Freelance Editor: The Challenge of Outsourcing Editing Overseas

If you are looking for a freelance editor, you might hear about companies that outsource their editing overseas to cut costs. The idea is that an English speaking freelance editor in India or the Philippines can do the same work that an Australian freelance editor can do.

Let’s look at the pros and cons of outsourcing editing overseas to countries such as India and the Philippines.

Pros of outsourcing editing to an offshore freelance editor

You can probably save money by getting your editing done overseas. Editors in countries such as India and the Philippines will charge substantially less. So even if you go through an outsourcing broker based in Australia the cost will be lower.

Cons of outsourcing editing to an offshore freelance editor

An overseas freelance editor might have good command of English spelling, grammar and punctuation. The problem is how much English can vary from country to country. The only way to know these subtleties is to live in the country where the book or document will be published. It’s not as simple as setting your language preferences in Word to Australian English. It really takes an Australian-based freelance editor (or one who has lived in Australia for many years) to know how English is spoken and written locally.

A freelance editor based in India or the Philippines, who has never lived in Australia, won’t know these subtleties and it will show in their editing. The same will be true of a US freelance editor who tries to edit text for Australian readers or Australian freelance editor who tries to edit text for British readers. Besides the obvious spelling differences, an overseas freelance editor won’t know the nuances of English outside their own country. This is why Australian publishers hire Australian freelance editors to localise books that were written in the US or UK. They realise that a local freelance editor is needed to revise the publication for the Australian market.

In addition to spelling and grammar, each English-speaking country has its own style conventions. To edit Australian publications, you need to know these in depth.

For example, the commonly accepted styles for punctuating and capitalising points in bulleted lists differ between countries (see how it should be done in Australia). If an overseas editor doesn’t know these styles, the work won’t be satisfactory. Another example of one of these idiosyncrasies is how time is expressed. In Australia, the accepted style to use a full stop (a period for American readers) between the hour and minute (for example, 5.30). In the United States, the accepted style is to use a colon between the hour and minute (5:30).

There are hundreds of these minor stylistic points that you need to know to correctly edit publications for the Australian market.

Communication barriers are another drawback to outsourcing editing to an overseas  freelance editor. In many cases, editing is a collaborative effort between the writer and editor. Trying to communicate with someone overseas about a project can be challenging due to cultural differences.

A low hourly rate for editing overseas won’t necessarily translate into a low project price. In the 4-Hour Work Week, Timothy Ferris describes how he had some bad experiences outsourcing to overseas providers. He noted that although the hourly rate was low, it sometimes took substantially more time to get the work done. Whether the hours it took were overstated or it did take longer than expected to complete the work, this is a risk you take when outsourcing to an offshore freelance editor.

Weighing the pros and cons of outsourcing to overseas editors

Before you make a decision, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of outsourcing editing overseas. If price is your only consideration, then it might be the right decision to hire an overseas freelance editor.

If you’re looking for high quality and someone who understands local usage, culture and style conventions, then outsourcing to an overseas editor is not the way to go.

Editor Quotations: What Writers Think about Their Editor

For many people, the work an editor does is a mystery. What do editors do and what do writers think of them?

Here are a few quotations about editors that might answer these questions. You probably will recognise some of the well-known writers who have offered their opinions on editors—some positive, some not.


A good editor understands what you’re talking and writing about and doesn’t meddle too much.

Irwin Shaw


A good many young writers make the mistake of enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, big enough for the manuscript to come back in. This is too much of a temptation to the editor.

Ring Lardner


A good novel editor is invisible.

Terri Windling


A literary journal is intended to connect writer with reader; the role of the editor is to mediate.

John Barton


A very good editor is almost a collaborator.

Ken Follett


Always point your finger at the chest of the person with whom you are being.  An editor becomes kind of your mother. You expect love and encouragement from an editor.

Jackie Kennedy


An editor is someone who separates the wheat from the chaff and then prints the chaff.

Adlai E. Stevenson


And that’s another piece of advice I’ll give junior writers; when you get to the point where they take you to lunch, let the editor suggest where to go.

