Improving the English Editing Workflow

The English editing workflow is part of the publication process. Many companies might outsource this particular task to a freelance English editor. Other companies might decide to keep it in-house. Regardless of what your company does, there are still ways to make sure that you can improve the workflow.

Why does improving the workflow matter when you’re outsourcing the work? Because you want to ensure that delays don’t affect your overall workflow.

How can English editing impact your workflow?

The editing process is highly variable. A manuscript could take a couple of hours to edit, or it could take a few days. A manuscript could be ten pages long, or it could be a hundred. Because there are so many variables, making sure that you have a reliable workflow is critical. Improving your workflow is something that you can apply to many parts of your company.

When you are trying to account for how long a process takes, it is important to make sure that you can fit it in to your overall workflow. It’s hard to promise your authors that a manuscript will be published in “X days” when you don’t have a firm grasp on all parts of the process. This is why some companies don’t want to use freelancers. The introduction of external contractors can also introduce external variables.

Is this possible? Absolutely. But is this also common? Not necessarily.

One of the best ways to make sure that the editing process won’t impact your workflow is to make sure that you have clear deadlines.

Selecting deadline for English editors

Generally, there are really 3 main ways that you can determine the best option for selecting deadlines.

  1. Based on words;
  2. Based on pages;
  3. Based on difficulty.

Each of these methods has their own merits and downsides. Which you select should probably depend on your approach to the editing process. If you are paying your freelance editors per word, you may want to consider capping the number of words that they can edit for you on any given day. There are some pros and cons to this, but generally, one of the primary ones is that you can partly ensure that the quality remains higher.

If an editor is editing 250,000 words a day for you versus 70,000 words a day, you know that the editor doing more words is likely rushing the work. That many words in a day would be impossible for most editors. This can affect your English editing workflow significantly. The sweet spot for number of words really depends on your level of comfort and on the editor, so understanding what your editor is capable of producing effectively is very important.

The number of pages is also a decent way to keep track of how much work an editor is doing, but has its own issues as well. A page of dense legal terminology is not the same as a page about art and is not the same as a page of molecular biology. It’s rough but usable system, but it can also be an unfair system. If you are not careful, one editor might wind up with short simple edits, and another might wind up with challenging complicated edits. If this goes on for too long, this could cause you to lose an editor.

Which editing workflow is best for you?

The first thing that you need to know about the editing stage is how long this should take. Remember, that at this stage of the process, we’re thinking about an “average” paper. The average paper might be anywhere between 10-20 pages long, so an average of about 15 pages is probably a safe bet.

If you assign a manuscript to an English editor, how long do you think they need to edit the document? A fairly safe value is probably two or three days. You could pick one day, or you could pick a week, a lot of this depends on what your end goals are.

For the sake of discussion, let’s give our hypothetical English editor two days. They have 48 hours to work on the document. What can you do to ensure that there are no delays in the editing process?

The editing workflow that you should consider using is the one that accounts for as many variables as possible. We’ve already listed some of these above, but there are always more.

Simplifying the English editing workflow

So what steps can be taken to simplify the English editing workflow?

The first thing that you can do is to establish some form of screening protocol. Manuscripts come from all around the world, and there are a few generalizations that you can use to very roughly estimate the level of English proficiency in a manuscript. It’s critical to note that these are by no means guaranteed. A general assumption that can be made is that manuscripts from English-speaking countries may have less grammatical issues than a paper from a non-English speaking country. Is this guaranteed? Absolutely not. There can absolutely be cases where a manuscript is from an English-speaking country but needs a lot of attention. Similarly, there can be papers from non-English speaking countries that are flawless.

There are no 100% guarantees.

However, especially if you’re editing quite a few papers daily, you cannot always check each paper individually before assigning it. There simply aren’t the hours to do that reasonably unless you hire someone to do only that task. Is this job necessary? Not especially. It can be a significant waste of time and money to implement a job like this. So, what tools do you have to simplify your workflow? Here are some:

  1. Use the peer review process;
  2. Make sure manuscripts are ready;
  3. Trust your editors’ judgement;
  4. Provide editors with tools.

Lets look at these points in a bit more detail.

Use the peer review process

When you send manuscripts out for peer review, you are asking an expert to assess the manuscript. One of the things that you can also ask them to assess is the quality of the writing. The level of proficiency in the writing could have a significant impact on the peer reviewer’s ability to understand it. Asking for peer reviewers for a general assessment can be very helpful at times to get a sense of what the level of English might be. Importantly, peer reviewers might not be the best judge of grammar—they’re there to check the content, not the writing. Still, some help and feedback is probably better than none.

Make sure manuscripts are ready

English editors are professionals in their field. But they are not usually used to needing to do layout work on documents that they need to edit. In a lot of cases, there is a basic expectation that a manuscript will be (at least generally) in good shape. This means that fonts are consistent, font sizes don’t change, and so on. This is why sending manuscripts for layout work prior to the English editing stage is a good idea. Giving your English editor a clean document to work with will make their job easier (and thus faster). Making sure documents are ready for English editing are your responsibility, not the editor’s (unless you are paying them accordingly).

Trust your editors’ judgement

You’ve hired editors—experts in their field—to work on your manuscripts. It’s important that you trust their judgements when it comes to manuscripts. Sometimes, manuscripts can border on illegible. When this happens, your journal should have a process by which this particular problem can be addressed. Asking editors to “work on it anyways” is often not a viable option because you can’t edit what you don’t understand.

If an editor observes that the level of editing required to fix a manuscript will be significant, what is the approach? Do you send it back to the authors? Do your editors have a higher rate for complicated edits? Is an extension available? Whatever your agreement is with your editors, remember that you’re paying them to be experts, so trust their judgement when appropriate.

Provide editors with tools

If you’re using a specific style guide, consider providing a copy of it to your editors. If you have an in-house guide, make sure that you provide the guide and proper training. Do you want to improve the workflow for your editors? You can provide them a series of macros that they can use. Giving your editors tools in advance will simplify the workflow and you’ll get a better product, faster.

How the English editing workflow impacts your business

You can select editing assignments based on the difficulty of the paper. This is possibly the best option but it relies on accurate(ish) reporting of the quality of a manuscript. The peer review process can help in this task, or you can have someone pre-screen manuscripts before they are introduced into the English editing workflow. Ultimately, making the workflow more efficient allows you to provide a better and more effective service to your clients. This impacts your reputation and, at the end of the day, your bottom line.

D.J. McPhee
8 April 2024Posted inOperational Tasks
Post authorD.J. McPhee