These days, as many academics are leaving their university positions and office workers are opting out of returning to their full-time jobs, there seems to be an ever-increasing number of potential academic copyeditors ready to work with academic authors on their journal articles, book manuscripts, essays, statements, and more.
Copyeditors are tasked with correcting grammar and punctuation errors, applying a style guide to the text and citations, ensuring consistency, and improving the flow of sentences. It is a highly technical skill that requires training and experience to perform at a high level, and it can be difficult for new authors to judge good editors from the not-so-good.
In this post, I’ll provide you with a brief guide to help you find and hire an editor so that you can be sure that you’re getting the best quality for your money.
Know where to look
Although many professional academic copyeditors work from home, they often hang out together in online forums and associations, where they can share their knowledge with each other, get professional development, and talk shop. There are two ways for potential clients to navigate these associations: you can either post a job on their job boards or you can look through their directories for editors who match what you’re looking for.
If you know the specifics of what you’re looking for (type of editor/editing needed, desired rate, etc.) and have all of the details on your project ready (length, schedule, style guide), then you might want to put out a posting and have editors apply to work with you. The editing associations that have job listings include the EFA, Editors of Color, and ACES.
You can also search the directories of organizations like the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), which has an intensive vetting process of its own, to find editors you might want to work with. (All of those listed above also have directories.)
However, perhaps the best way to find an editor is by recommendation. If you know someone who has published widely, then they likely have a relationship with someone they trust; you might also put out a request for recommendations on an academic listserv. When you get a name, go ahead and Google them to see if they fit your criteria.
Unfortunately, there’s no established means to judge the quality of an academic copyeditor’s work before you make a purchase. While freelance marketplaces like Upwork have rating systems that might help you choose, these platforms often attract novices whose low rates win many projects but whose quality might be hard to ascertain from a star rating. Once you find an editor you like, you should do your research.
There are three main categories that might help you to determine an editor’s quality:
- Certificates: There are several universities that offer editing and publishing certificates, including UCSD, the University of Washington, the University of Chicago, and Simon Fraser. A certificate in editing shows that the editor has invested in this profession, that their work has been judged by an instructor, and that they are aware of professional processes (see more on this below).
- Experience: There are many self-trained or academically trained editors who have the experience to prove their qualifications. The best types of experience is in-house for a publisher, extensive editing for academic journals and peer-review publications, contract work for university presses, and projects with individual scholarly clients. I would be wary of an editor whose experience only includes grading their own students’ writing.
- Testimonials: If you’re not able to get a personal recommendation, then see if the editor has testimonials about their work on their website or directory listing. Pay attention to what former clients say about quality, improving publishing opportunities, and timeliness, and beware of too many anonymous or seemingly inauthentic quotes.
When I hire editors at Flatpage, I consider the Venn diagram of these categories, in addition to requesting sample work.
Sample edits and editing tests
As a matter of due diligence, you might request a sample edit from the freelance academic copyeditor you’re hoping to work with. Sample edits might be provided by the editor, either on your writing or for a previous client, for free or for a cost.
At Flatpage, you can find a sample copyedit that one of our editors completed for a client on our website. During the editing process, we always provide our clients with a sample of the work that will be performed by the editor they’re matched with within the first 48 hours of receipt. However, some independent editors might perform a sample on your work to determine their rate and estimated turnaround time.
What should you look for in a sample edit?
- Does the document look professional overall? Does the formatting look cleaner than when it left you?
- Does the punctuation conform to your chosen style guide? A good way to tell if an editor knows CMoS is to look for en dashes ( – ) between number ranges and unspaced em dashes ( — ).
- Has the editor introduced errors or improved the writing? Introducing errors or typos is a cardinal sin in the editing world.
- Has the editor asked any questions in the margins? Good editors will always have questions for you.
- Does the editor know the citation style you’re using? Check their skills on a complicated citation (a magazine article, website, or archival document)—and double-check it against your style guide.
Should you ever ask for an editing test? Probably not. The more experienced an editor is, the less time they have to complete tests if they’re not sure they’re going to get the job.
The best editors have professional processes in place, which prove that they know what they’re doing and that they’ve had paid clients before.
Not only should the tone of their communication connect with you and their responses be timely, but they should also provide you with some of the following:
- Established rates
- Schedule or estimated turnaround time
- Contract/agreement outlining scope and terms
- Explanation of how they work and how to communicate with them
When you find the right editor, it should click: ideally they’ll have the qualifications you’re looking for at the right price. But be forewarned: the more qualified an editor is, the more they’re likely to charge (believe me, it’s worth it!).
Academic editing isn’t just an art; it’s a trained skill. And you can be sure that the editors I hire for Flatpage have what it takes.
About the author
Cara Jordan is chief editor and president at Flatpage. She has spent her career editing academic and artists' writings, primarily as a developmental editor and copyeditor. She received her PhD in art history from the Graduate Center, CUNY.