Jerry Pournelle


Anyone nit-picking enough to write a letter of correction to an editor doubtless deserves the error that provoked it.

Alvin Toffler


Book writing is a little different because, in my case, my editor is a year younger than me and basically has the same sensibility as me.

Chuck Klosterman


But for me, being an editor I’ve been an editor of all kinds of books being an editor of poetry has been the way in which I could give a crucial part of my time to what I love most.

Peter Davison


Dealing with poetry is a daunting task, simply because the reason one does it as an editor at all is because one is constantly coming to terms with one’s own understanding of how to understand the world.

Peter Davison


Dullness is the only crime for which an editor ought to be hung.

Josephus Daniels


Editor: a person employed by a newspaper, whose business it is to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to see that the chaff is printed.

Elbert Hubbard


I feel sorry for people who have to edit me. Which is why book writing is by far the most enjoyable. Really the only thing it’s based on is whether it’s good or not. No book editor, in my experience, is getting a manuscript and trying to rewrite it.

Chuck Klosterman


I remember when an editor at the National Geographic promised to run about a dozen of my landscape pictures from a story on the John Muir trail as an essay, but when the group of editors got together, someone said that my pictures looked like postcards.

Galen Rowell


I was surprised that my wife thought it was a good idea, then again with my agent, another woman, then my editor, another woman – in spite of the fact that all three of them reacted positively I still have this fear.

Michael Chabon


I’m a writer first and an editor second… or maybe third or even fourth. Successful editing requires a very specific set of skills, and I don’t claim to have all of them at my command.

Lynn Abbey


If every editor turns you down, maybe you should take a second look at your text, however, just in case.

Piers Anthony


It is also one of the pleasures of oral biography, in that the reader, rather than editor, is jury.

George Plimpton


My only claim to fame, if I have one, is that I’m an editor.

Woody Herman


Not too many people know who the editor is.

Julius Schwartz


Publishing your work is important. Even if you are giving a piece to some smaller publication for free, you will learn something about your writing. The editor will say something, friends will mention it. You will learn.

Tim Cahill


Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.

T.S. Eliot quotes (American born English Editor, Playwright, Poet and Critic, 1888-1965)


SYCOPHANT, n. One who approaches Greatness on his belly so that he may not be commanded to turn and be kicked. He is sometimes an editor.

Ambrose Bierce


An editor should tell the author his writing is better than it is. Not a lot better, a little better.

T.S. Eliot (American born English Editor, Playwright, Poet and Critic, 1888-1965)


How often we recall, with regret, that Napoleon once shot at a magazine editor and missed him and killed a publisher. But we remember with charity that his intentions were good.

Mark Twain  (American Humorist, Writer and Lecturer. 1835-1910)


I know many journalists who would like to comment on the deep structure of their profession and its suck-up to advertisers, not to mention the dominant social order. But their editors won’t let them.

Richard Goldstein


Writers take words seriously-perhaps the last professional class that does-and they struggle to steer their own through the crosswinds of meddling editors and careless typesetters and obtuse and malevolent reviewers into the lap of the ideal reader.

John Updike (American writer, b.1932)


Editors are constantly on the watch to discover new talents in old names.

Israel Zangwill (English Writer, 1864-1926)

Editing Business Writing to Make It More Readable

Editing business writing will make a big difference in how you influence your readers. Studies show that long sentences make text difficult to comprehend. In general, it’s best to keep sentences below 35 words and aim for an average sentence length of around 20 words.

Let’s look at a few examples of unruly sentences and see how we can improve them when editing business writing.

The following sentence is 28 words long.

Selling is both an art and a science, and thinking that sales success will happen overnight is a common cause of cash flow problems for the small business.

It’s not too long, and it can easily be divided into two sentences to improve readability.

Selling is both an art and a science. Thinking that sales success will happen overnight is a common cause of cash flow problems for the small business.

The next sentence is 46 words long.

Small business competes with big business, and whilst small businesses may not be able to offer regular promotions or share options, they may be able to offer other attractive benefits such as a friendlier work environment, more flexibility, greater responsibility, a parking space or family-oriented policies.

