How long will it take to edit this?
The question of how long an edit will take comes up a lot. At first, estimating seems like a shot in the dark. The best bet is to do a few random pages and multiply your findings to take in the whole manuscript. Also, take 60 seconds to edit a sample and identify the most pressing changes that are needed. However…
Pages/words per hour guidelines follow.
More than a decade [two, now!] of detailed invoicing has shown me that guidelines I once found in The Editorial Eye (shown below) are pretty accurate. They even accounted for the ranges they gave, though I have revised it to reflect the efficiency of computer tools for editors and the emergence of editing in content management systems (CMS) such as website and database back-ends. The source publication is now out of print.
(Note that these rates can only be applied to a single selection of continuous prose. They do not apply to graphic texts, nor can they be applied to the sum of all text on a series of slides, for example. We are collecting data about editing slide sets to establish some kind of pace benchmark. Please answer the 6 question survey.)
2000–2500 words / hr
Faster if: few errors, simple format, nontechnical or familiar content, clean copy, no style queries required
Slower if: many errors, complex format, copy marked up, style checks required, contains equations, symbols, or foreign characters (symbols, not foreigners 😉 )
1000–1500 words / hr
Faster if: few errors, nontechnical or familiar content, working onscreen, no references or cross-references, no tables or figures
Slower if: many errors, content technical or unfamiliar, working on hard copy or in a CMS, or if the reference style inconsistent, incomplete or doesn’t match the text
500—1000 words / hr
Faster if: well written and organized, nontechnical or familiar content, single author, no references or cross-references, no tables or figures, working onscreen
Slower if: poorly written or written by non-native English speaker, content technical or unfamiliar, multiple authors (but need one voice), hard copy or edit in a CMS
More recently, I found a handy productivity chart put out by the Editorial Freelancers Association. It looks to be in the same ball-park, though it doesn’t explain the variability.
Advice on Estimating for a New Project
See the printable schedule and glossary.
My advice on estimating for a new project is to use the high end of the scale, then add 10%. Or, if the client is inexperienced and the topic is unfamiliar, use the high end of the scale and double it.
Once, my final bill came in well under such an estimate. Once. One substantive editing project in my recent past actually ended up with the rate of one page per hour. It was excruciating: dense, complex, and unfamiliar. In the future, I will recommend a colleague who is better suited to the subject and style of that particular client.
Instant Time Estimator
This question comes up So Very Often that here is a handy chunk of links that you or I can paste in a reply:
We Canadian editors tend to stick to the definitions and standards set out by our pro org (EAC) which are by no means widely accepted as *the definitions* but are a good starting point.
Definitions — http://www.editors.ca/hire/definitions.html
Standards [task list for each stage] — http://www.editors.ca/resources/eac_publications/pes/index.html
Pace typical of various stages/types of editing — https://scieditor.ca/2011/07/productivity-rates-in-editing/
Instant estimate of time & cost — https://scieditor.ca/instant-estimate-2/
A very interesting post about reading speeds and why detailed reading is slower, by Melanie Thompson.
*This post appeared in the original blog on Valentine’s day, 2011. As it is by far the most popular post from that old blog, I gave it new life here. Updated photo July 31, 2012. Added instant calculator Nov. 2013.