Ease in Writing
Writing Tips from Full Circle Communications
September 2009

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Ease in Writing?

"Ease in writing" comes from a poem by Alexander Pope, the British poet:

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,
As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance.

Foot step chartNote he (and I) didn't say "easy writing." But just like dance lessons can help get you around the floor with your partner more gracefully, the goal for this newsletter is to share a tip or two each month so you can improve how your organization communicates in writing.
How Long Will It Take to Edit?
StopwatchFiguring out how long a project will take to complete is critical--and hard to do. How many hours does it take to write an article? Draft web content? Edit a report? Even after more than 13 years of freelancing, I sometimes stumble on this question.

This month, I'll focus on estimating an editing job; next month, writing. Before we get down to numbers, a disclaimer: There really is no hard and fast rule. The condition and characteristics of each manuscript affect the amount of time required to whip it into shape.

Right, right, you're probably thinking--but how long does it take?

I start with an estimate learned from an editing course long ago: 2 to 4 double-spaced, 12-point-font pages for a substantive edit; 6 to 8 double-spaced pages for a copyedit. (See below for the definitions of the editing categories.) This estimate includes skimming the piece, editing the whole thing two times ("passes"), and going back as needed to problem areas. I usually do the first pass online and the second on a print-out, making changes in Track Changes and inserting my queries in the Comments field in Word.

The more heads the better on a topic like this. When I asked a few colleagues for guidance, here is what I learned.

Patti Lowery told me she uses a formula of 4 to 6 double-spaced pages per hour to copyedit a report with references, footnotes, and other complicated material to double and triple check. For a simple trifold brochure, she estimates about 2 hours at most. "The problems with these sorts of things are less often with facts and more often the typeface, etc.," she said.

Maryellen Thirolf's average is similar: "For editing, the rule of thumb is 5 double-spaced pages per hour for a copyedit, with 2 to 3 pages per hour for a substantive edit and about 10 pages per hour for proofreading....It's amazing how close this estimate always is to the time it takes to finish the task at hand."

Bobbie Troy edits a few sample pages to see how long it takes, which she compares against her metrics for single-column, double-spaced copy:
        -- Light edit: 8 pgs/hr
        -- Medium edit: 5 pgs/hr
        -- Substantive edit: 3 pgs/hr
"If the reading estimate is significantly different than my metrics," she said, "I need to identify why and make sure those special issues are in my Statement of Work."

April Davis has created an Excel spreadsheet for her estimates. "I read a few pages from several chapters to see how much editing is needed. I have an Excel spreadsheet where I insert the total number of pages, and it will calculate the number of hours the project will take and the estimated fee for the project," she told me.

Special Considerations
Remember, every project has its own set of "interesting" challenges that can make the job take longer or shorter than the guidelines above. Consider whether any of these apply to your project:
  • Lots of acronyms to check, maybe creating an acronym list
  • Text by non-native English writers
  • Tables, especially those with a lot of numbers and words
  • References, especially those created by someone who does not normally compile references
Let me know how this jibes with your experience.

LevofEditing Levels of Editing
I shudder to remember a document I gave an editor many years ago. It needed more than the "quick proof" that I requested (and that I had allotted time for). Part of my confusion back then was not understanding the different levels of editing. So you don't make my mistake, here are some brief definitions.
  • Developmental edit: You as editor work closely with the author on the structure, content, and organization of a piece, often when the manuscript is still in development.
  • Substantive edit: You as editor receive a finished version and ensure the piece is smooth, logical, and well organized. You might point out confusing or overly detailed sections, places where examples are needed, or other content-related questions. Often a substantive and copyedit are part of the same assignment.
  • Copyedit: You as editor focus on the mechanics of the piece: consistency, spelling, grammar. You refer to and/or create a style guide to determine how to handle things like capitalization and word usage throughout the piece (e.g., policy maker, policy-maker, or policymaker?)
  • Proofread: You as editor do a final check before the piece is ready for printing or online posting. Sometimes people request a proofread for a piece, but it really needs editing first--but now you know.
Many books, websites, and courses explain facets of editing. Recent books I have read (or re-read) include The Artful Edit by Susan Bell and the older, but still relevant Elements of Editing by Arthur Plotnik and Getting the Words Right by Theodore A. Rees Cheney.
Attention, Authors!

notebookwritingHave you written a book or article? Do you have a communications-related blog or newsletter? I would love to share the information with others. Let me know what you have created. I'll write about it (and link to it) in another issue of this newsletter.