By cutting this sentence into three sentences when editing business writing, we reduce the average length to 15 words and increase readability.

Small business competes with big business. Whilst small businesses may not be able to offer regular promotions or share options, they may be able to offer other attractive benefits. These might include a friendlier work environment, more flexibility, greater responsibility, a parking space or family-oriented policies.

On the Flesch Reading Ease Scale (explained in an earlier post, How to Improve the Readability of Your Business Writing) the 46-word sentence above has a readability of 0 out of 100, while the edited version has a readability of 24 out of 100 (with 100 being the most readable).

Generally, when you see many conjunctions (such as and, but, yet, or, so) it’s a good clue that sentences might be too long. In many cases you can end a sentence and begin a new one where you find one of these conjunctions.

One common error we see when editing business writing is the use of the conjunctive adverb however to splice two sentences together.

For example:

I have completed the proposal, however I have not submitted it.  (incorrect)

I have completed the proposal. However, I have not submitted it.  (correct)

I have completed the proposal; however, I have not submitted it.  (correct)

Avoiding long sentences is also important when writing promotional copy.

Try reading the following 53-word sentence.

Drawing back on our years of experience in consulting to businesses in array of issues, from ISO 9001 to business design and strategy, we developed a unique methodology that offers you a real quality solution for your ISO needs, without the expensive price tag that is usually attached to quality ISO 9001 systems.

When editing business writing, we can divide it into two sentences with an average length of 21.5 words per sentence.

We have drawn on extensive consulting experience ─ from ISO 9001 to business design and strategy ─ to develop a unique methodology that offers a quality solution to your ISO needs. We provide this without the typical high cost of quality ISO 9001 systems.

We also reduced the text by 10 words (from 53 to 43) without losing any meaning.

When using Microsoft Word, you can quickly determine the average sentence length of your business writing.

Take the following steps to show the readability statistics, which include average sentence length, at the end of the Spelling and Grammar check.

In Word 2007:

  1. Click the Microsoft Office Button , and then click Word Options.
  2. Click Proofing.
  3. Make sure Check grammar with spelling is selected.
  4. Under When correcting grammar in Word, select the Show readability statistics check box.

In Word 2003:

  1. On the Tools menu, click Options, and then click the Spelling & Grammar tab.
  2. Select the Check grammar with spelling check box.
  3. Select the Show readability statistics check box, and then click OK.
  4. On the Standard toolbar, click Spelling and Grammar .

Check the help section to determine readability statistics with your software when editing business writing.

If you’re interested in improving business writing skills in your organisation, visit Business Writing Brilliance.  This is a tailored business writing course delivered in-house to organisations across Australia.

Editing Tips to Improve Your Business Writing

Editing Tips to Improve Your Business Writing

Editing is an essential step in developing effective business documents. Besides correcting grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors, editing can make your writing easier to understand and more persuasive. Here are a few simple editing tips that can help you make your business writing more clear and effective.

1. Replace complicated and long words and phrases with simple ones. Simple words often convey the same meaning as complicated ones, but require less space and are easier to read. For example, you can change ‘facilitate’ to ‘help’; ‘operate’ to ‘use’; and ‘substantiate’ to ‘prove’. Replacing wordy phrases with single words will make your writing more readable and efficient. For instance, replace ‘on a regular basis’ with ‘regularly’ and ‘at this point in time’ with ‘now’.

2. Edit your business writing to replace passive voice with active voice. For example, change ‘Innovative products and services are offered by our company’ to ‘Our company offers innovative products and services’. Using active voice requires fewer words and is more direct.

3. Break up long sentences into shorter ones. Research has shown that comprehension goes down when sentences are too long, so aim for an average sentence length of 20 words or fewer. Sentences over 35 words in length should be broken into two sentences, if possible, when editing.

4. Create a conversational tone by using the personal pronouns ‘you’ and ‘we’. This is important when you want to connect with your customers and be perceived as approachable. For example, change ‘Advice can be obtained from our customer service department’ to ‘You can get advice from our customer service department’.

