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Proofreading, Copy Editing, Virtual Translating: How To Tell the Difference

Proofreading, Copy Editing, Virtual Translating: How To Tell the Difference

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My mobile rang about 16:00 on a Friday afternoon.

“Can you proofread 32,000 words by Sunday at 18:00?” Proofreading: subject-verb agreement, the occasional comma, typos, nothing major.

“Yes.” Two hours later the document landed in my inbox with a note, “Actually there are 43,000 words. Hope that is okay.” What? A mere third of an increase?

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

When I lived in Santiago de Chile and worked on reports for UNESCO and the Pearson Foundation, I’d pulled together a team of writers and editors and we’d called ourselves “Equipo Ingles” – the English team.

So Erica and Peggy set aside their weekend plans and signed up for latest project. We spent 48-hours batting documents back and forth across three countries – Canada, America and Chile – and various time zones. The first track-changes looked like road kill. We soldiered on through a double-edit and the second copies came out cleaner. Then we divided them for a final read. I hit the “send” button for the final document at 17:54 Sunday evening. And it took me another 48-hours to recover.

Later I learned the massive proposal had been cobbled together by various committees of Germans at a multinational company in Berlin. No matter how well people may speak a second-language, chances are they will never be able to write particularly well. On a personal note, I’m studying Spanish and I can increasingly bumble along. I have no doubt, however, that my effective written communication will never exceed a grocery list. We use different thought processes and patterns between verbal and written language.

The moral of the story is that if you are in doubt about your English language skills hire a native-speaker editor to correct your work. It may cost a bit of money, but it will save you a lot of face.

But how do you know what level of service to ask for? Send the editor a page from the beginning, the middle and the end. Armed with a sample, she will be able to advice what level of service you need 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 native-English writers who know they need a second pair of eyes to spot details they may have missed. Massive corrections requires for second-language writers can’t be smoothed out with a comma.

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

Copy Edit – Level Two. This double-edited formula includes a first track changes by one editor, a second track changes from a second reader and a final copy. So once it has gone through two editors, you know it is error-free.

Virtual translation. Editing second-language writers material is time-consuming and requires close scrutiny. Sometimes the cultural context – as well as the words – need to be translated. At this level, the material is reviewed by two editors and then further scrutinized by a senior editor with a background in English-second-language (ESL). That means three track changes and a final copy. And it will be native-speaker quality.

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

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Proofreading, Copy Editing, Virtual Translating: How To Tell the Difference

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