How many times should you rework your piece when developing content?

 In communication, Writing

A common question I get in my workshops is how many times should you re-work a piece of comms. This is when developing content, whether it is an email, blog, video or business document.

The first thing to note is that no one gets it right first time around – contrary to mythology. You might develop something that looks half reasonable in the first run through. But if you’re really serious about your work you’ll find it won’t be good enough after just the first attempt. You’ll want to re-work it in some way because there will always be something to improve.

I remember sitting in the kitchen with my step grandmother Geraldine Halls. She was an author who won the first ever Edgar “Best Mystery Novel” Award (Raymond Chandler came second). So, she knew a lot about creative writing and how to put sentences together. She told me that great writers will re-write their sentences over and over again until they’re satisfied.

Is attitude or a number more important developing content

It’s an attitude that the greats have towards using language and creating mind pictures to tell a great story that drives their obsession to excellence and clarity.

Which is the same for you as a communicator in business when it comes to developing content aiming to achieve a business objective. The measure of your attitude in this area will influence how much you revise your work. Whether developing messages and content for documents, videos, board presentations or work meetings.

So how many times should revise your work before you’re ready to send it out in the world? That’s the common question I get in workshops.


A lot of people in business barely do “one parse” developing content.

For example, they may write an important email once over and then send it out. Or write a blog and – as long as it hasn’t got any spelling or typo issues – send it out. Or stand in front of a video camera and improvise a video message in one take (warts and all).

You get the idea.

But then most people tend to fail in getting their message out. …I wonder why.

If you’re looking for a number of revisions that will prevent you failing in getting your message out… I’m going to let you down.

There’s actually no right or wrong answer to this because each situation is different. It’s a matter of principle. Is your comms piece in a position for you to answer the question “have I met my purpose”?

Some people will re-write a sentence fifteen times before they are happy with it, whilst others may re-write it twice.

Could there be a magic number?

I’ve personally found in most cases that three is the magic number.

  • First is to write a draft that gets the overall structure just about right.

It still includes the style, formatting and mechanics of the content I am developing. It just means focusing on getting the structural elements as best as they can be.

It means making sure I introduce ideas at the right point and that they broadly flow in the right direction according to my purpose. I might write lots of words, sentences and paragraphs, but they won’t be my focus.

So, whilst I may not use the right words or style them nicely enough, I’ll become very clear in the “shape” of my concepts and ideas and how I wish to convey them.

  • Second time through I’ll pay a little more attention to the flow of ideas as they appear in the sentences and paragraphs.

As I do this, I may find myself re-doing my original structure halfway or all the way! Depends on how clearly I’m thinking when first drafting my ideas. Or whether my audience understanding has changed.

However, the main focus during this phase is to get the ideas and angle working pretty well.

  • The third time around is when I’ll revise elements of the style in my writing, but focus on making sure the mechanics (like spelling, typos, grammar and punctuation) are right.

That works for me most of the time – I sometimes need a lot more revisions to get really clear on my message. But this number doesn’t necessarily work for everyone else. Often, I may only get a chance for one or two parses through my text, meaning it will go out to the world without the thorough treatment I am comfortable with. Mostly because of time restraints.

Such are the realities of time and business.

Finding your “magic number”

So, when it comes to the number of times you take to developing your content, I’d suggest following these principles:

  • Let the number of revisions or parses you take to develop your content be driven by your attitude. An attitude of excellence to developing content that is really going to work hard for your business purpose.
  • Don’t just write your content once and hope it will stick. Otherwise you’ll be disappointed and contribute to all those poor comms = business failure statistics out there.
  • Revise your work until you’re happy how long it takes for you to develop great content. Take note of what it is that gets you there consistently
  • Then build your best result approach into a system that you repeat every time you create comms. The great thing about systems and repeating them is they allow you to get sharper and faster with better results each time you use them

Remember that this applies to any kind of content or messaging that you wish to develop. The language of the media that you’re working with may be different, but the principles are the same.

Here’s to your communication success!

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jim rohn and communication success