Free proofreading samples – are they fair?

Occasionally I have been asked if I would provide a free sample of my proofreading – in one case a whole academic paper – with the suggestion that this could be the prelude to a series of papers if the client liked my work. In those circumstances I would not agree to such a request because there was no guarantee that more would follow – the ‘client’ could easily get someone else to give a free proofread for the second paper under the same pretence, then another proofreader for the third paper, and so on. That is not the way to build a long-term, trusting relationship with a supplier – that is, a supplier of proofreading services.

I have heard of instances where an author has requested a free proofread of a whole chapter of a book from a succession of different proofreaders to get a book proofread for free despite the risk that there would not be a unity of style for the entire book, as different proofreaders could adopt slightly different styles of punctuation, grammar, and spelling to iron out any remaining inconsistencies. The same tactic has also been used for copy-editing, which would lead to even greater disparities of style, for it is the copy-editor who really ‘knocks a book into shape’. This practice is totally unethical and in fact leads to the ‘client’ having an inferior end-product. If a client requires a sample chapter or paper to be marked up they should be prepared to pay for that service without an obligation for the proofreader to handle the rest of the publication should the client not be satisfied with that sample.

I had some fencing completed recently down one side of my long rear garden together with a shed. Can you imagine what it would have looked like if I had persuaded several carpenters or fencing contractors each to install a section for free? It would have looked a real hotchpotch (or hodgepodge for any North American readers) of styles – probably an eyesore. It would be an insult to craftsmen who are usually quite proud of their work. For this reason, asking someone to proofread or copy-edit  a whole academic paper or chapter of a book for free would be an insult to their professional sensibilities.

A publisher often asks a new copy-editor or proofreader to mark up a sample of text, usually only three or four pages, to assess their capability for taking on projects on a regular, long-term basis, but most would not dream of asking for an entire chapter or paper. They have respect for the craft of editing and proofreading and realize that quality has to be paid for.

Please consider my above comments when you come to enquire about freelance editing and proofreading services. If the editorial freelance displays testimonials or samples of work on their website, or offers references, accept these as your proof of quality of work. Having feedback from other clients is a more trusted method of gauging someone’s suitability for an editing or proofreading project and can lead to a successful partnership in producing quality documents and publications.