How To Be An Effective Freelance Editor

From developing content concepts to providing feedback to catching typos, editors contribute heavily to improving the quality of a piece of written content.

It’s not an easy job, and many writers and businesses are in need of quality editors that can help revise and improve their content. So if you have a knack for catching typos and offering useful editorial feedback, you can create a great business around your editing skills. Here are a few tips to help you along the way.


Figure Out What Type of Editor You Want to Be

Each type of editing comes with a different degree of responsibility and level of detail. Before you start taking on editing gigs, define what type of editor you want to be. Then, before you take a job, list out the tasks that you will be doing for the client.

1. Developmental Editor – Concept Level Editing

Entire concepts and story angles may be redefined during developmental editing. This type of editing involves working with a writer as they are coming up with the overall theme of their article or story. Developmental editors offer suggestions on things like:

  • goals of the story/article
  • notes on character development
  • use of dialogue/literary devices
  • notes on voice, tone, and language

2. Substantive Editor – Paragraph Level Editing

Entire paragraphs may be changed during substantive editing. This type of editing is done by editors as they:

  • add information to support the theme
  • remove information that does not support the theme
  • reorganize paragraphs to improve flow of ideas
  • revise sentence structure and organization to improve the reader’s experience

3. Copy Editor – Sentence Level Editing

Sentences may be revised during copy editing. Editors are not looking to make large changes to the entire body of the content. Instead, they are looking to improve single sentences by:

  • eliminating redundant, unnecessary words
  • replacing repetitive words with synonyms
  • substituting weak words words, phrases, and sentences with powerful alternatives
  • revising sentence structure to improve flow

4. Fact/Accuracy Checker – Information Level Editing

The substance of the copy may be changed during fact/accuracy checking. In this phase, editors ensure that the content is true, accurate, and in compliance with the assignment style guide/brief. Editors should check for accuracy on:

  • adherence to directions listed in the style guide/assignment brief
  • proper names and spelling of proper nouns
  • stats and facts
  • absolute statements (especially information that includes words like always and never)
  • links (editors should always open links and make sure they lead to the correct page)

5. Proofreader – Word Level Editing

Words or phrases may be revised during proofreading. In this final version of editing, editors are looking to correct:

  • sentence structure to improve clarity (when sentence structure is so poor it creates confusion)
  • typos
  • grammar errors
  • spelling inaccuracies
  • punctuation errors (especially comma errors)
  • capitalization errors
  • verb tense issues (subject and verb disagreements)
  • incorrect pronoun/article use
  • improper spacing (spacing should usually be one space after each period)
  • formatting inconsistencies

Keep in mind that you don’t have to be one or the other when it comes to different types of editors.

For example, CopyPress has a team of editors whose roles are a mix of copy editor, fact/accuracy checker, and proofreader. These editors act as a second set of eyes. They verify that all requirements are met, all facts are accurate, and all errors are corrected. This is one of the more common collection of editing duties.

But you can pick out tasks from each editor role and create your own type of editing service — just as long as those responsibilities are clearly defined and explained to your client so they know what to expect from your work.

Be an Awesome Second Set Of Eyes

Being a good editor comes down to having a strategy for each assignment that allows you to be an amazing second set of eyes. This twelve-step processes is a good plan to providing the editing your clients will need.

