Have you ever hired someone to format your Word docs? How'd that go?

I am a freelance editor and lately some of my clients have been wanting me not just to straighten out their writing for them, they’d also like me to get their documents in shape for publication/distribution. My business partner and I do NOT wish to become professional word processors; we’re busy enough as it is.

Surely in the US there are companies or freelance word processors who specialize in whipping ugly documents into shape. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, we could easily use such services. But … how do I find them? How much time do they usually need? What do they charge? If any dopers are familiar with this topic I’d appreciate hearing about your experiences and what you suggest I do.

Here’s what a typical document might look like:

Sorry, got caught out by spastic fingers and the 5-minute edit rule: the full posting should look like this —

I am a freelance editor and lately some of my clients have been wanting me not just to straighten out their writing for them, they’d also like me to get their documents in shape for publication/distribution. My business partner and I do NOT wish to become professional word processors; we’re busy enough as it is.

Surely in the US there are companies or freelance word processors who specialize in whipping ugly documents into shape. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, we could easily use such services. But … how do I find them? How much time do they usually need? What do they charge? If any dopers are familiar with this topic I’d appreciate hearing about your experiences and what you suggest I do.

Here’s what a typical document might look like:

  • 200+ pages long
  • not in a template
  • no automated Table of Contents set up
  • many separate figures, tables and boxes, which have been imported from Excel or Powerpoint, or perhaps drawn in the Word doc using the drawing tools, or perhaps simply inserted as jpg and bmp files
  • several authors all of whom used different fonts, spacing, and heading conventions

etc. etc. – you get the picture. The goal is to create a templated doc with an automated TOC and numbering system, proper headers for each section, possibly a double-sided format, that looks nice and can be lightly edited without screwing up the whole doc.

So, it is a BIG job – and nasty unless you are extremely adept at utilizing the all-too-numerous features of MS Word.

What does your employer do in such a situation? Do US companies usually have in-house experts, or do enough people outsource that I should be able to find someone? (Specific recommendations are welcome; I can’t take the risk of hiring someone and finding out the hard way that they are a total screw up. We ALWAYS operate under tight deadlines.)

This is not my day! I wanted to post this in IMHO since I’m looking for opinions but now I see I have put it into MPSIMS by mistake. If a mod wants to move this, feel free. Sorry.

I’d better leave the message boards now before I mistype again.

I don’t have answers for you, but I’ve reported so a mod should be along shortly to move you to your chosen forum :slight_smile:

What do you want your finished format to be? 200+ pages is a book – is that what you’re looking for?

I laid out a 220+ page softcover book for a friend. If you’re looking for a book-type format, I think you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone competent who will format it in MS Word. You’re likely looking at Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress, and those aren’t particularly editable unless you have the program yourself. Likely what would happen (or at least what I did for my friend) is that the person formatting the document will get it all formatted and then send a .pdf back to you or the author for final revisions, and you’ll do those by noting the page number and change, and he or she will make them within the software and send a final proof back.

I took two or three weekends (working pretty much straight through the weekend with little to no sleep) to format his book. He was giving it to me chapter by chapter, and making lots of revisions as we went, so it should take less time if all of that is already done – but we rushed it through entirely too fast. I would say if you got someone who wasn’t already backed up, they could probably turn something like that around in a week. If it was someplace that’s busy, give them two.

NOTE: I do not do this for a living – I design newspapers, not books. This was my first experience in laying out a book, and I never formatted that much information before or since. Therefore, my estimate of time is just based on that one experience, with no other work I was doing to distract me (other than college and my student newspaper). I also can’t give you a cost estimate, as it was for a friend and I have no idea of the market value of something like that anyway. Other people on the boards may have way more experience with something like this than I do, so you should probably listen to them over me, if and when they chime in. I’ve PMed you the Amazon.com link to the book.

Off to IMHO.

Cajun Man
for the SDMB

No, not a book (I’ve done those working with a designer using InDesign – a different kettle of fish entirely). Just a verrrrryyyy long report. For the moment it will mostly be distributed in soft copy, probably as a pdf. (But I’m not going to put it into a pdf, because my client will want to be able to make changes).

