Editing services: Does your copy need a little love?

Editors are language experts who help you communicate clearly and accurately.

We hate to break it to you, but spell-check is not an editor. When your words absolutely, positively have to be right, you need a language expert to review them. In other words, a professional editor.

Content mistakes and typos can be costly and embarrassing. If your content is critical, it warrants a second look by a professional editor.

An outsourced editor has one job: making sure that nothing comes between you and your readers. Their mission is to make sure your message comes across clearly. They make sure your readers aren’t distracted by typos or turned off by unclear wording.  

They do this by reviewing your document for clarity, readability, logic, and flow. They implement your editorial style correctly and consistently. They catch tiny typos hiding in your text. They make sure URLs link to the right location and that proper names are spelled correctly. They even review your material with an eye toward conscious language, flagging any terms that could be perceived as outdated or offensive.

In short, they’ll make sure your genius comes across clearly to the world.

When you need help clarifying your message—and you want to make sure it’s letter-perfect—reach out for help. That’s what professional editors and proofreaders are here for. 

Outsourcing editing services helps you create accurate, clear, and enjoyable content.

How to outsource editing services

Professional editing services can improve the quality of your work, protect you from embarrassing errors, and enhance the clarity of your message. And enlisting a professional proofreader is easier than you might think. 

Here’s how to get started. 

To get the best help from a professional editor, let them know:

  • What you need edited. Is it a technical report or a series of tweets? Marketing materials or a medical journal article? Knowing the answer to these questions will help your editing agency assign an editor who has experience editing the type of collateral you’re creating.   
  • What industry you’re in. Is the subject matter engineering or environmental sciences? Football or finance? Knowing your niche will help your editing agency choose an editor who’s worked in your industry before and knows the terms of art and type of writing to expect.  
  • What editorial style you use. Does your company follow The Chicago Manual of Style or the AP Stylebook? Does it use a specialty guide like AMA or APA? Or have you created your own house style? Whatever style you use, your editor will review it closely before starting work to ensure that their editing choices reflect your preferences. 
  • What level of edit you require. Do you want someone to take a deep dive into your content, evaluating its overall structure, logic, and suitability for your audience? Do you need a basic copy edit to ensure correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation? Or do you need the lightest of proofreads to ensure that no typos are hiding out in your already approved document? Specifying the right level of edit up front will ensure that your document receives exactly the right touch—no more and no less.  Not sure what level of edit you need? Ask your editor to review part of your manuscript and give a recommendation. 
  • How much time you have. Let your editor know when you’ll have material ready for them and when you need it back. Not sure how long an edit should take? The standard productivity rate for copy editing is 6 double-spaced pages per hour, with one page holding about 250 words. In other words, a professional editor should be able to review about 1,500 words per hour. That number will be higher if your copy is very clean and lower if it needs heavy revision. (Pro tip: Word counts are more helpful to share than page counts, since font size and line spacing can significantly change how many words fit on a page.)
  • How you would like the edits notated. Standard practice is to use Track Changes when editing a Word document, Revising mode when editing a Google document, and Sticky Notes or Comments when editing an Adobe Acrobat file. If you have a different preference, let your editor know before they dive into the file.

Finally, remember that you retain final authority over your content. Good copy editors may ask challenging questions about your copy or suggest significant revisions, but the choice of how to address those suggestions is yours. Accept those that suit you and reject those that don’t. 

Furthermore, know that a good editor will never impose their personal preferences on your work or change your meaning. Their one job is to clarify your voice, your message, and your brand. 

How to choose the right level of edit

Need an edit on your material, but not sure what kind? The level of editing you need depends on your project, audience, author, and timeline. It also depends on how far along you are in the publication process.

Good copy editing and proofreading firms are flexible, both in timelines and in type of edit. Look for a partner who can provide all of these levels of edit.

During the preliminary stages of a project: 

  • Developmental editing happens early in the planning process for a book or document. A developmental editor works with an author to ensure their content is appropriate for the audience, achieves the goals of the project, and meets industry standards. If the author is working on a series of books or articles, the developmental editor will also ensure that the content aligns with the rest of the series.
  • Substantive editing happens after a first draft has been created. A substantive editor digs deep into your content, assessing its structure, logic, flow, and presentation. This type of edit ensures that your messages are clear, your voice distinct, and your arguments persuasive.

