Calling fellow editors: how fast can YOU edit?

I’m not trying to ferret out any trade secrets here (okay, maybe I am, but nothing I wouldn’t share myself), but how fast do you work when editing documents? Of course, we need to establish some parameters - let’s say that the difficulty level is equivalent to the “before” paragraph below and that 1 page = 250 words. You are not responsible for formatting, but you are responsible for not just editing, but all copyediting/proofreading, including making sure that footnotes, references and bibliographies conform to a particular format suggested in the CMS. This means you’ll need to untangle a fair number of messy, inconsistent footnotes and do some fact-checking on Google (for example, in the example below, you’d have to make sure Banfield was a man before you edited as I did – or find an alternative way of putting it).

The level of improvement you are looking for is equivalent to the “after” quote - in other words, retain as much of the original author’s voice as you can, just make the meaning clearer.

Please don’t low-ball this and tell me your very fastest, best speed – I’m more interested in your average rate over time. And I do expect the phone to ring or you to go to the bathroom once in a while.

I know what is a reasonable rate to charge per hour (and if anyone would like me to share that info for my field, PM me and I’ll tell you) but I want to make sure I’m not screwing clients because I’m slow.

I’m not trying to be coy, but I won’t give my estimate of how long 250 words of that stuff would take until I hear from a few of you – I don’t want to influence the responses.

Well, I don’t work in quite that way but my input might be useful. I edit copy for newspaper supplements, and the ballpark figure when deadlines are pressing is one hour to edit (i.e. put into house style, clean up copy and fact-check) a single page of, say, 600 words and twice that for a double-page spread (say 1200-1500 words, plus side bars etc). But the pages then go to a second person for proofreading, which I would expect to take an extra 20 minutes for a single page, 40 minutes for a spread, including the time taken to input proofreading marks.

I do spend longer when we have the luxury of time, though.

BTW, one nitpick with your “after” version – I would change the opening sentence to “The past decade…”

Disclaimer: I have not proofread this post :wink:
Edited (ha!) to add: so, for 250 words of that type of copy I guess I could have it pretty shipshape in an hour, as long as there wasn’t too much research needed, and any that was required could easily be Googled. That would allow time for editing plus a fairly careful proofreading and subsequent amendments. I could do it quicker, but an hour would be good.

Can’t answer. I have never edited anything as well written as the BEFORE sample. The stuff I typically edit is far, far worse than that. I work in IT.

I should probably add that the kind of copy I edit doesn’t have footnotes, references etc, so I may be misunderestimating the amount of time they could suck up. :slight_smile:

So if my estimate seems seriously low, that’ll be why.

Thanks, guys. You have a good handle on what I’m supposed to do, Colophon. (And thanks for the suggestion on past/last … I’ll take it.)

Lunar Saltlick, I feel your pain. Much of what I edit is far worse than the above example, but I wanted to provide an average sample, not something that was complete gobbledygook (although “the concept did not entail a significant interest in the debate” is closing in on nonsense, IMHO).

And yes, let us all agree: none of us are self-editing in this thread. So no fair picking on anyone for grammatical or syntactical errors!

If I could impose on the pros for a few minutes, a couple months ago I suggested that the following:

be rewritten as:

but the author didn’t agree. I would appreciate your learned opinions.

My reaction, whitetho, is “why did you take a stream of perfectly comprehensible prose and change it into a stream of perfectly comprehensible prose just different enough from the original to piss off the author?”

(Actually, that was my second reaction … my first was to have a Lunar Saltlick moment and say that I would never, ever get such clean prose to edit.)

I think your version is subtly better, whitetho – I see several little improvements. But, at least for the type of editing I do, it is crucial to preserve the author’s voice. What you have done is to take the information provided to you by the author and rewrite it your way. In my experience it is a rare author that will accept such seemingly arbitrary changes with grace.

I generally do not change an author’s words unless I can defend the change on the basis of grammatical accuracy, proper punctuation, basic clarity, or proper use of idiom (most of the people I edit aren’t native speakers, so they will often mangle idiomatic English). Changing something because “I like the way it sounds better” is not a sufficient reason. Not only do authors tend to be a touchy bunch when it comes to their prose, there is also no way in hell I would have time to rewrite everything if I started tampering with the parts that were already comprehensible. I need to direct my rewriting efforts to the sections that are garbled, of which there are many.

YMMV - the kind of editing that I do is perhaps atypical. This thread doesn’t seem to be attracting much attention, but if more editors do drop by, I’d love to here other comments (it’s a hijack, but when the OP gives it a blessing, I think we can run with it).

I agree with CairoCarol. That’s not an editing job, it’s a rewrite. That’s not to say that I don’t rewrite pieces (often it’s more a case of writing an article from the collection of disjointed notes that the so-called writer has filed), but when the copy is reasonably clean it’s not a good idea. Remember, the writer is getting paid for writing, and it’s their name going at the top of the article. However much you might feel, as an editor, that you could have written it better, it’s not your place to do so.

That’s interesting, because in CairoCarol’s OP, she too rewrites part of the text, saying that the concept of social capital is important where the original text makes no such statement.