Academic Copyediting: How long does it take?


academic copyediting.

Many people have unrealistic expectations regarding the length of time taken to thoroughly edit an academic manuscript. The following is an anonymized extract from a recent academic copyediting inquiry:

The manuscript needs copy editing but it might also need some additional language editing. Amount of words: approx. 160,000… we would need to have the job done as fast (though thorough) as possible in order to still be able to have the book published within the year. Would you happen to have the time to copy edit this manuscript within two weeks’ time?

In the above example, the time estimated by the potential client is not viable. If you keep in mind that each page is 250 words, and you assume that the editor works about seven hours per day, here are some points to consider regarding turnaround time:

Academic copyediting (light)

For light editing (e.g. spelling, grammar, word choice, sentence construction) it is reasonable to expect the editor to work at a speed of around 28 pages per day.

Academic copyediting (heavy)

In the case of heavy editing, the editor attends to spelling, grammar, word choice, and sentence construction as outlined above, however, a heavy editing project has a lot more errors than a light editing project. In addition, heavy editing typically involves moving phrases, sentences, and paragraphs to improve the flow of the text. The editor may also provide a series of comments, suggestions, and recommendations for the author’s attention. Since heavy editing involves significantly more work, clients should allow for a rate of 14 pages per day.

With reference to the above example, consider that a 160,000 word document is 640 pages — equivalent in length to two PhD theses! If we apply the above turnaround times to this example, light editing of the 160,000 word manuscript would take 23 working days (i.e. four and a half weeks) and heavy editing would take 46 working days (i.e. nine weeks). The bottom line is, a long manuscript such as this cannot be thoroughly edited in just two weeks. Indeed, in this case, the job would take at least twice as long as the client had estimated.

I have no doubt that there are editors out there who do take on these kinds of “rush jobs,” however, the quality of the work is unlikely to meet the publisher’s requirements. Think about it another way… if you are looking for a house builder and the builder guarantees project completion within two weeks, do you think the house would meet your quality requirements? Would you trust a builder who claimed to build a house so quickly?

Academic copyediting tip

When you are contacting academic editors, really think about your expectations and how these expectations are to be realistically met. Allow enough time for a quality job to be done; if this means extending your deadline, be flexible enough to do this. This approach will save you time and money in the long run. :)

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