Productivity Rates in Editing

“How long will it take to edit this?”

By wwarby William Warby (CC BY 2.0)

 

The question comes up a lot. At first, estimating seems like a shot in the dark. The best bet is to do a few random pages and multiply your findings to take in the whole manuscript. Also, take 60 seconds to edit a sample and identify the most pressing changes that are needed. However…

 

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]Page per hour guidelines follow.[/pullquote]

 

Calculate time and cost in a click.

 

 

More than a decade of detailed invoicing has shown me that guidelines I once found in The Editorial Eye (shown below) are pretty accurate. They even accounted for the ranges they gave. The publication is now out of print.

(Note that these rates can only be applied to a single selection of continuous prose. They do not apply to graphic texts nor can they be applied to the sum of all text on a series of slides, for example. We are collecting data about editing slide sets to establish some kind of pace benchmark. Please answer the 6 question survey.)

 

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proofreading

2000–2500 words pg / hr

Faster if: few errors, simple format, nontechnical or familiar content, clean copy, no style queries required

Slower if: many errors, complex format, copy marked up, style checks required, contains equations, symbols, or foreign characters (symbols, not foreigners 😉

See the definition and standards for proofreading from the Editors’ Association of Canada (EAC).

 

copy editing

1000–1500 words / hr

Faster if: few errors, nontechnical or familiar content, printout legible & double-spaced, no references or cross-references, no tables or figures

Slower if: many errors, content technical or unfamiliar, printout difficult to read or mark, working online*, reference style inconsistent, incomplete or don’t match text

See the EAC definition and standards for copy editing.

 

substantive editing

500—1000 words / hr

Faster if: well written and organized, nontechnical or familiar content, single author, no references or cross-references, no tables or figures, working online*

Slower if: poorly written or written by non-native English speaker, content technical or unfamiliar, multiple authors (but need one voice), hard copy edit*

*depending on skills, working online can speed a substantive edit but slow a copyedit

EAC splits substantive editing into structural and stylistic editing. See those defined as well as the standards for structural and stylistic editing.

 

More recently, I found a handy productivity chart put out by the Editorial Freelancers Association. It looks to be in the same ball-park, though it doesn’t explain the variability.

My advice on estimating for a new project is to use the high end of the scale, then add 10%. Or, if the client is inexperienced and the topic is unfamiliar, use the high end of the scale and double it.

Once, my final bill came in well under such an  estimate. Once. One substantive editing project in my recent past actually ended up with the rate of one page per hour. It was excruciating: dense, complex, and unfamiliar. In the future, I will recommend a colleague who is better suited to the subject and style of that particular client.


Instant Time Estimator

 

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[important]Starter Kit for Editors category | Finding Work | Office Essentials | Background Skills | Is Editing for You? | Reading List | How to Become an Editor | Setting Fees[/important]

 

*This post appeared in the original blog on Valentine’s day, 2011. As it is by far the most popular post from that old blog, I gave it new life here. Updated photo July 31, 2012. Added instant calculator Nov. 2013.

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13 thoughts on “Productivity Rates in Editing

  1. What a handy round-up! These speeds are bang on, indeed, in my experience.
    Most of my clients are Dutch academics so most of my editing work falls into the substantive category. NEEDSer quotes for editing are always based on a processing speed of around 1000 words/hour though in practice that speeds up if I’m familiar with the author’s style (usual mistakes).
    Why would working online slow a copyedit? Not having to bother about my auwful handwriting (i.e. marking up legibly) has sped me up no end 🙂

    • Thanks so much for weighing in. The original article was found in the 90s. I think that working practices have changed, and hardly any editor today would feel that editing on screen slows down the process. I’ve been thinking of updating the notes. I’m reassured because you concur.

  2. Revising is looking over the paper and renadig the paper through to make sure everything makes sense. Proofrenadig is printing out a hard copy and looking for grammar mistakes and spelling errors. Editing is fixing based off of suggested comments and cutting out pieces of the paper if necessary. Proofrenadig, revising, then editing.

    • There certainly is a lot of variation in the way the term “editing” is applied. It can mean everything from project management to checking printer’s proofs. Expectations and terminology differ from country to country, and even among industries (markets) within a country. Some clients will call proofreading “quality control.” It’s important to understand the terms your clients choose to use.

      Please click on the “definition” and “standards” links in the post above to clarify what each type of editing means _in this post._ Other definitions may be valid.

      Even my professional association defines about 12 different types of “editing.” You will see that in the definitions link. To think that editing is just one step is a common misconception. The process can take a year for a longer work; and if it simply must be perfect, editing will involve at least 3 editors.

      Paper rarely has anything to do with editing anymore. Some publishing clients might think the practice of editing on hard copy is quaint, others will think it is highly inefficient and demonstrates a degree of technical inability, or that the worker is not in touch with developments in the industry.

      The industry won’t accept manuscripts written in pen anymore either.

  3. I agree with Ragini: I find copyediting online to be much faster than on paper. For one thing, I can make global changes with Find and Replace in the blink of an eye. But I’ve also done editing online for my entire career. Perhaps those who trained on paper find that faster?

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