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Certain tasks are standardized in terms of process and price. For example, an oil change essentially involves the same materials and time almost regardless of the actual car model and mileage. By contrasts, others, including house cleaning and language editing, involve unique situations in terms of initial situation, personal skill and purpose, rendering it impossible to state how long the task should take without knowing all facts. Thus, for such processes, the service provider, needs to carefully consider all factors before providing a quote while the service buyer should not expect a standard rate.
While I will be discussing specifically language editing, I will first compare it to a more common service, house cleaning. The issue of how long it should take to clean a flat of 100 m2 (1076 sq. f.) is actually quite complex. First of all, the first factor is the initial state of cleanliness and order. There is a marked difference between the condition of a flat that has been regularly cleaned as compared to one on which the contractors have just finished renovation. It can range from 2 hours to 1 full day even. I say that from experience. Likewise, cleaning workers vary considerable in their skills and speed. Speed and quality are often but not necessarily related, meaning slower work sometimes translates into more thorough results. Finally, the required time is often dependent on the desired result. Making the place livable, preparing for a visit from your mother-in-law and staging the house to put on sale require a significantly different level of finishing. The more polishing, literal and figurative, the more time is needed.
Editing, a form of cleaning if you look at it from a certain point of view, is similar. First, no two people write the same way, have the same knowledge or spend the same time of time and effort in preparing the text. On one extreme, quite rare, are skilled writers seeking a second pair of eyes to identify any remaining minor issues. In this case, the editor has very few mechanical issues to deal with and serves essentially as an important final QA check. On the other extreme are texts written by non-natives that may not know how to write properly in their own language let alone the language of the text. They are wise enough to recognize that the text is unacceptable and needs to be revised. In this case, the task of the editor is far more comprehensive, involving identifying grammatical and syntactical errors, rephrasing ideas and even sometimes reorganizing whole sections. This process involves multiple readings, ideally with each run-through focusing on specific issues. The time investment is significant in terms of the ratio between time and words.
Clearly personal approach affects the amount of time required for editing. Editors vary in the speed in which they process text, with some quickly identifying errors while others working slowly to fully analyze the text. There is some connection between thoroughness and speed, i.e., slower editors catch more issues on a given read-through than faster editors but additional directed readings can compensate for any shortcomings. Likewise, editing requires concentration. While a few people can maintain full focus for long periods of times, most editors require various frequencies of breaks in order to maintain their focus. The longer the text, the greater the impact of these necessary breaks. To put it simply, it is essentially impossible to read 10,000 words in one reading session. Not all editors are created equal.
Finally, different text purposes involve different levels of polishing, radically affecting editing time. On the fast end of the scale, if a document is an internal document distributed to a limited number of persons, the language must be clear and accurate but it does not have to be particularly elegant. A document with a large and/or potentially wide audience, such as a published article may affect perception of the party ordering the editing and should reinforce a positive image. Finally, editing documents intended to persuade must go beyond correct language and effectively express the intended message, which sometimes involves transcreation, i.e., completely rewriting of the text, a creative and long process. Such documents include sales material and website text. Thus, the editor needs to know the purpose of the document in order to estimate the required level of polishing and time.
Curiously, industry standards range from 1000 to 2000 words per hour. However, as explained above, “standards” are not relevant for editing. In practice, each document is unique and quoted according to its base level, the required skill of the editor and the level of polishing needed. When editors do not take these factors into consideration, they often find themselves selling themselves short and unable to take on further work due to extended time on the current project or produce inferior work. Editing purchasers should appreciate a carefully produced price proposal, understanding that an editor that invests time to understand its texts and meeting its needs will probably produce a desired result. Since every text, every circumstance and every editor are unique, so will be the costs of editing. One size does not fit all.
* Pictures captions help the blind fully access the Internet.