If you’ve used a freelance editor or proofreader* to help improve something you’ve written, how can you assess the quality and professionalism of their work?
(* As in my previous post: to keep things simple, I’ll just use the words ‘editor’, ‘editing’ etc., even though the actual work might be proofreading.)
You may not have the time or the expertise to check every detail of what the editor has done (and not done), but there are still some key points that you can consider. Some of these arise before or during the job, but I’ll be mainly focusing on what you should get back from the editor at the end.
If you want help with finding an editor in the first place, here’s an earlier article about this.
A lot depends on what type of customer you are. Publishing companies usually know what to expect from us, as editorial work is an integral part of their business. Self-publishing authors often aren’t so sure, but this isn’t really my area. So, this article’s main emphasis is on the needs of non-publishing customers, such as businesses and public-sector organisations.
I don’t want to be overly prescriptive, as there are different ways to produce good results – but I hope this will be useful as a general guide to what you should look for. For a more detailed breakdown of what an editor should do, you could take a look at the relevant parts of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading’s code of practice.
At all stages, you should expect the editor to behave as a professional service provider – not as a hobbyist or someone who ‘just does a bit of proofreading’. Now let’s go into detail.
Before the job
Both you and your editor should make sure you have a clear agreement on:
This is all part of the process of getting a quote to begin with, as explained in my previous blog post.
During the job
While the work is in progress, the editor should:
First of all, the editor should have stuck to your agreement on the scope of work, level of editing, methods to be used, editorial style and so on.
You should find that the resulting text makes sense, at the very least. If appropriate, depending on the level of editing that you agreed on, it also should make for smooth, easy reading, with a professional ‘look and feel’.
If you think the editor has missed or created an error, it’s worth considering whether it really is an error. Some things that some people regard as errors are actually just style choices, such as splitting an infinitive, or using ‘they’ in the singular sense. If you’re unsure, you can ask the editor for clarification, or do some research into the current conventions and common usage.
It helps if the editor draws your attention to any style decisions that might be contentious, using either comments in the document or a style sheet. Also, they should have ensured consistency in these matters. However, some variations that look like inconsistencies to a non-editorial eye might be perfectly valid. For example, it’s normal practice to use a hyphen in ‘a long-term plan’, but not in ‘for the long term’ (as explained on The Editor's Blog).
If the editor has been working on a Word document and using Track Changes, their use of change tracking should be sensible and suited to your needs: neither too little nor too much. Any minor, indisputable changes, such as eliminating double spaces or fixing obvious typos, shouldn’t be tracked unless it’s been agreed that you need to see all changes. On the other hand, any changes that you might need to check, or at least be aware of, should be tracked.
The editor should have provided notes and queries where appropriate, expressing them in a clear, concise and helpful way.
Any changes that could significantly alter the meaning of the text should be brought to your attention, with notes to explain them and/or queries to ask for your confirmation. This also applies to facts, and to the spelling of the names of people, organisations, products, places and so on.
The editor should have taken account of the nature, purpose and tone of your written material, and its target readers. For example, if it’s aimed at readers from a wide range of educational and work backgrounds, the editor shouldn’t have introduced specialist terms or complicated wording.
Where appropriate, your editor should have considered how their changes could affect things like the length, layout and appearance of the material. It isn’t all about words – we should think about the overall finished product.
Finally, the editor shouldn’t have made rash assumptions about your level of expertise in Word, Adobe Acrobat or whatever software you’ll be using to review and follow up on their work. Because we know how to use things like Track Changes and comments in Word, or the Adobe Acrobat commenting tools, we can easily make the mistake of assuming you know as much about them as we do. We should avoid falling into this trap, and be ready to help you.
Helping us to help you
Having said all this, please allow for the occasional slip-up by your editor – we’re only human.
Whether or not you think your editor has got everything right, it’s always helpful if you give them some feedback after reviewing their work. We should never take it for granted that we’ve got it all worked out, and we should remember that every customer has different needs. And if you’re thinking of hiring the same editor again in the future, this feedback just might benefit you as well, by helping the editor to get a better understanding of what you need.
Have I missed something? If there’s anything else that you expect from an editor, get in touch and let me know.
Thoughts on Words
An editorial blog. Posts by Graham Hughes.