Tip of the week: Setting editing expectations
You’ve defined an editing project. You know what it will take to edit it thoroughly. You also know what you can do in the time given. How do you explain to your client or boss that the two are not the same?
Today I discuss how to set expectations with your client or boss.
You need to tell your client or boss right away if you can’t do the expected edit in the time you’ve been given. This situation can be hard for non-editors to understand. When I run into this situation, I demonstrate the difference between what the manuscript needs and what I can do with samples and lists.
Start with a sample of the editing you’d do in an ideal world, and create a list of items you’d edit for. The list helps someone unfamiliar with editing to see beyond all the red on the page. Amy Einsohn has a list of tasks copyeditors typically perform in her Copyeditor’s Handbook that can start you off.
However, when you’re trying to explain the difference between the necessary tasks and the time you have to edit, a more detailed list can be a better illustration. Here’s a sample list for a report manuscript:
- Factual correctness
- Sentence structure
- Sentence length
- Paragraph length
- Tables and graphics:
- Spelling, punctuation, grammar, etc.
- Paragraph and section transitions
- Sexist language
- Awkward constructions
- Excessive use of passive voice
This list is a fair representation of what a copyeditor might search for, but it’s not absolute. Copyeditors look for all kinds of errors that become too numerous to list or aren’t applicable to every manuscript. Remind your client or boss of this.
Next, give a sample edit and triage list of what you can do in the time given. Offer your client or boss the opportunity to add or subtract from the list to ensure that you look for the items that are most important to him or her.
Wendalyn Nichols gave a helpful audio conference a few years ago on creating editing triage lists (you can purchase the recording and supplement in our store). Even when time is at its shortest, Nichols recommends a minimal language check, along with other basics:
- Run spelling and grammar check on the document.
- Check for accidental repetition of words.
- Check for homonyms such as too for two.
- Correct any egregious word-choice errors.
- Fix any run-ons, apostrophe errors, noticeable agreement errors, and missing commas.
- Check for sentence-ending punctuation and initial capital letters.
Remind your client or boss that no one can catch everything. Reassure him or her that you’ll do your best to catch everything on the list, but never promise to return perfect text. It just doesn’t exist. And never sign a contract that holds you responsible for missed errors or anything outside of your control.
What does your triage list look like? How do you tell a client or boss what you can realistically do? Share your lists and ideas in the comments section below!