7 things to include in the brief to your proofreader

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7 things to include in the brief to your proofreader

Congratulations! You’ve made the business decision to hire a proofreader to get your written material in good shape. Now what? The next step is to put together a brief that will show your proofreader what it is you would like them to do. This will help you find the right person, and it will let them hit the ground running once you hire them.

How to brief your proofreader

First things first: what exactly do you need – a proofreader or a copyeditor? My previous article on what each does and at what stage of the process covers that. For now, we’ll use the term editor  to mean both. Compiling your brief may help clarify this, so let’s get started.

There are 7 things that an editor will need to know before working on your documents. You don’t need to write a fancy brief on letterheaded paper; a simple email will do the job. Here is what an editor would like to know to prepare an accurate quote for your job:

1. Level of editing required

Depending on where you are in the writing process, this could range from picking up typos and checking layout (proofreading) to reviewing flow, checking that it makes sense and that there is no missing information (copyediting).

Other useful information is whether it has been written by more than one person. Often business reports are compiled with input from multiple authors (or team members). For some of your authors, English might not be the language they’re most comfortable writing in. If they have not been working off a particular style guide or template, you may also want your editor to look out for consistency issues.

2. Length of document

How long is your document? Are we talking about a short one – less than 15,000 words? Or something much longer? This will help your editor to know how much time they are likely to need and to make sure they have availability to fit in the work.

3. Type of document

Will you be sending your document as a Word document or PDF? While nothing is set in stone, the rule of thumb is that copyediting is done in Word and proofreading in either format. This is because Word allows for Track Changes to be used. This can delete errors or typos and add corrections; it allows your editor to move text around to improve flow; and it enables your editor to apply correct formatting where it has gone wrong or is missing. You have final control over deciding which suggested changes are accepted or rejected.

Editing in PDF can be trickier as there is less opportunity for more significant editing. However, it is perfect if you are ready to print or publish and want to do a final run-through for typos or to check layout.

4. Style guide

Not every organisation works to a particular style guide. That is okay because your editor can create one for you. But if there is a style guide, then it’s good for the editor to know as it will mean that there are certain decisions about the style that have already been taken, such as whether it should follow US or UK English spelling and grammar (or any other of the many Englishes) or how to style headings.

5. Tables, figures and references

Many academic and technical documents feature tables, figures and references, and they are in many business reports, too. It will help your editor to know if there are any in your document. An approximate number is also helpful to know. Why? Formatting and checking tables and figures can take longer than reading a section of text. There will inevitably be some cross-referencing which needs to be checked. There will also be captions and numbering which need review.

If you are using references, footnotes, endnotes or including a bibliography, knowing the preferred style will be important. Some of the most common ones are Harvard (author–date), Vancouver (numbering) and APA. Others include OSCOLA (law) and Chicago, or journal-specific styles.

6. Who is the document for?

Your audience determines how formal or informal your document should be. An academic article may not be written in the same way as a planning or environmental report. A consumer report will be different still, as will material for a marketing campaign.

7. Your deadline

How quickly you need the edited document back will be key to making sure an editor has availability to take on the job. As with anything, the more time you can give them to get the work done, the better. However, that is not always possible, and a quick turnaround may be necessary. If that is the case, you may find that your first choice is booked up, and you should always be prepared to pay a premium for an expedited turnaround.

Sending a sample

Ideally, you can send your shortlisted editor(s) a copy of the document together with your brief. This will help them get a better feel for it and gauge the level of editing required. If that is not possible, then a sample is the next best thing – preferably not  the introduction or conclusion, but a section from the middle. This tends to be less polished and a more accurate representation of what may be required of your editor.

Don’t be afraid to ask

If you have any questions about how to brief your proofreader or want to know more about working with an editor, please get in touch.

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Christina Petrides is a writer and editor who works with small businesses and academics, helping develop and create copy and content and editing documents for publication. She works across most industries, and has a particular love for the environmental and travel sectors. She is an Intermediate Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) and Full Member of the Institution of Environmental Sciences (IES). Connect with her on LinkedIn or sign up for the Last Glance monthly newsletter

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