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How to Choose a Proofreader

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December 29, 2017

English Learning, English Grammar, Writing in English, International Business

You’ve just written your college admissions essay, business proposal, or client presentation. You’ve stared at your writing for so long, you can’t look at it anymore. But you know you want it to be perfect before the “big day.” So who do you turn to for help?

Enter the proofreader.

For language learners, a proofreader can give that extra peace of mind that the piece you spent so much time and effort writing is professional, polished, and ready for presentation. There are a lot of proofreading services out there, so how do you know which is best for you? Use this checklist as a guide to choosing a proofreader.   

1) Editor vs. Proofreader

First, let’s make an important distinction. A proofreader will check your work for grammatical correctness and proper English usage, without changing the content (ideas, examples, stories) itself. An editor will provide the services that a proofreader does, but will focus more on offering suggestions or corrections to the content and organization of the piece. Proofreading is your words, put into standard English; editing can result in a drastically different finished product compared to the first draft. Editorial services are much more involved, so they tend to be more expensive than proofreading services. Determine how much feedback you are looking for, and what type of feedback you need, before committing to a proofreader or an editor.

 

2)Experience

A quick Google search for “proofreader” yields more than seven million results. That’s a lot to choose from! Within those seven million, there are professional proofreaders with extensive writing experience, independent freelancers who have some background in proofreading, and college students offering proofreading services from their dorm room. How much experience does your piece require? A technically complex medical document might require a proofreader with more experience than a business email or blog post. If you need a native English speaker, look for services based in English-speaking countries.

3)Agency or individual

Proofreaders can be found everywhere from professional agencies to individuals listing ads on Craigslist. Compared to individuals, proofreaders from large professional agencies may have more specialized training (see experience section above about why that is important!). Keep in mind that bigger proofreading agencies may not be able to guarantee that a client can work with the same proofreader for multiple assignments. So if you’re doing something like writing a book, which requires real knowledge of your writing style these large agencies may not be the best option! Individual proofreaders likely have a smaller client base, which can result in more personalized attention. Some writers who use proofreading services often prefer to cultivate a professional relationship with a specific proofreader, or a small proofreading agency that offers both the specialized experience and personal attention. This can come at a cost though, as an in demand small agency may have long turnaround times for your documents, or else very high rates.

4)Time needed

When do you need your assignment proofread? Some proofreading services offer a guaranteed project delivery time—sometimes for an extra fee, sometimes as part of the service. Work with a proofreader who responds quickly to your questions and who is willing to determine a project delivery date at the outset. The amount of time a proofreader will need depends on the length of the piece. As with the writing process, proofreading at the last minute often has a negative effect on the final piece. Send your writing to the proofreader as soon as possible to guarantee the best result.  

5)Budget

How much are you willing to spend on proofreading? Some specialized services can charge as much as $0.10 per word, offering experts in certain technical subjects, style referencing, and specialized attention. Other services charge less, and may focus on just correcting your grammar mistakes. Find a proofreading service that fits your budget while still meeting your needs.

6)Automatic or person

Some proofreading services are entirely automated—they are run by computers rather than people! While computer-generated proofreaders can produce results almost instantly, they are also too similar to spellcheck, which does not catch all writing errors. For example, the popular automated service Grammarly misses about 80% of mistakes non-native English speakers make. Human error is possible too, though real people tend to be better at catching stylistic mistakes and strange-sounding phrasings. Generally, if quality is important, use a service who have real people to proofread your documents. If quality is less important and speed is paramount, use an automated service to give your document a quick spell check.

7)Website with good copy

You wouldn’t hire a mechanic who drives a broken-down car. So why hire a proofreader with poor writing skills? One of the best ways to vet a proofreader or proofreading service is to check its online profile. Not only can you read about the proofreader’s work, mission, and product guarantees, but you can also gain insight into the proofreader’s skills as a writer, editor, and proofreader. Does the proofreader have a website, blog, or social media that is updated frequently? Do you see any glaring errors? If the website makes you want to proofread your proofreader’s work, look elsewhere.

8)Reputation

Finally, it all comes down to reputation. Ideally, a friend or colleague would refer you to a proofreader who fits all your writing needs and you wouldn’t need to do anything at all. But that’s rarely the case. Most writers will have to do a little bit of research to see if a proofreader is any good. If the proofreader has a website, do the clients write glowing testimonials? If you found the proofreader on a website like Freelancer, what are his/her reviews? In the reviews, look for words that match what you are looking for: words like “fast,” “effective,” “better writing.” Stories that talk about clients’ results after hiring the proofreading service can be especially useful.

 

There’s no right answer for which proofreader you should choose for your project. You may even have to try a few to find your perfect match. But if you keep these eight criteria for finding a proofreader in mind, you will be one step closer to polished, professional writing.

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