  1. Schedule the work on your calendar a day early. Plan ahead by scheduling the due date a day early. This will help you consistently stay on (or ahead) of schedule.
  2. Thoroughly review the article brief. Before you can begin editing, you should have a deep understanding of the article brief so you know what to look for while you edit. Print off a copy and keep it near you as you edit.
  3. Communicate with whoever assigned you. If you have any questions about the article brief, contact your project manager (whether it is a managing editor, writer, or client) immediately. You want to make sure to have all of your questions answered before you receive the copy for editing.
  4. Read the article. Take a quick read through the article to get a broad look at the work.
  5. Fact/accuracy check. Make sure that the copy matches the requirements of the article brief, and check all facts and links.
  6. Copy edit. Make sentence level changes to improve clarity and flow and correct all errors.
  7. Proofread once. Once your major edits are done, read through the article and correct any small error.
  8. Walk away. It’s important to take a break while editing copy. If you are working on more than one piece of copy, go through each piece up until this point then walk away. Take a break (for no less than 15 minutes), then come back to finish.
  9. Proofread a second time. Read every word and check for errors you may have missed in the first round of editing.
  10. Run spell check. Don’t rely on your eyes. Use the spellchecker to make sure the final copy is checked one more time before submission.
  11. Provide feedback. Let the writer know how they did so they can improve next time. By giving consistent constructive feedback, you are helping the writer improve.
  12. Submit a day ahead. Since you scheduled your due date one day ahead, you can now take a break, relax, and prep for your next editing assignment!

Give Constructive Feedback That Writers Want

There is not a writer that can’t benefit from feedback. So find out if your client is willing to accept feedback, then offer them advice and critiques that will help improve their writing — not make them feel bad about their mistakes or shortcomings.

Always be helpful and motivating. Positive, constructive feedback can go a long way. The main goal of feedback isn’t to criticize a writer; it is to help the writer improve.

Never be condescending or belittling. Keep in mind that this is online communication. What may sound polite in your head, may sound harsh in the mind of another.

Give positive feedback first. Always start off with something positive to get the writer in the right place to hear your other comments. Can’t think of anything to say? Keep it simple if nothing sticks out.

  • “I enjoyed your article.”
  • “I like how you approached this topic.”
  • “This is an improvement from your last article.”
  • “The [title, subheading, image, opening paragraph, closing paragraph, etc.] is great in this article.”
  • “I loved this [sentence, phrase, section, etc.].”

Explain what you fixed and advise on how to improve future work. If you did work to improve the article, let the writer know. (If you don’t tell them, how will they know?) Also let them know how they can improve next time.

Alternate between highs and lows. If you are offering lengthy feedback, alternate batches of positive and negative feedback to keep the mood from sinking too low or too high.

  • “I removed [element] because [reason].”
  • “Be mindful of [problem]. I corrected one or more of these errors in your article.”
  • “There were multiple errors in [element] which I corrected. In the future, check for these errors before you submit your article.”
  • “The [element] was a little weak in this article. Next time try to improve by [advice].”
  • “I noticed that you struggled with [element]. This resource [insert resource] can offer some advice on how to improve.”

Save time and use our Suggestions for Editorial Feedback to find comments on common editorial mistakes. You can copy and paste our feedback and provide it to your writers.

End with a thank-you and word of encouragement.

  • “Thanks for your hard work on this article.”
  • “I look forward to working with you again.”
  • “Keep up the good work.”

Catch Those Tiny Errors During Proofreading

Proofreading is not an easy task. It’s difficult to catch tiny errors like missing words and letters, so you constantly need to tweak the way you are working to keep your mind sharp and your eyes alert.

  • Read the copy aloud.
  • Use your finger to follow along as you read.
  • Print out the copy and read it on paper.
  • Change the size of the font (but remember to change it back before submitting).
  • Read the text backwards. (This will help you catch misspelled words and small errors. Don’t do this on the first read. Use this tactic on your second proofread.)
  • Write down the errors you commonly see. Keep it near you and review it daily to help remind yourself what types of errors are commonly occurring.
  • Keep an eye out for homonyms that spell check does not catch.

Just about every writer and publisher is looking for an editor that can catch mistakes, offer great feedback, and elevate a piece of written content. So take these tips and start being an editor that writers and publishers can’t live without.

Want to connect with other editors? Connect with our team of Certified CopyPress Editors.

This article includes information from the CopyPress Copy Editing Guide. Guides are available for registered Community Users. Sign up to get access to this guide and others from the CopyPress Resource Library.