Here’s a random example that has nothing to do with me - I did not edit it, nor have I ever seen it before, I just used Google to find a paper typical of the type of stuff I work on. As you can see, it was almost certainly laid out in Word, and although this is just one chapter that’s been put on the net, the whole thing must easily top 100 pages and have an automated TOC.

So that’s what I mean. Given the huge number of papers out there like that one, surely SOMEBODY is an expert on formatting this stuff?

The editors do the formatting work. I’m actually not sure why you and your partner object to doing it. I mean, I can understand that you’re already busy, and formatting documents takes time, but I see it as part of the job.

I’ve been a technical writer/editor for 9 years. I’ve never done freelance work, I’ve only ever worked for companies, and I’m in the government contracting world (so mainly software/system documentation). I have never had a job where document formatting was not one of the expected duties. And MS Word documents of 200+ pages are quite common: just yesterday I edited a 400-page interface design document, and later today I’ll be looking at a 500-page software product specification. And, as I said, formatting is always part of the job.

Want to subcontract your formatting work to me? :wink:

Ok, because of this discussion I’ve just learned about MS automated TOC. OMFG! Whee! Thanks. I’m working on a first book mss from a very messed up diss Mss, and am learning a bit more about the program I’ve been “using” for years every day. Ugh.

You might want to google “freelance desktop publishing” or even “virtual assistant.” I’m sure there are people looking to do this type of work. You might even be able to get it done for much less in some place other than the US.

Hie thee over to http://COMMUNITY.LSOFT.COM/archives/FREELANCE.html, join the list, and post the job op. You will soon have a metric buttload of qualified people to sort through. Ask for references.

(Freelance is a list for discussing the business of freelancing in the publishing industry. We usually talk about taxes, getting/dealing with clients, office supplies, software, and so on, but occasionally someone posts a job op either for themselves or for a client, and they always get plenty of responses. We’re mostly writers and editors, but we also have indexers, photographers, compositors, a cartographer, an OCR expert, and so on.)


Another thought: The Editorium has a plethora of tools that would make a job like this a snap. FileCleaner alone is a gem; I couldn’t work without it. (Usual disclaimers: I’m not involved with the company except as a very very VERY satisfied customer. Jack Lyon is a god and gives awesome support.)

Wow, that is important information (if not exactly what I want to hear). Let me provide a little more information on what I do – I can look at a sentence like this:

and figure out quickly what it means and how to write the sentence properly, because I have the requisite technical training and the English skills. I do stuff like this All. Day. Long. Most of the writers I deal with are not native speakers of English, and their grasp of statistics, econometrics, microeconomics, and macroeconomics, along with general trends in development work, is sometimes … touchingly quaint. (Though many are brilliant, they just can’t write English well enough to explain their insights.)

I am honestly surprised (but eager to learn) that I’m supposed to understand the finer points of, say, income elasticity, competition policy vs. competitiveness, and so forth … AND I’m supposed to be an expert on TOC functions in MS Word at the same time?

Ugh. But, if you say so, then I need to think about this. Is it really in the best interests of my clients (and my pocketbook) if I become an MS Word maven (which I view as a respectable profession in its own right, separate from what I do) as opposed to keeping current with Thomas Friedman, Paul Blustein, Freakonomics, and all that?

But when do I sleep? :frowning:

Well, if you wanted to do what I do, then yes. :slight_smile: It’s foreign to me to think of knowledge of the topic I’m editing and knowledge of MS Word as such separate things. I have a working knowledge of UNIX, the Solaris and Mac operating systems, software development lifecycles, and whatever software application the authors – many of whom have English as their second language – are documenting, and I’m a Word maven (and a damn good editor, with strong writing and grammar skills). That combination has been expected in every job I’ve had. In my field, only entry-level writers are expected to still be learning how to use Word to format documents. Last year I was a hiring manager and interviewed several people for an intermediate technical writer position, and someone who knew about documenting software but didn’t know how to work with styles in Word would never have gotten the job.

