Advice for students hiring proofreaders

This morning on a popular freelancing website I spotted a listing requesting proofreading for a dissertation of approximately 100 pages, with a deadline tomorrow afternoon – allowing, at best, 30 hours in which to complete the work.

I did a few calculations and estimated that a document of that length would probably take me anything from 16 to 20 hours to proofread, depending on how good the author is with grammar and spelling. Now, you might have done a few calculations of your own and worked out that there is indeed time to complete this job – 30 hours minus 20 hours leaves 10 for sleep and meals. Not a problem, right?

And yes, it is doable, but it’s a rush job. Proofreading requires concentration. There are all sorts of things that make concentration difficult, most notably tiredness. I find that, no matter how much coffee or sleep I have had, after about hour 4 that concentration starts to slip; after hour 6 it has got to a level I can no longer rely upon. Some days it’s worse than that; on rare occasions it is better. So for a 20 hour job, I’d schedule at least 4 days, preferably 5 to give a little leeway. If the client was insistent that it was needed urgently, I could concede 3 days, but I’d also expect to be paid extra, to cover the increase in my electricity bill from all the times I’d boil my kettle in those three days.

I certainly wouldn’t accept a 20 hour job with a 30 hour deadline; while I could do it, I wouldn’t be doing my best work and I couldn’t guarantee that the manuscript I returned would be error-free.

So students, don’t do this if you can avoid it. Plan ahead. It’s possible, I’ve been there. Specifically, I’ve been the last-minute person who pulled all-nighters for about half my assignments, though I was rather better when it came to my dissertation (thankfully I believed a rumour that the university’s binding service would be overloaded around deadline day and could take three days; it was not and it took 3 minutes).

If you plan on hiring a proofreader for your thesis or dissertation, follow these simple steps:

  1. Aim to complete your dissertation at least a full week prior to the deadline. The longer the dissertation, the earlier you should finish.
  2. Engage a proofreader before you finish it, so they are lined up ready to go as soon as you finish it. Take an hour or two out a couple of days before your self-imposed deadline to get this sorted.
  3. Give your proofreader a deadline at least 48 hours before your submission deadline. This gives you time to go through and check changes and make suggested edits, it creates a buffer in case your proofreader goes over by a few hours, and it gives you time for printing and binding. Note: if printing and binding will take longer, factor the required time in as necessary. Find out well in advance how long this might take.

It’s a good idea generally to finish something as important as a dissertation well in advance anyway – to allow some leeway in case something important crops up that disrupts your studying.

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