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How to edit a YouTube Video

Learn how to edit a YouTube vide with our simple 7 step process. It can be used on any editing software, Mac, PC or mobile phones. 

If you want to learn how to edit a YouTube video without spending hours and hours on it, we need to talk about cakes. 

If a friend of yours were to bake you the perfect cake and you took a bite, and it tasted amazing, would you notice that they hadn’t put a cherry on top of it? 

Or made a funky pattern? 

Probably not. 

You might have done if it was a competition for the best looking cake but the important thing is what it tasted like.

Understanding the basics of editing a YouTube video

When we think of video editing, we often think of funky effects, bold transitions, titles, animations and all of those fun things.

The thing is, this isn’t really editing. 

OK it is, but it’s not what makes video work.

You need to get the basics right so that your YouTube video, like the cake, tastes amazing.

Before we go any further though, this blog is about editing vlogs, or talking head videos or presented videos. Any video where someone is talking to a camera. 

Editing videos in layers

To do this i’d like to introduce you to layers, not a technical term, just a thought process that helped me learn to edit YouTube videos.  

It does not matter what software you are using, these 7 layers of the editing cake are the same across all platforms. 

Use them in your YouTube video, heck any video,  and you’ll make more professional content without touching any effects.

Editing a video

Layer 1 - Editing your narrative

The narrative of a YouTube video or “a-roll” is the main content of your video. It’s the information on an audible level. So the footage you get talking to the camera is layer 1. 

There are some essential elements when it comes to editing narrative.

  1. You need to make sure what’s coming out of someone’s mouth makes sense.
  2. You need to cut out any repetition or waffle
  3. You need to perfect timing
  4. You need to reposition the information.

Let’s look into each of these sections.

Parts 1 & 2 – Making sense of it all and cutting repetition and waffle.

Vlogs are shot in different ways, scripted and none scripted.

The benefit of scripting a video is all you have to do when editing is import the files into your computer. It should all be in the right order, you won’t have to make sense of it in the edit after, thats the idea anyway.

PRO TIP: If you get yourself a teleprompter then you’ll find presenting a script from it makes production faster and editing faster too. 


If you did make a few mistakes, you can delete the takes that didn’t work if there are any, and line up the ones that did.

Your timeline will look something like this. 

YouTube video editing timeline FCPX

For none scripted videos you have your work cut out. You have to import the clip and then decide which pieces of the narrative to keep.

If you or whoever presented was winging it, you need to keep an eye out for repetition in the edit. 

Things like, tangents that don’t relate to the topic of the video,  “ums, ahs” and anything which distracts from the narrative. 

Then work on making sure all these new clips piece together in an order which works for the viewer. It takes a lot lot longer to produce a quality YouTube video this way. (Despite the amount of comments we get from people claiming it does not… it does 😉

Once you have done that, we move on to the third part of editing a YouTube video the narrative, timing. 


Part 3 – Timing in the edit

This is where we introduce your first basic cut to master, the jump cut. An important cut for learning how to edit a YouTube video. 

What is a jump cut?

Jump cuts are when you cut the narrative, maybe delete a little bit of what was filmed and then place the next part or new clip that has appeared as a result of the cut next to it. 

That could be 20 seconds or it could be 1 second. You simply jump though time a little.

Jump cuts, in their simplest form, can be used to hide errors or add energy, you often see this jump style on YouTube videos.

How to make a jump cut – option 1

You don’t just cut randomly all over the place though, ideally, you’d do it before a new piece of information or the start of a sentence.

You also want the jump to be pronounced. The idea isn’t to hide your cuts. To nail this style, you want to embrace them.

How to make a jump cut – option 2

The second way to do a jump cut is like how we do it on our own YouTube channel a lot. 

An actual jump in the frame size.  

When filming, the jumps are planned. We film a section, cut and then zoom in on the camera and film the next and so on.

For our channel, we tend to use these when we make a mistake presenting and then zoom in on the camera, go back to the natural edit point in the script and start again. 

