Sample Copyedits: Yes or No?

A recurring debate among copyeditors is whether to do sample edits for prospective clients. Some editors never do them; others (like me) almost always do. Some charge a fee for the sample; others (like me) do them for free.

The sample serves several purposes:

  • It shows the client my approach and how I can improve the document.
  • It helps me assess what level of editing (light, medium, or heavy) the document needs.
  • It helps me estimate how much time the whole project will take, and thus how much it will cost and what the schedule will be.
  • It helps me determine the scope of work, which is very important both for estimating and for ensuring the project stays on schedule and on budget.
  • It helps me decide whether I’m the right editor for the project or whether I should refer to the client to another editor (for example, this sometimes happens with highly technical documents that need an editor with subject-matter expertise).

For a sample, I take a chunk of text, about 1000–1500 words, from the document. I copyedit it and add queries and comments just as I would for a real edit. The edited sample becomes part of the project proposal, along with the estimated fee, schedule, and scope of work.