You’re looking for a proofreading or editing company. You’ve clicked a link or followed an ad, and found someone who offers those services. But what now? How can you know if a company is right for you, or if they’ll keep their promises?
First, look carefully at the website. Does it look professional? Is it up to date? Are there any grammatical or spelling errors? If they don't take care with their own work, you certainly can't trust them to take care with yours!
Are there testimonials? Testimonials can be convincing, but they are often of limited value - names that seem invented should cause suspicion, as should gushing reviews of the 'you guys are so wonderful you should put your prices up' kind. Look for calm and measured testimonials in different writing styles, from different business, academic and other sources. Keep in mind that some companies don’t use client testimonials as a matter of policy. Proofreading Online is one. They take the view that testimonials are so easily faked, they serve no purpose, and would rather prove their worth by their service to individual clients.
Don't be tempted by the cheapest prices. Don’t! Some budget services offer little more than MS Word's built-in spelling and grammar checking facility. There are many errors this will not catch. Edit International's sample page (editinternational.org/samples.htm) contains some interesting work that shows clearly how much electronic spelling and grammar checkers will miss. Nor can a machine offer advice on missing facts or graphics, logical development of plot or argument, relevance of references, possible ambiguity, etc, etc. Better services may use a preliminary electronic check, but they will also have a live editor carry out a word by word check of your document. Premier services will print your document and have it reviewed by a second editor. These services cannot compete for price with budget operators. But if accuracy is important, an extra cent or half cent per word will save you time and potential trouble and embarrassment. Look for a service that tells you exactly what your cost will be upfront. Many now give you the option of calculating your price and sending payment at the same time as you send your documents. This way you know what your price is and can decide whether it is acceptable. It also ensures work begins immediately without a protracted backwards and forwards process of seeking advice and approval.
Think about the nature of your documents, and try to find a service with skills and experience in that area. There are some very good general companies, but most good editing or proofreading services have strengths in particular areas. For example, Proofreading Online (proofreading-online.com) are business specialists, and only accept business related documents, while Top Marks Academic Proofreading and Editing (topmarks.us) are academic specialists and will not accept novels or business work.
Promises of routine return within 24 hours should give you pause. Most online proofreading services are small - one or two person operations. Even if they work ten hours a day, seven days a week, it may be up to fourteen hours before they open your document for a first look. These kinds of promises usually mean they have very little work, or their work is rushed. Either way, you are probably not getting the best possible service. Some reputable businesses do offer express service, usually at a higher rate. If you submit a long document for express service, you should check first that they can meet your deadline.
Claims to have dozens of PhDs waiting around to edit your paper should also be viewed with suspicion. Most PhDs have other things to do. The job of an editing company is to edit, not to offer advice about content. Most editing firms will draw to your attention any errors of fact they think they have found. But this is not their primary purpose. Good editing requires a specialized set of skills. It is not remotely reasonable to claim to have on staff highly skilled people in every specialist area, who also happen to be capable editors.
Offers of discounts to new clients may seem attractive, but this means that existing clients are subsidizing new ones. Why would any firm make such an offer? Good editors and proofreaders soon develop a high level of repeat business. Loyalty to existing customers is an important foundation of good business. Any group that seems desperate for new business should be avoided. Some good editors do offer ongoing discounts to special groups such as full time students and charities.
Do they offer a guarantee? Many claim they guarantee 100% accuracy, but it is worth checking what this actually means in practice. A minimum standard should be that if a mistake is found, the cost of the whole page is refunded. Many editors will ask for a second look at the document, and offer a refund on the entire document if you are still unsatisfied. This is a more stringent, as well as a fairer policy. You have a right to expect 100% accuracy. But don't be too hasty to assume an error exists. Sometimes grammar checking programs will flag perfectly acceptable usage as incorrect, and your editor will have made the right decision.
If privacy is important to you, check that your editors have a clearly stated policy in relation to sale of customer lists, who has access to documents, where documents will be stored and for how long. If they use freelance editors you are entitled to ask how they are able to guarantee the quality of work and the security of your documents.
Finally, let your editors know as clearly as possible what your requirements are. If a novel, what your intended market is, if an essay, the nature of the course you are doing. This helps them to serve you better. Don’t be afraid to give feedback. Editors like to know you are happy with their work, or if you’re not, how they can improve.
Proofreading and editing can add considerably to the value and usefulness of your documents. Whether you run a business, are a budding author, or a student, the cost of good editing is minimal compared with other investments of time and money. Someone once said, and it is certainly true of your documents, that you only get one chance to make a first impression. Good editing will help make that impression one of excellence.