Why we don’t charge per word for editing content

Charging by the word to edit content is bad for the client, for the editor and for the content’s eventual audience – here’s why.

This post explains why charging by the word is counter-productive, and explain the factors we take into account when deciding a price for editing content.

What’s the point of editing content?

Let’s start with the basics: why are we editing any piece of content in the first place?

The point of editing content is to remove mistakes and make it flow better – to make it easier to understand.

clipboard photo
Photo by paul_danger_williams

When we work with clients whose first language is not English, we’re also making sure the language used doesn’t get in the way of the message.

If words need to be cut to achieve that aim, then so be it. They may also need to be added here and there.

In practice, we never send out any content with the exact same wordcount as it had when it came in. We can often shave 150 words off a 2,000 word blog post.

A piece of content should be as long as it needs to be and no longer. Or shorter.

If you focus on wordcount, you’re looking at the wrong thing

Charging by the word distorts this.

For the editor, it creates a financial incentive to pad out the content or not make necessary cuts.

After all, the client may complain if the content ends up shorter than the original – and why shouldn’t they – they are paying by the word, after all.

That can erode trust and cause misunderstandings, which can have serious consequences when you consider editors and their clients typically work remotely and communication is minimal.

Charging by the word encourages the client to think about their content in terms of wordcount – to look at quantity over quality.

Unsurprisingly, none of this is good for the people the content is intended for – its audience.

So how do we work out what to charge for editing?

Of course the simple solution is to charge by the hour, which is generally the arrangement with our regular clients. It’s not ideal but it’s the best solution so far.

clipboard photo
Photo by See-ming Lee 李思明 SML

However, some clients want us to quote fixed prices for a set piece of work – say, for example, 5 blog posts or website pages.

We’ve seen some services offer to edit 500 words for $10. We say good luck to them!

Back in the real world, we have to take several factors into account. Here they are:

Factor 1: What’s the standard of English?

This is the most important factor. Will we need to only change a word here and there, or will we be re-structuring entire sentences? Will we have to make changes in every paragraph?

Even a well-written piece will require reading at least twice (we always work with printed copy), and if we make a lot of changes, it’ll need reading again to make sure it still retains the sense.

It may also need another editing phase in our process – again, more time.

The standard of English is the most important factor in how much time we spend on a piece of content.

Factor 2: Does the client want us to comment on changes?

Many of our clients use their service to improve their English. If we change something, they want to know why, and our web app allows us to do this.

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Photo by Xuilla

Some clients just want us to make changes and then they can compare revisions themselves.

Whatever they want, it makes a difference to how much time we spend on a piece of content.

Factor 3: How long is the original piece?

Yes, we mean wordcount, but only as a factor in working out how long it’s likely to take us to edit the content.

Factor 4: How quickly does the client need it?

If the client needs it the next day, there will be a premium to pay as something or other will need to be re-scheduled.

Wrapping it up

All of these factors let us estimate how long we’re likely to spend on the project, and accordingly price it.

And to us this is the fairest way to price editing work – by that we mean fairest to us and our clients.

And it gets the best result for audiences.

Photo by paul_danger_williams

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