Using Jump cuts when filming yourself

You can create this same effect in the edit by zooming in on a clip using your editing software. 

 You will lose some quality doing so though. I’d say never go more than 25% extra in if you are going to do it.

Here’s a still of a clip we’ve done this on, it’s still not bad at all.

Jump cut example

Timing your  cuts

The important thing when cutting is timing, what you don’t want is to get to the end of some narrative and then have a little gap at the start and the finish of each clip you piece together. Basically a gap where there is too long a pause between words in the cut. 

In your editing software, you should hopefully see some wobbly lines known as waveforms. 

You want to cut your clip right at the start of the waveform. Get as tight as you can without cutting off the beginning or the end of the word. That way, you keep the tempo flowing, and your presenter will appear more confident.

This GIF shows just how close the waveforms need to be when learning how to edit a YouTube video. Keep them close to maintain energy in a video. 

How to cut a clip in an edit

How to edit a YouTube video secret: When you get used to doing this on scripted videos, because you don’t have to worry about cutting the actual content, you can line up an entire narrative without listening to the thing. In fact, we probably edited the whole of layer one of the above video with the sound off.

That’s why we always advise beginners, small creators or businesses to write scripts, the time savings at this stage are massive.

Part 4 – Information order

Finally when editing the narrative, you want to make sure the order of information works.

We mentioned this before in the none scripted version but actually even in a scripted video, this is your last chance to decide what information makes the cut.

Sometimes you might watch it back and think; actually that information is not relevant to the topic or feel that the video is dragging on for too long so you can decide to cut an entire section.

A good editor will know when to ditch information, and sometimes although it feels hard to let go, deleting things makes video work so much better, you can always hit edit undo if you change your mind too. 

This is more of a journalistic approach to editing but its all part of the same package.

Next up we have Broll 

Layer 2: Adding B-roll to your YouTube edit

B-roll is the video, or pictures that go on top of the narrative (A-roll).

On your editing software, you’ll have a timeline, the narrative sits in the first layer and the b-roll on top. Your viewer will see whatever is on top of the pile.

Adding b-roll to an edit

Mastering the basics of Broll means different things depending on the style of video.

It might mean adding footage that has been specifically shot for the video to help tell a story,  or it might mean raiding a bank of stock footage and finding a clip that is relevant to the information being discussed in the narrative.

(If you’re producing a vlog, we’d always recommend filming your own b-roll)

Knowing when and where to use this is important. You want to come back to the person on camera to keep it personal but also cut to Broll to keep the viewer engaged.

If all you do is talk on plain backgrounds for 10 minutes it gets pretty boring. Use b-roll to tell a visual story and help pull people in to your video and information.

Layer 3 - Adding text to an edit

Now if you don’t have any footage or imagery to use as Broll, this is your best option to pull people into your content.  

Engage your viewers brain by making them use it by reading text.

If you’re educating, text is key to help people take in the content. Use it on screen when an important point is being made.

Don’t put long sentences up though, video isnt a book. 

 1-5 words is ideal per point. People will read it on auto pilot and it helps them understand that the point being made is important.

If you watch any of our videos on our YouTube channel, you’ll notice we do it at every section, try not to read the text during it, you should feel its impact.


Branding your text

We’d advise always using the same fonts across your videos to build up a consistent brand look. You can rebrand down the line, but don’t do it every video!

Always changing your style will take a long time to do, and your viewers will get used to your style and recognise it. It can become a seal of approval. 

Layer 4 – Colour correction and grading

When learning how to edit a YouTube video, we don’t want you to get caught up on this as a beginner editor.

A lot of what you can do here depends on what cameras you are using. If you shoot on more professional cameras you have to spend the time on this section.

As a small creator or business, spend more time on the other layers we’re talking about and then add to your grading skills over time.

You might need to do a basic correction, which is simple on a lot of cheap or free software.

Just focus on bringing up the exposure if the scenes are a little dark or bring up the saturation if you want your colours to pop a little more.

