How to find the right copyeditor

More and more individuals and enterprises are discovering for themselves the advantages of a professional copyediting service. But how does one find a suitable copyeditor or copyediting firm? What are the points to watch out for, and how do you go about it?

We can give you 15 tips on choosing and making best use of a copyeditor.

  1. Be clear about what type of text optimization you are seeking. Is it just a matter of a spellcheck, or do you need some reworking of the style? Is the check to include the use of hyphens and the text layout? What type of text is it?

  2. Assemble as much information as you can. Ask around your friends, fellow students and colleagues for their experiences. Research for yourself as well. The more closely you can define what you want, the more precisely you can set up your inquiry, for instance when using search engines.

  3. Search under a variety of terms and synonyms. The search results for terms like “proof-reading”, “checking”, “correct spelling”, or “text correction” can be entirely quite different, although meaning more or less the same thing: a proof-reading of the spelling, grammar and punctuation.

    You can also broaden your search categories. If your promotional catalogue requires copyediting, you could perhaps look under “content marketing and copyediting”; should you be needing your Master’s thesis checked, you will make more progress by looking under terms like “specialist copyediting” and “academic copyediting”.

    There’s nothing wrong in hazarding a speculative search on “copyeditor”, even if you need a very specific kind of final editing of your specialist book. Most copyeditors offer much more on request than can be seen displayed in the results revealed initially by the search engines.

    We have one last point for you: if you want to be extra-sure, and to protect your work as far as possible against accusations of plagiarism, there are three helpful key terms you can enter: “plagiarism assessment”, “plagiarism test”, and “plagiarism check”, which you may also, as is the case with so many words, occasionally find spelt with a hyphen in the middle, as in “plagiarism-check”.

  4. Compare prices. Takes quotes for the work from several copyeditors. Enquire as to what precisely is included in the cost. Consultancy fees and supplementary charges for weekends may turn what looked like a good rate per page into just the opposite.

  5. Ask or read very carefully to find out what the exact definition is of each kind of service respectively, and what each includes. Some copyeditors will refer to what is merely a spellcheck as “copyediting”. At first sight, this naturally makes the offer appear better value.

  6. Don’t let yourself be fooled by supposed price reductions, such as student discounts. Do your sums carefully. This sort of tempting reduction will frequently leave you financially worse off than if you had chosen a provider whose charges were transparent.

  7. As a private customer, you also need to allow for VAT in your calculations: many providers charge for this on top of their fee. (It is usually to be found in the small print under the price list.) Take care, however. Some copywriters charge more for their services before VAT than others do who have included it.

  8. Although this can be hard for someone from outside the profession, try to gauge how reliable the various providers appear to be. Do they make exaggerated promises? Are the references convincing, and do they inspire confidence in the way they present themselves? Some copyeditors make claims, in their references and in respect of their speed of work, that would seem to indicate superhuman powers. First and foremost, bear in mind that “doing more and doing it faster” — even if true — seldom means doing it well.

  9. Be cautious about trial offers for copyediting. Of course, this kind of trial edit can give you an impression of how your text might look after being revised. But there is no guarantee that it will actually look like that. In the final analysis, trial copyediting — especially free trials — is above all an advertising technique.

  10. Don’t make false economies. Put aside some money in advance. Good editing is very time-consuming, and therefore comes at a price. For some private customers, including many students, this means that they need to have been putting money aside in order to pay for copyediting, as they might for a new mobile phone or TV set. Enquire about payment options — and cancellation options.

  11. Contact your chosen copyeditor in good time, so that your order can be scheduled in. Supply all important information regarding your editing requirements and the text. What type of text does it involve (a dissertation, a novel, a flyer)? How long is the text (number of characters including spaces or number of words)? What type of editing are you requesting, and in what form (electronically in Word or PDF format, or handwritten)? What deadlines are you requesting, and — if it’s still work in progress — when do you foresee being able to hand it on to the copyeditor?

  12. When the finished commission is returned to you, go through the edited text yourself minutely. Don't be afraid to ask your copyeditor questions, if a correction or a comment is unclear to you. You and you alone are the person ultimately responsible for your text. Copyeditors can only give tips and suggestions for correcting and improving it.

  13. It often happens that the copyeditor’s comments inspire you to add more material yourself or to rephrase something. It’s vital to allow enough time for this follow-up work after the copyediting. Whatever you do to rework the text at this stage, you must take care not to let any fresh mistakes slip in. In the worst-case scenario, you can find that text reworked by you after the copy-editing has to undergo a fresh proof-reading. If you have an inkling beforehand that this might happen, discuss with your copyeditor whether this final proof-reading could also be added to the commission. In this way, you can certainly agree a more favourable all-in package.

  14. Give your copyeditor feedback. Say what you liked and what you disliked. Your copyeditor will be glad to know your opinions — and may even be able to learn from them. Possibly you will use these services again in the future, when they will be even better adapted to your requirements.

    Recommend your copyeditor to others, if you are happy with the work. This will not only be a special way of expressing your thanks, but it will help your friends and colleagues too.

Evgenij Unker

27 April 2012, last updated: 4 September 2013

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