Once copy is stable:

  • Copy editing happens once all substantive revisions to a document have been completed. A copy editor checks for correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, and usage. They ensure that your editorial style is applied consistently and correctly. They query factual errors, gaps in logic, biased language, and organizational problems. Their goal is to help you create clean, accurate, and easy-to-read content.
  • Readability edits, also known as plain-language edits, are common in clinical and medical writing, as well as in content intended for general consumers. A plain-language editor will measure the readability of your content using an algorithm such as the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level index, the Flesch Reading Ease index, or the Gunning Fog Index. They will replace complex terms, phrases, and sentence structures with simpler ones, measurably improving the readability of your document.
  • Language editing is another name for copy editing. This term is used in the world of peer-reviewed scientific and medical publications, where content is often written by authors with English as a second language. A language editor helps authors ensure that their submissions are written in standard English, their ideas are presented clearly, and journal-specific guidelines are followed to the letter.  

Just before publication:

  • Production editing brings the work of multiple writers and editors together, giving it a final review before production. On large projects covering dozens (or hundreds!) of pages, a production editor checks various reviewers’ work for consistency, integrates revisions, and answers queries.
  • Proofreading is a final check before a manuscript is published.  A proofreader reviews your material with a fine-tooth comb, looking at both text and design elements. Their goal is to spot errors that may have snuck past earlier reviewers or were accidentally introduced during design. Proofreaders help you feel confident that you’re sending a letter-perfect document to press.   


Content firms can also support specialized editing needs, like proposal or technical editing. 

  • Proposal editing involves scrutinizing a grant, bid, or proposal for any errors that could jeopardize the proposal’s chances of winning. Proposal editors review a document to ensure it’s clean, consistent, and correct; transform the work of multiple authors into one voice; clarify win themes and discriminators; and ensure that the language used in the proposal aligns with that used in the RFP. 
  • Pharmaceutical copy editing dives into the particulars of drug- and treatment-related writing. Whether final copy will appear on TV  or banners, or in brochures, ads, or other patient-centered materials, it has to be correct, and it must be compliant with government regulations. A pharmaceutical copy editor can help you publish accurate and compelling contentand avoid hefty penalties that can result from errors. 

No matter what level of editing you choose, a good editor will focus on amplifying your voice and your message, stripping away any mistakes that could detract from your genius. 

How to pick the right style

You may have heard about “editorial style” before, but thought it had something to do with narrative voice—as in the way that James Baldwin writes, compared to Ernest Hemingway.

In reality, an editorial style guide is a comprehensive set of language rules. These rules help your writers and editors make consistent choices on hyphenation, capitalization, punctuation, naming conventions, citations, and more. Using such a guide ensures that you’re consistent, that your publications have a professional appearance and represent your brand in the same way, time after time.

There are many choices when it comes to style. Download our free Guide to Style Guides if you’d like to learn more. 

Here are a few top choices when it comes to editorial style. Choose one of these, and you can’t go wrong.

All-purpose guides 

  • The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition: The standard resource for book publishing and other industries; contains comprehensive guidelines on grammar, punctuation, syntax, usage, and reference formatting  

  • AP Stylebook: The go-to resource for journalism and news writing, with a massive A–Z words list and other entries outlining rules of grammar, punctuation, and usage 

Guides to medical and scientific style

  • AMA Manual of Style, 11th edition: The essential style guide for medical and scientific publishing 

  • Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 7th edition: The style manual for writers in the social and behavioral sciences; dabblers in APA style can use the Concise Guide to APA Style, Seventh Edition 

  • Scientific Style and Format: The CSE Manual for Authors, Editors, and Publishers, 8th edition: A reference for editors in all areas of science and related fields 

  • The ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication: Writing guidelines for chemists and biochemists; covers a wide range of materials, including scholarly journal articles, patents, and public-facing communications

Guide to legal citation

  • The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, 21st edition: The definitive guide explaining all types of legal citation, from cases and internet sources to statutes and legislative decisions

Guides for academic publishing

  • MLA Handbook, 9th edition: A style manual used in the liberal arts and humanities, especially for research focused on language, literature, and culture 

  • A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations: Chicago Style for Students and Researchers, 9th edition (aka “Turabian”): A comprehensive guide to Chicago’s two methods of source citation: notes-bibliography and author-date

Not sure which style is right for you? Ask your copy editing agency to review your content and make a recommendation. They’ll consider the type of material you publish, your industry, and your audience when making a choice.

Need help applying your style?

Need someone to check your document for AP style? Chicago? APA? AMA? 

A professional copy editing and proofreading service can help make sure you always stay in style—no matter how many documents you need to publish.

How long does editing take?

You know you need to allocate time for editing your publication, but you’re not sure what timeframe is realistic. How much time should a copy edit take?

Here are industry-standard metrics for you to follow.

The standard productivity rate for copy editing is 6 pages per hour, based on a 250-word page.