Knowledge of the topic at hand and knowledge of MS Word aren’t mutually exclusive. Yes, they can be and sometimes are separate jobs (editor vs. word processor), but in my field they are necessarily one and the same.

Keeping current with your field is one thing: it’s an ongoing effort, and necessary if you are going to be an effective editor. (That’s why I attend technical seminars whenever I can: even if I don’t understand half of what’s being discussed, I’m at least sort of getting the other half.) But once you learn Word, you know it. Of course there will be an initial investment of time and probably money (there’s no one for you to learn from on-the-job, so you’d probably need to take a seminar or online training), but is that less than the time/money it will take to hire someone else to do all of your formatting work forever? Only you can make that decision. Regarding the best interests of your clients, though, they are the ones who precipitated this thread: you are being asked to do formatting work, so it benefits them if you can do it (lower cost and faster turnaround). But clearly you have built a successful freelancing business without doing such work, so it’s really for you to decide whether you’d like to learn a new skill or pay someone else to do it. If you do not learn software quickly/easily, perhaps you’re better off subcontracting. But if you aren’t worried about your ability to learn the tool, I can’t see how it wouldn’t benefit you to do so.

Pfft. I do this every day - I work for a non-prof that is lovely in scope but 1993 in technological know-how. Shoot 'em to me and I can make them look pretty within a week or two.

Sigh, okay! I am now educated.

Not happy, but educated.

Thanks to everyone, especially

  • guess I needed to hear what you had to say!

Word can help you standardise your appearance throught a document with the use of styles. You may find this helpful, if you don’t already know about it.

One of the things I’m best at is writing documentation; I’ve also done translations. I don’t know about other countries, but in Spain the basic price is for the “unformatted translation in Word” and if any formatting is required it goes up 10%. Add another 10% when it’s technical and another when it’s in programs other than Word… those translation gigs were short but tasty! :slight_smile:

I’ve done internally the kind of work you’re looking for someone to do. Many of my colleagues are extremely bad at documentation; many get blocked by the notion of having to create a ToC or use predetermined formats (mind you, quite often the predetermined formats had been defined by a drunk monkey, but that’s another problem). So knowing that all they had to do was “write it in plain Word and pass it to Nava” would speed our documentation processes a lot. The only “content editing” I’d do in these cases would be writing down the parts that looked wrong to me (“dude, the screenshots are from the previous client, d’uh” or “is this in Spanish?”) - all I ever want to know about Finance is that the world’s economy isn’t going to Hell in a basket :stuck_out_tongue: and those guys usually need a ton of documents.

So while I don’t have suggestions (pity I’m not currently set up as a freelance or I’d offer you my services), yes there’s people who do what you need.
Scarlett67, thanks for the links. I’m thinking of going freelance and they may come in real helpful!

For docs that big and will graphs, charts, tables, etc, you should really be using a desktop publishing program. You could find a DTP whiz to format 1-2 standard templates for you to use and then do the DTP portion when you’re done editing. You can do a lot in Word, but it’s not a DTP. If you’re doing serious formating of big docs a lot, then for efficiency you want to use a specialized tool for the job.

I did that for Swiss Bank Corp for a few years in Tokyo. edited and formatted a pretty serious amount of pages per week/

You’re very welcome, CairoCarol! :slight_smile: Just remember that everything I’ve said is for my field and my profession; it’s just information about how some other writers/editors work.

You know, Word really isn’t that bad for large documents. I’ve used both DTPs and Word for technical documents of 200+ pages, with plenty of figures and tables, and there’s no clear winner in my book (keeping in mind that I consider myself very proficient with Word). DTPs are certainly best for actual books, or things like newsletters, but IMO for the occasional large report there’s no need to buy/learn a separate tool.

Unfortunately I can’t give you any feedback with regard to outsourcing because my company don’t do it. They get me to do it.

However, this may help: my salary is AU$21/hr, in case you’re trying to figure out rates for secretarial skills from country to country.

From what you’ve described, and the example you linked it’s quite straightforward work, but quite time-consuming. I assume the images are either already in the document or else clearly labelled and marked where they’re supposed to be inserted?