Do I really need to pay for professional proofreading?

Last week, I wrote about how editorial professionals like proofreaders can help small businesses, independent writers and organisations.

The key takeaways:

  • they’ll help make your writing clear so it communicates the right message to your audience
  • they’ll help you feel confident that your writing is accurate
  • their work will give your customers or clients confidence in your professionalism and credibility.

If you run a small business or you represent an organisation, you might understand the benefits of proofreading, but you still have one big question:

Do I really need a professional proofreader? I mean, it’s just finding typos and correcting spelling mistakes, right?!

It’s a great question and I completely understand where it comes from. To run your business or organisation sustainably, you have to spend wisely. Professional proofreaders cost money. So is it really worth investing in one?

Informing your decision

To help you make an informed choice about how to go about getting your work proofread, here are some common questions about your possible options, and my answers to them. They’re organised from cheapest to most expensive in terms of how much money you’ll need to spend on each one.

Question one

I’m great at writing in English. Can’t I just proofread my own writing?

Method: DIY – do it yourself!
Cost: Free

Another valid reason to not do it yourself is that it takes time. Your time is valuable, so if there’s something that only YOU can do for your business or organisation, proofreading is a good task to outsource.

Question two

My friend’s first language is English. Can’t they proofread my project?

Method: Ask a friend
Cost: The price of a coffee (depending on how good of a friend it is!)

You absolutely CAN choose to have a friend complete your proofread for you, and I can’t say that they won’t do a great job! In fact, before I completed my editorial training, I would often proofread work my friends had written – and do a pretty good job of it. (I do have a degree in linguistics and a background in English language teaching though, both of which helped!)

But here’s the thing: I’m a very different proofreader now that I’ve invested
my time and money in professional training and memberships.

The difference between a professional and someone good at spotting mistakes is that they’ve learned how to proofread effectively to help maximise their chances of spotting errors in a text.

They also know when to make changes and when to leave well alone. Without understanding the importance of this, it can be tempting to tweak one-too-many things, and before you know it, the writing no longer sounds like the author intended.

Also, if your proofreader is a member of a professional association, it generally means that they’ll keep up to date with changes in language through ongoing professional development.

Question three

Can I use a writing checker like Grammarly to proofread my work instead of a human?

Method: Virtual writing checker
Cost: $144 per year for Grammarly Premium (a free version is also available)

We’re all familiar with the spell check function in Microsoft Word, but virtual proofreaders like Grammarly take things further and analyse many other features that can change a piece of writing from okay to excellent.

Cloud-based systems like Grammarly use artificial intelligence to analyse text. They flag areas that need attention and suggest what you can do to improve them. It sounds fantastic, right? I won’t lie – it is! These apps can be helpful tools for writers.

It’s important to remember though that apps perform with a lot less flexibility than the human brain, and they just can’t pick up some errors. For example, let’s say that you tell your clients that your product is available in four different colours, but later on you tell them there are three colours to choose from. A human will pick that inconsistency up, but a writing app won’t.

These apps also can’t check the layout of your project, which is one of the tasks that a professional proofreader is trained to do.

Question four

I’ve found someone on a crowdsourcing site that can do a quick proofread for a low fee. Is that a good option?

Method: Crowdsource a cheap proofreader
Cost: $18–$35 per hour (according to Upwork)

This could be a good option, but there are a couple of things to bear in mind.

Firstly, when it’s done well, proofreading is NOT a quick process! It requires time and intense focus to read each and every word, punctuation mark and space on the page. Are there people out there who can promise a super fast turnaround? Absolutely. But be aware that when a proofreader prioritises speed, they generally compromise on quality.

As for the low rate – I know that can be tempting. Can you find skilled proofreaders working for low fees on crowdsourcing platforms? Yes. Many people just starting out use these spaces to increase their ratings on the platform, which will then increase their chances of getting more clients. When they have more visibility, they raise their fees.

Not everyone that offers proofreading services on these websites is like this though.

Some may accept low rates because they see proofreading as an easy job and a perfect side hustle. Others may do it because they love the work and don’t need to worry about earning money. And others may be able to afford to work for low rates because they haven’t made investments in things like training and paid access to style guides to help them complete the job to a professional level. Because they haven’t spent the money, their earnings don’t need to cover expenses like this.

What does this mean for you as a client? The best case scenario is that you’ll get great quality work for a low rate. On the other hand, you might end up paying a small amount for mediocre work that you need to spend time and money fixing, which makes it not such a cost-effective option after all.

Final thoughts

There are definitely a few alternatives to paying a professional to proofread your writing for you. They vary in cost, and some are even free, so if you’re working with a small budget, you do have options.

My advice though would be to consider more than just the initial outlay to determine the true cost of your chosen method, bearing in mind that time is also an expense:

– how much time will you need to spend working on it?

Ask a friend
– how much time will you need to spend briefing them, checking if they’ve done a good job, and – worst case scenario – rewriting your text because they got a bit too excited and made too many changes?

Use a writing checker
– will you also need to pay someone to check the layout and any inconsistencies that the checker might have missed?

Crowdsource a cheap proofreader
– will you need to spend any time and money to get a bad job fixed?

And in all four scenarios, if the work isn’t done to a professional level and errors and inconsistencies remain, how much do you stand to LOSE? This could mean anything from losing a potential customer because the errors impact your credibility, to having to pay to reprint your work after finding too many mistakes in it.

So, do you really need to pay for professional proofreading? Now you’re armed with little more information to help you decide.

Thanks for reading – see you next time!

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