Let’s say you have a 5,000-word document, and you want to know approximately how long the edit should take.

First, divide the number of words in your document by 250 to calculate the number of pages.

  • 5,000 words / 250 words per page = 20 pages


Then, divide the number of pages by 6 to calculate the number of hours required.

  • 20 pages / 6 pages per hour = ~3.25 hours


If the document is very clean, the work may go more quickly. If few corrections are required, your copy editor may be done in two hours! On the other hand, if the document requires heavy work—say it was written by a writer for whom English is a second language, contains lots of acronyms, or has inconsistent citations that must be converted into a uniform style—the edit could take four or five hours.

Here’s another example. 

Let’s say you have multiple documents—a five-volume proposal, with each volume containing 20,000 words. That’s 100,000 words in total.

First, divide the number of words in your document by 250 to calculate the number of standard pages.

  • 100,000 words / 250 words per page = 400 pages


Then, divide the number of pages by 6 to calculate the number of hours required.

  • 400 pages / 6 pages per hour = 66 hours

If you’re managing a proposal, you likely have only two days set aside for editing. You’ll need to bring in a team of editors to process 66 hours of work in two days. That means you’ll need a lead editor or project coordinator to handle file management, answer questions, maintain a style sheet, assign work, review work for consistency, and serve as your single point of contact. 

Add 20% to your time estimate to cover project management.

  • 66 hours x 20% = 13 hours
  • 66 hours + 13 hours = 79 total estimated hours for copy editing


Still not sure how much time to estimate for your project? Provide your editing agency with a rough draft of your copy. They’ll provide you with the estimated number of labor hours required, as well as the timeframe in which they can turn the project around.  

Struggling with revision decisions? When to hire an editing firm

What content needs to be reviewed by a professional editor? In our opinion, almost all of it! 

Any content that represents you and your organization should be reviewed before it reaches any external audience, employee group, or member. Given how much content is created these days, that’s a lot of editing. Many communications and marketing departments can’t handle it alone.

Consider hiring an editing services firm if you experience any of these content-related issues:

  • The list of content projects that need to be reviewed is superlong—basically, there’s more editing than your in-house staff can handle. 
  • Your workload is normally manageable, but there are frequent spikes in work that are burning out your staff.
  • You’re publishing large, really important documents that are bigger than your internal team can handle, even if they were to work around the clock.
  • Your documents pass through multiple stakeholders’ hands—and these stakeholders often introduce errors, inconsistencies, and changes in voice or tone.
  • You’re publishing sophisticated content that demands specialized editorial expertise (e.g.,  medical, scientific, or technical content).
  • You’re missing deadlines or creating backlogs of work because your in-house staff just can’t keep up.  
  • Mistakes are slipping into copy.

Having an outsourced team of editors can ease most of these content-related headaches. An outside editing crew can function as an extension of your team, taking large or time-sensitive projects off your hands, reducing your stress, and allowing you to produce more high-quality publications in less time.

Outsourcing editing: The advantages of choosing an editing firm

There are lots of editors for hire. Before you hand over your copy, make sure their experience and availability match your content needs. Also, consider whether it’s more efficient to work with a slate of individual freelancers or with a single editing agency.

Compared to freelance editors, professional editing firms like Dragonfly offer several advantages: 

  • Editing firms can assign multiple editors to your job, helping you complete massive projects on time. When you have five days to edit a 2,000-page environmental impact statement—or two days to review a 500-page proposal—you need more than one editor. You need a team. Accessing that team through a single point of contact is the icing on the cake. 
  • Editing firms will assess your project and match you with an editor who understands your industry, audience, and medium. You get access to multiple types of talent through one source.
  • Editing firms offer unmatched availability. If you’ve ever worked with a crew of freelancers and gone down your list one by one, only to find that each person is already busy, you know why this matters. When you work with an editing firm, you can make one phone call and get access to multiple people. You can rest easy knowing that a trained resource will always be available to you.
  • A reputable editing firm will have standard processes they follow on every job, ensuring your work is done consistently, time after time. They’ll also invest in training for their staff, ensuring that their skills remain sharp, that they’re using the latest technology, and that they’re following the latest updates to editorial style.
  • Editing agencies have internal controls. A great editing firm will rigorously test anyone who works for them to assess their copy editing chops. They’ll provide a deep orientation into their standard processes and their clients’ editorial styles. They’ll closely review new editors’ work, helping them get up to speed quickly. And they’ll supervise your editors’ work on an ongoing basis, taking the burden of managing multiple editors off your shoulders.

“Awesome job. This was the edit we needed to pull the piece together. I appreciate your great work and quick turn.”

— Booz Allen Hamilton

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