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6 common problems with outsourcing editorial services (and how to avoid them)

My recent LinkedIn poll revealed that, of those people who had outsourced editorial services, many have had a bad experience.

My recent LinkedIn poll revealed that, of those people who had outsourced editorial services, many have had a bad experience.

At Accuracy Matters, we want everyone’s experience of outsourcing proofreading, editing or writing to be happy, productive and helpful – and we know there is a real need out there for these services – so I wanted to dig deeper into why so many people have had negative experiences, and to help people understand how to avoid them. Overall, I found six different problems.

1. Lack of understanding about how to use each service

Often this comes down to making sure you have common understanding of the terminology: for instance, a proofreader isn’t going to try to help you to rewrite your document, just as a writer won’t expect to be proofreading. Getting the right person involved at the right stage of your work is key in getting the most out of your freelance editorial team.

We have a separate blog explaining which editorial service is which but, in brief:
• an editor reviews draft documents looking at structure, tone of voice, language, key messaging and more;
• a copy-editor checks spelling, grammar, punctuation, clarity and consistency before copy is designed or typeset; and
• a proofreader checks spelling, grammar, punctuation, consistency and layout of your final designed document or web page.

Once you are confident with the terms, it’s then important to get help to understand at what stage of writing to employ the different services.

2. Poor communication

Poor communication is a common problem for organisations that outsource editorial services and annual reports. Even if project managers understand which service they require, it is crucial to have clear and unambiguous communication about expectations on both sides.

At AM we are familiar with planning out what will be delivered at each stage of a project, and drawing up a set of realistic timings. We have detailed templates for every type of service which mean it’s easy to have expectations and deadlines agreed from the outset. Of course, we are flexible mid-project wherever possible: if a document needs some more work, or requirements change mid-way, we are always open to agile working, but most clients agree that it’s ideal for any project to be mapped out in detail from the very beginning to avoid misunderstandings.

3. Concern about excessive intervention

Talking to multiple authors and report owners has taught us that they often worry about what will happen to their text in the hands of an external editorial professional.

We absolutely understand these concerns, and reassure all of our clients that we will treat their text with the care and attention it needs. We will always make sure we have listened carefully to the client before we begin in order to understand what the objectives are for their document in terms of content, language, tone of voice and overall editorial style.

An editor’s job is purely to help a document to meet its author’s own editorial objectives. They will only change language and tone if that’s part of the brief – and crucially all changes are tracked as they go along, so clients can always reverse amendments they aren’t comfortable with.

A proofreader will never make any substantive changes (unless they are instructed to): their job is to check the final copy for accuracy and consistency. And again, all amendments will be carefully tracked so that consistency and accuracy are maintained.

4. Lack of time and/or budget

Lack of time and/or budget is most common when we are proofreading for clients, particularly when this service is added as an afterthought to the schedule, rather than planned in advance. Clients who plan ahead find they are able to budget more effectively for what the text requires. For instance, if clients initially engage with a proofreader, and they suggest building a substantive edit into your process, there is time to build that in to the work (and it will save time and money in the end).

5. Finding the right service at the right time

Clients say that finally finding the right editorial professional you can trust can feel like a dream come true. But the good ones tend to be booked far ahead in advance! In fact, this is the very reason why Accuracy Matters was founded – we came across a large number of organisations that were having trouble finding the right people to get their projects completed in time.

After nearly a decade of building up a brilliant network of freelance editors, copy-editors and proofreaders, we feel well-placed to find the right provider for each individual client who approaches us; indeed returning clients make up a large percentage of our business, so we like to think we’re doing something right.

6. Organisations don’t see the need for editorial help

Have you ever re-read something you’ve written and found that you can no longer get any perspective on whether it meets your objectives, and that you skip over errors and omissions? The human brain likes to make things easier for itself by filling in the gaps when it’s dealing with something familiar – and it’s the same with your copy.

A good editor or writer who understands what clients are trying to achieve will be able to make that killer sentence sing, or resolve a few paragraphs of unfocused text into a punchy conclusion.

Similarly, allowing time for a second pair of (professional) eyes on the writing means any grammar foibles or that piece of out-of-place punctuation will be replaced. And, importantly, those awful errors which slip through spell-check and make it to the final document will be removed. This gives our clients peace of mind, and absolute confidence in taking their own work out to the world.

In short, outsourcing doesn’t have to be painful. Done well it can lift a huge load off you and your team without you having to get bogged down in word choice, where to put the commas and whether ‘team’ has a capital T.

If you want to talk to us about your next editorial project, just email


Image by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

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