3 things to look for when hiring a proofreader or editor

Written by Emma Lawson

March 3, 2020

Are you feeling overwhelmed with your project/s? It can be difficult in a cost-cutting environment with multiple demands on our time to ensure that high-quality, professional and error-free content and copy is produced on schedule. However, it’s arguably costlier to cut corners in this area when it comes to your reputation and the trust and credibility you have established with your key audience.

‘A good copyeditor picks up 80% of errors; a good proofreader picks up 80% of what’s left. Why bother? Because people will judge you on the quality of what you put in front of them. Because people will not take you or your message seriously if it is unclear, inconsistent or poorly presented. Because you are asking people to spend time reading it, and it is simple courtesy to smooth the reader’s path.’ (CIEP)

What do you do? You could keep this side of things in-house to save costs. The vital questions you need to answer confidently if you choose this option are:

  1.  Do your staff have the expertise to carry this out to the highest quality?
  2. Do you have the time in your organisation to achieve this without causing delays in publication or jeopardising the quality of your project?

If there is any room for doubt, it’s worth outsourcing to someone who does have the time to dedicate specifically to the needs of your project. You may decide to turn to one of the many freelance directories out there:

  • Fiverr
  • PeoplePerHour
  • Freelancer.co.uk
  • Reedsy
  • Upwork
  • Findaproofreader.com

Plenty of freelancers with varying degrees of experience, competence, qualifications and rates of pay can easily be found. This presents you with an overwhelming amount of choice. What then should you look for when hiring a copy-editor or proofreader?

As with many questions, the answer depends on the nature and scope of your specific needs:

Scenario One:

Perhaps you’re an indie author looking for a final polish of your manuscript before submission? Or maybe you’re looking for a developmental editor to smooth out inconsistencies in your plot or characterisation?

Scenario Two:

Perhaps you’re a graduate student who’s working full-time and your social science dissertation deadline is looming?

Scenario Three:

You’re working in the copy team of a large and well-known charity and the Christmas appeal is coming up faster than you can press ‘double espresso’ on the coffee machine. There’s a smorgasbord of marketing offerings each with important copy: social media ads; website copy; email campaigns; magazine ads.

All of these projects need proofreaders, but different proofreaders bring varying degrees of expertise to the table. What should you look for when deciding which one to use? Let’s break this down into three main areas:


Whether or not the proofreader whose profile/website you’re viewing has a PhD in Applied Mathematics is neither here nor there to you as, for example, an author of historical fiction. It might be a consideration to you whether this person has a degree in English Literature, but what you should definitely be looking for is someone who has undertaken some recognised training in proofreading and editing.

Two of the main providers for such training in the UK (globally recognised) are the Publishing Training Centre (PTC) and the Chartered Institute of Editors and Proofreaders (CIEP). Progressing in either of these routes of training will mean that the freelancer will have needed to pass tutor-marked assignments. From my own experience, the editing professionals who design these courses set the bar high and the courses are by no means an ‘easy pass’. Therefore, when you hire someone who has passed these courses, you know what level of competence you’re getting for your money.

Now, say you are the graduate student described in scenario two. It’s going to be important to you that the freelancer you’re hiring is educated to degree level, and it would be even better if they had an academic background in the social sciences. Many freelancers do specialise in a particular area, for example, law, educational resources or medicine. My background is in social science, but I do know professionals specialising in the aforementioned areas to whom I would be able to make a referral.


Now, if you’re the indie author in scenario one, it might not matter one jot to you whether the freelance proofreader is au fait with the culinary industry for your non-fiction manuscript on the efficacy of Aid and relief interventions in the majority world. You might not give a hashtag whether or not they have worked on, for example, crime fiction. But, it may be of interest to you whether they have worked with charities and NGOs in the majority world. Similarly, if you’re heading up an appeal in the copy team of a non-profit, as mentioned in scenario three, such experience will, again, be relevant to you; and not so much to the PhD student of Applied Mathematics, who’s eyeing up the profile of someone who worked in the banking industry for several years.

That’s the great thing about freelancers in the editing and publishing industry: we come from such varied backgrounds!

Professional Affiliation

It would be remiss of me not to include a mention of professional affiliation, especially in light of the recent re-branding and acquired Chartership of the Chartered Institute for Editors and Proofreaders (CIEP), formerly known as the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). With so many freelancers available for work, it’s more important than ever to know that the person you’re hiring is held to a certain standard in the industry. The CIEP prides itself on ‘maintaining editorial excellence’.

‘The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP), formerly the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.’ 

When you hire a professionally-affiliated proofreader and/or editor, you know that they have reached an objective level of competence, professionalism and commitment. They’ll have a demonstrable history of continuing professional development, all of which adds value to your work and projects. Furthermore, you, as the client, have recourse for calling out unsatisfactory work against the claims of competence that have been made.

The royal Chartership of the CIEP was many years in the making, and its acceptance means that editing professionals have a unifying body holding much greater weight and sway in an industry where the value that editing professionals bring to business, government, research, and the arts is undeniable and largely invisible.

To sum up, when hiring an editor and/or proofreader, look for particular aspects of their:

1) Qualifications

2) Experience

3) Professional affiliation

Another main area of consideration will undoubtedly be rates of pay. Be automatically suspicious of someone who promises you something for nothing (or very little). Ask yourself: why are their services so cheap?

You might think that you can’t afford to outsource for these skills and attributes; or, you could say that you can’t afford not to bring in outside expertise.

If you didn’t catch my previous blog post on what led me to the copywriting and editing industry, and special areas in which I may be able to help you, take a look here.

To find out which proofreading and copyediting services I can provide, click here


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