When editing business writing that is meant to persuade your readers, change ‘our clients’ to ‘you’. For example, ‘We offer you a comprehensive range of programs and services’ sounds conversational, while ‘We offer our clients a comprehensive range of programs and services’ does not.

Another way to make your writing more conversational and friendly is by writing ‘we’ instead of repeating your company name throughout the document.

5. Remove clichés. These overused phrases have lost their meanings and waste space. Examples of common clichés include phrases such as ‘at the end of the day’, ‘for all intents and purposes’ and ‘as safe as houses’.

6. Avoid using business and technical jargon. Like clichés, many of these terms are overused and have vague meanings. Corporate jargon includes words such as actionable, best practice, buy-in, drive (as in ‘drive sales’), incentivise, operationalise, repurpose and value proposition. When editing, think about your readers and replace words they won’t understand with common terms.

7. Read the first draft out loud to judge how it sounds. Is it complicated, wordy or pompous? Rewrite it to make it more human and less robotic.

Editing is an important step in business writing. By applying the editing tips outlined here, you can improve your business writing and communicate more effectively.

Editing and Proofreading: Bulleted Lists


What’s the Recommended Format for Dot Point Series (also called bullet lists and bulleted lists)?


Writers often have questions about the correct way to structure bulleted lists (also called dot point series and bullet lists). This is an important editing and proofreading issue that comes up in many forms of business writing.


The following styles for bullet lists are recommended in the Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers. These styles are used and accepted by government departments and businesses throughout Australia. The Chicago Manual of Style, which is used in the United States, has different recommendations for structuring bulleted lists. If you’re writing for audiences or organisations outside Australia, you will want to research other conventions for bullet lists.


The first example shows how you structure a list where the points are complete sentences.


Example 1 – Bulleted Lists with Complete Sentences


The committee came to two important conclusions:

  • Officers from the department should investigate the feasibility of developing legislated guidelines for future investigations.
  • Research should be funded in the three priority areas.


You can see that both sentences are capitalised and have full stops (periods) at the ends.


When you have sentence fragments, as in the next example, you only punctuate the final point with a full stop. Since the points aren’t full sentences, they aren’t capitalised. Also, it’s no longer the common style in Australia to use semi-colons or commas at the end of each point.


Example 2 – Bulleted Lists with Sentence Fragments


The Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers gives the following example of how to punctuate bulleted lists when the bulleted points are sentence fragments.


Assistance is available in several forms:

  • monetary assistance
  • equipment or environmental modifications
  • advisory services.


When you have sentence fragments, make sure they are consistent. The following example from a training manual we edited shows inconsistent bullet points.


Example 3 – Bulleted Lists with Inconsistent Structure



Carry out the following tasks by completing the appropriate reporting form to:

  • describe what happened
  • describe your concern
  • reporting any action taken
  • suggestions for future action.


The first two points are correct because they flow from the lead-in phrase. The third and fourth points don’t match the structure. After editing, all points fit with the lead-in.


Carry out the following tasks by completing the appropriate reporting form to:

  • describe what happened
  • describe your concern
  • report any action taken
  • suggest future action.


When a sentence follows a sentence fragment in a list to explain a point, you don’t put a full stop at the end of that sentence.


Example 4 – Bulleted Lists with Explanatory Sentences


Assistance is available in several forms:

  • monetary assistance. Income support and specialist disability allowances fall into this category
  • equipment or environmental modifications
  • advisory services.


AlthoughIncome support and specialist disability allowances fall into this category’ is a complete sentence, you don’t use a full stop until the end of the list.


The Style manual for authors, editors and printers gives more information on structuring dot point series (also called bullet lists and bulleted lists). If you do a lot of editing and proofreading (and live in Australia), it’s a good idea to get this book.

US readers should refer to The Chicago Manual of Style for recommended styles for bulleted lists.


We welcome your comments and suggestions. We’re happy to answer your questions on copywriting, business writing, speech writing, editing and proofreading.