Reduce Rework: 9 Tips for Editing Onscreen Text

So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” —Dr. Seuss

The first time I worked on an online course that had multiple video editors, I knew by the second lesson I reviewed that we were in trouble. We were on a ludicrously tight timeline, and so everyone was pitching in.

Slide1 Using his or her individual style.

Making his or her individual mistakes.

This meant that some bulleted lists used diamonds, while others used dots. Key words might be underlined in one lesson and bolded or capped in another. When I saw that some text was pink, some green, and some black, I knew that we’d gone too long without a style sheet.

Why is a style sheet so important? Four reasons:

  1. Without a style sheet, we had to rework every single lesson several times to try to make the look and feel match. Bottom Line: No style sheet = Rework.
  2. Without a style sheet, the look was unprofessional but also confusing to the student, who depends on visual cues to interpret relationships and level of importance.
  3. Style should make sense, and then it should disappear from your attention. This way the student can focus on the information without being distracted by random changes.
  4. When you’re proofing your onscreen text for errors in accuracy, spelling, or content match (written text to spoken word), it’s a lot easier if you’ve cleared your attention from style so you can focus on catching mistakes.

Tip #1 is, therefore, simple: Create a style sheet as you edit the first lesson.

Tip #2: After you review the first lesson, amend the style sheet to reflect anything you’ve noticed wasn’t working or that got changed despite the style sheet.

  • Make sure any changes that come up in later modules also get recorded on the original style sheet.
  • For example, maybe you don’t use a bulleted list until Module 4. Decide how you’ll handle it, and add it to the style sheet.

Tip #3: Make sure your Producer, Content Reviewers, and all Video Editors have a copy of the style sheet, and give them an updated one if it changes.

  • If everyone who works on a project has the same style sheet, there aren’t any surprising decisions if the work gets handed off to someone else or if many people come on board to get a project done quickly.
  • In this case, one person needs to be in charge of the style sheet—usually the Producer, but sometimes a Lead Editor.

Tips for Proofing Your Video

Tip #4: When you come to a section of the video with onscreen text, back up the scene and listen carefully while watching what comes on the screen.

  • Is there too much text, so it’s still up when the teacher has moved to a new point?
  • Does the text match what the teacher says closely enough that the student doesn’t experience a disconnection between what is being seen and what is being heard?
  • It’s popular to try to “value add” by providing different information than what you’re hearing, but it’s like watching TV and reading a book at the same time. They might be on the same subject, but your attention is split and you’re going to understand and absorb less.
  • Make changes to content before honing in on spelling, punctuation, etc., since you may drop the text altogether or rewrite it.

Tip #5: Once you’ve checked the content/text match, stop the video so you can proof the written text.

  • Read the text both forward and backward to get a fresh look at it. When you’ve been watching video for hours, it’s easy to get numb.
  • Look away and look back again to refresh your eyes.
  • If there’s an error, mark the time, the mistake, and the correction. Make sure you and your editor have agreed on any abbreviations you might be using to save time!
  • If possible, mark the timeline and note the error on the video itself.
  • Even better, if you’re able to, fix it right then—but not if you’re a terrible typist and inclined to make new mistakes!
  • If you’re making changes on the timeline, work out a system with your Producer and Video Editor to track your changes, so they can review them.

Tip #6: If you aren’t a clean typist or a good editor, get someone else to proof your course.

  • You won’t see the mistakes.
  • Courses with mistakes lose credibility with the audience and can lead to factual inaccuracy.
  • By the way, did you notice the 3 deliberate misspellings in the image at the top of this post? Hopefully you did, but I guarantee you that at least half the people reading this post didn’t. That’s why proofing online courses is so tricky—we fill in the blanks, auto-correct, skip over things. Some of your students will also, but some won’t. So proof painstakingly.

Tip #7: If there’s time, proof for style problems and content/textual errors separately.

  • Do your content/textual errors first, since onscreen text may get taken out, added, or changed significantly.

Tip #8: Just because it’s an online course doesn’t mean that you don’t need to proof for punctuation.

  • Punctuation may largely be determined by style, but you still need to pay attention to punctuation errors that change meaning (.313 v. 3.13, for instance).

Develop Fail-proof Systems within the Team

Tip #9: When you hand your notes to the editor, make sure the editor checks off each item as he/she makes the changes.

  • This way it’s harder to overlook a fix.
  • It gives you a record in case the editor decides not to change something or can’t change something.
  • If you have to make a second pass, you have a record of what was supposed to have been fixed.
  • Meet at regular intervals with the team to make sure nothing has changed or to see if you need to revamp your process.

Creating a style sheet and taking the time to proof carefully will save buckets of time and aggravation when your deadline is crushing you like a four-train migraine. Without a style sheet and these simple tips, you’re going to be wasting time on fixes and double-fixes when you could already be working on your next amazing course.

I hope you found this blog helpful. Please send me your questions for future issues, and tune in next Friday for Issue #27 of “Everything You Need to Know to Create Outstanding Online Courses.”

We’re going to take a look at a marvelous technique a friend of mine, Catherine Lyon, developed for rejiggering your content and organization once you’ve already written your material.

Want to learn how to make great online courses? Sign up for your free copy of “12 Steps to Killer Course Content” and weekly tips, click here.

Marcy McDonald is an Online Course Producer. She helps Subject Matter Experts and Professors create online courses with better content, delivery, and production, for better teaching. She’s developed ~450 online courses for lifelong learners, worked in video and audio studios, and filmed in the field (literally).

Contact Marcy for help crafting your online course:

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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