Fixing exposure issues in the edit

Have a look at this image, if you have a waveform like this on your editing software, you need to make sure you never go above 100 or below 0 in your image. 

over exposed vs under exposed

100 is the brightest point and 0 is the darkest. This image shows the details of one frame of a video. 

When you go above 100 you’ll lose any details you have in the highlights, so a white wall, instead of being able to see the details on it will just go white.

The same applies when you go below 0 on the shadows. You’ll lose all details and your image quality will drop. 

Really you need to fix this in your camera first. If you have the ability to add zebras to your camera monitor, you’ll easily be able to see when you are over exposed. 

The basics to get right here are to look at your image and if it looks dark, make it brighter but not so that it goes over 100. 

If there isn’t enough contrast, bring down the shadows and if you think the skin tones are too dark, bring up the midtones. 

Play with your picture, just always stay in between 0-100. Thats the basics. 

Layer 5 - Editing sound

You might want to throw in a few sound effects to your video or maybe add some ambiance to a scene with music. 

Its amazing how much of a difference these can make to content. Check out this video about using music in video to see what we mean.  

The first rule when adding any sound to your videos is to make sure they don’t compete with the narrative. Thats simple. 

On more advanced software there’s a lot you can do with sound but also a lot you can not,. 

Reducing things like echo and background noise can be a real nightmare so try to shoot somewhere that’s not too noisy and never rely on the edit to save your sound.

When you start learning how to edit a YouTube video, focus on the basics. 

You just need to be able to hear the talking, so if it sounds quiet in places, bring the volumes up and try to keep it consistent across the video.

We’d always advice adding a compressor to your sound if you are using software that has one

Layer 6 - Final editing checks

This is an important one. Video editors are not proof readers, in fact, they often suffer from Editingitus. 

This is when an editor is so focused on cuts, tempo, effects, etc that they forget to keep an eye on the very basics. Things like typos will often go ignored when you edit. 

Watch your video back, keeping all of these things in mind, and of course, check for any typos.

We try to check each others work here. But as editors, we still end up focusing on the edit, not the actual viewer experience, so a none editor is helpful to proof your content. 

Layer 7 - Exporting a video

There are a million export settings when it comes to video.

For YouTube you want to upload an Mp4 file.

Some software will no export these though so we’d recommend downloading Handbrake, its free and it will compress and convert to MP4. This video will teach you how to use it. 

How big should a video file be?

There is no set answer for this, as a guide we try to keep videos around 2-4 mins below 100mb.

This means the upload isnt too long a pricess, and they stream nicely.

You dont want to be uploading Gigs of data, it’ll take forever.

YouTube will compress your videos too but if you’re ok with any of our videos quality, its technically been compressed three times.

This video will take away your fear of compression. Its an excellent study. 

These 7 layers of editing are what we believe you should do over and over again until they feel like they come naturally. The thought of editing videos is what stops most people from doing it.

It takes ages to start, mainly because people try to be too fancy. They want to use all the effects and transitions but these just over complicate things. 

The whole above video has just been edited using this exact template, nothing more. Keeping things simple is harder than it sounds but its all part of learning how to edit a YouTube video.

When you feel comfortable with them, look at upgrading software and adding more effects and colour grading, Just don’t try to add a cherry to a pile of ingredients before you bake the perfect cake

How to edit a video - A beginners guide conclusion

These 7 layers of editing are what we believe you should do over and over again until they feel like they come naturally. 

Unfortunately the  thought of editing videos is what stops most people from doing it.

It takes ages to start, mainly because people try to be too fancy.

They want to use all the effects and transitions but these just over complicate things.

The whole above video has just been edited using this exact template, nothing more.

When you feel comfortable with them, look at upgrading software and adding more effects and colour grading, Just don’t try to add a cherry to a pile of ingredients before you bake the perfect cake.

And if now you’ve learnt how to edit a YouTube video you think it all sounds like too much work,  click this link to have it done by professionals. It’s actually cheaper than doing it yourself.