How to Get the Most Out of an Editorial Service

06/05/2021
Written by Rachel

Here at Accuracy Matters, having worked as established editorial services professionals for decades, we know the process always works best when a client knows how to ask for what they want. Not everybody has experience outsourcing editing, copy-editing or proofreading, so for those starting out, here are some tips. 

When you’re producing content – either for yourself, your employer or your clients – it’s important to ensure that it connects with your audience, is an appropriate length and structure, and is clear, accurate and consistent.

One way to achieve this is to outsource your editing, copy-editing and/or proofreading to a freelance supplier. But where to start?

These are my top five tips for getting the most out of an outsourced editorial service.

1. Pick the right person

When you find the right person for you it just works! Qualifications and experience can give an indication here – but what matters most is that your editor or proofreader understands your audience and what you want to convey.

Finding the right editorial professional for your needs often involves a process of trial and error. Sometimes you will need to focus on a particular subject specialism, although a good editor or proofreader should also be a good generalist, able to turn their hand to a variety of projects. Often what you’re looking for is something less tangible, such as a good fit of personality or temperament between you and your editor.

The right person should be able to put themselves squarely in the shoes of your reader and tease out what you want to convey clearly and consistently.

2. Brief clearly and comprehensively

If I had £1 for every time someone had said to me “can you just proofread this?”, I’d probably be able to buy a sensible family estate car by now. Needless to say, “proofread this” or “edit this” does not constitute a clear, comprehensive brief.

Before you engage an external editorial supplier, think about what you want to achieve by using the service. If you’re worried about spelling mistakes but you’ve got everything else covered, then you need a proofreader to check for typos only. (Hot tip: you probably don’t have a handle on consistent editorial style – it’s difficult to get right – so it pays to ask them to check for that too.) If you think that your piece is not clearly conveying your key messages or connecting fully with your intended audience then you need an editor to work on those areas.

If you’ve never seen or written an editorial brief before, then start by describing what’s bugging you most about the material (e.g. what’s your blind spot? What’s not sitting right with you?). That can form the basis of your brief – and an experienced editorial professional will be able to flesh it out with you from there.

3. Provide an editorial style guide

An editorial style guide – which can be anything from one page of notes through to a whole book – gives editors and proofreaders a set of rules and principles to follow. It means they don’t have to be constantly second-guessing your preferences because they’re already written down. And it means that you don’t have to review lots of queries because the bulk of decisions have already been made and therefore implemented in the material.

You can write your own editorial style guide – or ask your editor/proofreader to start compiling one for you – or you can use an existing style guide that best meets your needs.

(Hot tip: it also helps to choose which dictionary you prefer to work from. There are variant spellings and hyphenation across different dictionaries.)

4. Determine a single decision maker

This can be a game changer. It’s really difficult to write (and edit, and proofread) by committee – you will often end up with conflicting opinions which then take time to adjudicate on.

If you’re the author and 100% responsible for the material, then it makes sense that you will have the final say on all amendments. However, if you’re working in a team — for example on a company report or presentation — it’s best to nominate a single decision maker to take responsibility for the editorial brief, style, handling amendments and resolving queries.

5. Evaluate and improve

In order to get the most out of any outsourced service, it’s important to evaluate – and use the results of that evaluation to improve performance next time round.

So, ask yourself, what went well and what went badly? Did the project achieve its objectives? Did it run to schedule and stay within budget?

Sometimes there will be a mismatch between editor/proofreader and you, and that’s life. When it happens, it’s best to move on and try another supplier. But I’ve found that the main reasons for things going wrong are:

a) lack of communication or miscommunication, including not briefing properly and not providing editorial style guidance, or the editor/proofreader not explaining what they offer and how that fits with your objectives

b) engaging with an editorial supplier either too late (when there isn’t time to get to grips with the material) or too early (when the material isn’t ready to be edited or proofread)

c) too many iterations – often a product of poor timing – eating through your budget too fast.

So, in summary:

If you’d like some help outsourcing your editorial work to a friendly, experienced team, drop us a line at hello@accuracymatters.co.uk.

Image by Glenn Carstens-Peters on unsplash.com