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Freelance Proofreading Tips: The Client’s Brief

As a freelance proofreader and editor, your work may range from making major changes to a document to fixing typos and other minor errors. And this variability is why you need to agree a clear brief with each client. But what is a brief? And what might it cover?

Understanding the Client’s Brief

In simple terms, the client’s brief is where they set out what they need doing. It will therefore guide how you proofread or edit any document, and following a brief is a key skill for any editor. Client briefs can vary in complexity and detail, but usually they include:

  1. What the client wants you to do with the document (e.g., the level of editing required and any specific requests about how you approach the job).
  2. Background information regarding the document (e.g., intended purpose and audience).
  3. Details about remuneration (e.g., how much and when you will be paid).
  4. Any logistical or administrative details (e.g., deadlines, document formats).

Not every job will demand a detailed brief, but bigger or more complex jobs usually will. And if a client doesn’t provide enough information to start work, make sure to ask them! You may also want to negotiate details of the brief after seeing a sample of the client’s work.

To help you with this, we’ll now look at what a proofreading brief should include.

1. Agreeing the Scope of the Work

The most important part of any brief is agreeing exactly what you will do for the client. Factors you may want to consider in this respect include:

  • The level of editing required and the type of changes the client wants you to make.
  • How much work the document seems to require based on a sample.
  • Whether the client has used a style guide or style sheet.
  • Information about presentation of images and other non-textual elements.
  • Whether the document may require formatting as well as editing.

The distinctions between different types of editing can be confusing, so make sure clients understand the services you offer. And even if they do ask for “proofreading” or “copy editing” specifically, always check that you and the client agree on what this involves.

If you keep all this in mind, you should be able to work out exactly what the clients needs.

2. About the Document

As well as the changes the client wants you to make, it helps to know a bit about the document you are editing. While agreeing the brief, then, you may want to ask about:

  • The subject matter and general format (e.g., essay, business report, novel).
  • Whether the client has a particular objective or audience in mind.
  • The kind of language the client wants to use (e.g., formal or informal English).
  • Whether you’ll need subject-specific vocabulary or knowledge to follow it.
  • Whether it contains references that need checking.

Some of this information might be obvious (e.g., you can guess a college essay will use formal, academic language). But all the above affect how you edit a document, so give them some thought and ask the client for more information when necessary.

3. Remuneration

Money makes the world go round, so you can’t afford to be squeamish when discussing remuneration. And you certainly need to agree this with the client before accepting a job!

When negotiating a fee, though, you need to consider three things:

  • How long is the document the client needs editing?
  • How complex is the document and how much editing is required?
  • When is the deadline for finishing the job?

Most freelancers will charge more for complex jobs that require more work – or jobs where they’re working to a very tight deadline – but this is ultimately up to you.

Whatever you decide, you’ll need to agree a rate (hourly or per word) or a flat fee for an entire project with the client, as well as the method of payment (e.g., bank transfer, check).

For larger projects that last weeks or months, you may also want to discuss when you will be paid. Will it be when the entire project is finished? Or will the client pay part of the fee after certain milestones (e.g., after each chapter in a book)? Make sure you know!

4. Practical and Logistical Details

Finally, the brief you agree with a client should cover practical and logistical concerns. These are the small-but-crucial details you’ll need to do the work, including:

  • The deadline for the job and whether this is flexible.
  • The format of the document (e.g., MS Word, PDF, hard copy).
  • How you will mark up or track changes in the document.
  • How much contact or involvement the client wants in the editing process.
  • For larger projects, whether the client has a set budget or other constraints that may place limits on the editing somewhere down the line.

When you’ve worked all this out, you should be ready to start work on the document!

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