Saturday, April 11, 2015

Copyediting and Proofreading: The Secret to Professionalism

Photograph credit: Alberto G.

I recently conducted a brief survey on reader reactions to typos and other mistakes in writing. The survey was short: just seven questions, with an optional eighth question to sort respondants by occupation. About 500 people responded to the survey via links posted to LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

The results are fascinating, and I can’t wait to conduct a second version. In my updates, I intend to clarify some questions, add a few questions, and attempt to attract a more diverse array of respondents. I welcome your suggestions.


First, some relevant data: I am a full-time freelance editor. I am also a spreadsheet and statistics nerd. I keep unreasonably detailed analytical data from everything I work on.* Primarily, my work includes book manuscripts, web articles, and résumés.

These types of publications are often riddled with typos, errors, and other problems:

  • In book manuscripts (everything from first drafts through final proofs), I make an average of one edit per five words. That’s a lot of errors.
  • In articles already published online, I’ve found averages as high as one error per twelve words on some websites.
  • In professionally written résumés, I make an average of three edits per hundred words. If your résumé is 400 words long and hasn’t been proofread, I bet there are about 12 mistakes on it.

Survey Results

When I copyedit and proofread, I’m intentionally interacting with all of a text’s typos and mistakes. In a perverse way, I want the errors to be there (and easy to spot), because it’s my job to find them and fix them. But I wanted to know how other readers perceive these problems — especially people who don’t get paid to think about them.

As it turns out, errors stop 57% of readers in their tracks:

  • 5% of readers stop reading as soon as they spot a typo.
  • 35% of readers stop after they’ve spotted several errors.
  • 17% of readers stop after they’ve spotted more than a dozen errors.

That means only 43% of the readers surveyed will put up with finding typos and errors in your content. But wait, that’s not all. Readers are even more scrutinous that you think, and they judge publishers based on the cleanliness of their publications:

  • 88% of readers evaluate a text’s quality according to the number of mistakes they see in it.

And how do readers feel quality reflects on the publisher?

  • 82% of readers base the credibility of a text on its quality of writing.
  • 98% of readers judge an organization’s or individual’s professionalism by the quality of their publications.


The numbers don’t lie: Your reputation and success depend upon how clean your text is, and the cleanliness of your text is the direct result of the quality of copyediting and proofreading that go into it.

Professional appearances are key to thought leadership. Small, overlooked messes — like a food stain on a cover letter — can be big signs of unprofessionalism to critical eyes. Clean text and clear statements assure your words are well-considered and reliable.

If you use words to get your point across, to sway people to the cause, or just make a sale, every atom of ink on the page — and every pixel of typeface on the screen — from the commas to the spelling to the inferences — must be deliberate, accurate, and subject to scrutiny and review before sending to the printer or pressing “Send” or “Publish.”

Use professional copyediting and proofreading services for every publication you distribute, however big or small, to look professional all the time.

* Okay, almost everything. I don’t count marks made on hardcopy, but that’s a declining medium anyway.

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