to be printed, in 99% of cases, the manuscript will be given to you in word processing software – usually Microsoft Word. Digital content, on the other hand, can come in any number of formats. It could be on a website or a digital platform. With educational content, the manuscript is often in the form of a template.

For some reason, calling it a ‘template’ makes it sound like an abstract concept. In reality, when we talk about templates, what we often mean is… a table. Yes, pretty prosaic. And not at all unfamiliar.

A template for a quiz question might look something like this:

The templates can become more complicated than that, but as long as you know the function of each box, they are relatively simple to work with.

One tip that the course reminded me of was that often templates like this have maximum word counts for each field. It’s helpful to be aware of these when editing. It is also important to ensure that every field is populated, as often authors might miss a section if they are unsure what it should contain.

2. Accessibility

The issue of accessibility is pertinent to both print and digital content. In terms of printed materials, accessibility is often taken into account when designing book pages. For example, it’s not a good idea to have red text on a green background, or vice versa, because people who are colour blind often struggle to see these colours together.

Digital content makes it possible to accommodate even more accessibility requirements. The publisher might, for example, include audio of various parts of the text to help those with visual impairments.

However, it isn’t possible to include audio for images. This is where alt text comes in. Alt text is a written description of an image – a photograph or artwork. It helps those with visual impairments, who use text-to-speech software to read out text.

As an editor of digital content, you may be asked to either write or edit alt text for any images. The CIEP’s course covered the details of how to do this well and it had some great activities to help editors put what they had learnt into practice.

3. Engagement and interactivity

There are more opportunities with digital content for students to engage and interact with the materials. Editors should make the most of these opportunities when editing digital content.

For any static content, text should be broken down into smaller chunks than would be normal on a printed page. A print paragraph might comprise five to eight sentences; a digital one could be as little as two or three.

Interactive content that students can click on, manipulate or in which they can complete activities should be utilised thoroughly (bearing in mind the budget for the project). Information should also be presented visually – as photographs, diagrams, videos or animations. Students should not be expected to read long reams of text, which they could just as easily have done in a textbook.

4. Filling in bug reports

A significant difference between editing print and digital materials is the method of marking up corrections. If you are working on a template, then you can make corrections in the same way that you would for other projects, for example by using track changes.

But a digital file might be given to you once it has already been developed and an interactive file created. In that case, you can list the changes needed in a bug report. The bug report is usually a spreadsheet containing columns that list things like the location of the bug, the details of the bug and who has raised it.

It is important to bear in mind that the person reading the report and implementing the correction may not have editorial experience. Corrections should be written clearly, without editorial jargon, such as terms like ‘stet’. A designer making proof corrections might be familiar with those terms, but a digital team may not be.

Putting it into practice

The CIEP’s course was a great refresher. It included lots of useful new tips, as well as reminding me of things I have learnt while working on digital resources. It was also a good confidence booster, because it reinforced knowledge I had learnt elsewhere. The course was perfect for editors working on educational content as lots of examples were drawn from those resources. I would recommend it to anyone looking to gain experience in this area.


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