If you’ve ever had someone else edit your writing, you probably know the feeling: The draft you receive from the proofreaders no longer has any spelling or grammatical errors – but it also bears little resemblance to what you wrote. Your voice, in other words, has been stripped out.
Or perhaps you’ve experienced the opposite problem: Your copyeditors have dutifully tweaked punctuation, spelling and grammar but haven’t improved the overall quality of the document, leaving you scrambling to punch it up before your deadline. Even worse, your proofreaders might actually introduce new errors into your writing – bad enough if you catch them before publishing, but possibly disastrous if you don’t.
Despite those potential pitfalls, skipping the editing process altogether is the worst option of all. What’s a writer to do?
Here are five tips for ensuring that you get what you want from your proofreaders.
1. Communicate your needs. Proofreaders can’t read minds; if they could, they’d charge a lot more! Some writers want a complete overhaul, including flow, tone and fact-checking. Others expect proofreaders to fix only minor mistakes such as punctuation errors. Editors often have to figure out the hard way which is which. Leaving your proofreaders in the dark and hoping for the best is likely to result in both parties feeling frustrated. Make your expectations clear from the outset, and be prepared to pay a higher rate for a more thorough edit.
2. Put your readers first. Tell your editors about your intended audience – their industry, their experience level (from new grads to C-suite executives), information that does or doesn’t need to be explained to them. Don’t overwhelm with information, but sketch out a quick summary that will help your editors get their bearings before diving in.
3. Know yourself. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. If you are trying to reduce your use of the passive voice, your proofreaders need to know that. Does your client insist on a particular writing style? Tell your editors to make sure it remains intact. Not quite sure what needs to be fixed? Keep an open mind – and ask your editors to use their best judgment.
4. Try to anticipate questions. Make your proofreader's job easier by including any information they might need, such as your preferred industry style guide, any in-house style quirks they should be aware of, and a list of sources you consulted while writing. Agree in advance on the method your proofreaders will use to make changes (such as Track Changes in Microsoft Word or annotated PDFs) in order to avert software compatibility problems.
5. Accept that you get what you pay for. Be wary of the lowest bidder! You want your editors to be reliable, trustworthy and knowledgeable. Your readers deserve the best, and so do you. This matters no matter what the topic, but if you are writing about a specialized subject such as law or medicine, you don’t want to rely on editors who are unfamiliar with the material. Need a quick turnaround? It’s going to cost you more, just like same-day dry-cleaning. While there are a handful of skilled proofreaders out there who don’t charge what they’re worth, you are unlikely to stumble across them. Don’t waste time searching for a rock-bottom bargain. Pay market rates to editors or agencies with a money-back guarantee -- and consider it a fair trade.