Digital Marketing

Proofreading, copy editing, virtual translation: how to tell the difference

My cell phone rang around 4:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon.

“Can you correct 32,000 words before Sunday at 6:00 pm?” Correction: subject-verb agreement, occasional comma, typos, nothing major.

“Yeah.” Two hours later, the document arrived in my inbox with a note: “Actually, there are 43,000 words. I hope it’s okay.” That? A mere third of an increase?

I opened the attachment and my instinctive reaction was to reach for a bottle of Scotch. That, I thought, might save me from chewing on broken glass. It wasn’t proofreading that was needed, it was virtual translation. And had agreed a response time of 48 hours.

When I was living in Santiago, Chile and working on reports for UNESCO and the Pearson Foundation, I put together a team of writers and editors and we called ourselves the “English Team,” the English team.

So Erica and Peggy put their weekend plans aside and signed up for the latest project. We spent 48 hours reviewing documents back and forth in three countries (Canada, the United States, and Chile) and multiple time zones. The first track changes seemed run over. We continued with a double edition and the second copies came out cleaner. We then divided them up for a final reading. I hit the “submit” button for the final document at 5:54 p.m. Sunday night. And it took me another 48 hours to recover.

Later I learned that the huge proposal had been cobbled together by various committees of Germans at a multinational company in Berlin. No matter how well people can speak a second language, chances are they will never be able to write particularly well. On a personal note, I am studying Spanish and every time I can grope. However, I have no doubt that my effective written communication will never exceed a shopping list. We use different thought processes and patterns between verbal and written language.

The moral of the story is that if you have doubts about your English language skills, hire a native editor to proofread your work. It may cost a little money, but it will save you a lot of money.

But how do you know what level of service to ask for? Send the editor a page from the beginning, middle and end. Armed with a sample, they will be able to advise you what level of service you require and how much it will cost.

Proofreading. Your document will be checked for subject-pronoun agreement, punctuation, and minor style issues. This option is ideal for native English writers who know they need a second set of eyes to spot details they may have missed. The massive corrections required for second language writers cannot be smoothed out with a comma.

Copy Edition – Level One. Native speakers and advanced second language writers who need an editorial voice will find this level to suit their needs. The general formula is that it is an editor that does two sets of track changes and a final copy.

Copy Editing – Level Two. This double editing formula includes a first track of changes from one publisher, a second track of changes from a second reader, and a final copy. So once it’s been through two editors, you know it’s bug free.

Online translation. Editing writers’ material in a second language is time consuming and requires close scrutiny. Sometimes it is necessary to translate the cultural context as well as the words. At this level, material is reviewed by two editors and then further vetted by a senior editor with English as a Second Language (ESL) experience. That means three track changes and one final copy. And it will be with the quality of a native speaker.

When it comes to a public presentation, find an editor. Nobody cares about your emails, but they will remember how good or bad your reports were.

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