Curious case of proofreading

When I began web logging, in the “About” page of this blog, I explained why I am doing it. And, as English is not my first language, I wanted to improve my writing skills and also look more “professional,” or at least show that I care about the content I write and about those who will read it eventually.

But, regardless of how skilled is someone with the words, because of the sheer complexity of the language, sometimes it is difficult to avoid misunderstanding. Misunderstanding is an intrinsic property of language; it happens because we all have different contexts or — maybe truer to say — realities we live in our heads. Correct grammar and spelling can decrease the possibility of misunderstanding — if not entirely, then to an acceptable level.

So, I started looking for the editor with a moderate approach — the one who will spot all of my mistakes: wrong usage of tenses, missing articles, wrong usage of words, or misspellings, but, on the other hand, the one who will not change my writing style — and especially not change the meaning behind my words and the message I am trying to convey.

Photo source: "Manuscript" by Seth Sawyers 

At the same time, I was looking for some affordable option, and, like everything in our world, you can find editors for a few dollars to a few hundred dollars for a few thousand words. I quickly learned that expensive does not also mean that you will get what you want. Also, the more expensive editors are and the more credentials they are showing, the quicker they will dismiss any complaints, despite the fact that you are maybe complaining about the meaning they have change and not about the grammar they have corrected.

In my search for a good and affordable editor, the first place I tried was It is a proofreading site where you can submit a paper and then choose between several different editors. But, after a few documents, the way the documents were edited, the style, certain word changes and corrections, I got the impression that there is only one person behind that service who does the all the work. But, there is no way I can prove this; it was just a hunch. And, if my hunch is true, who are all those other people, appearing on the site?
All of the “we” language seemed like marketing stunt. A small or one-man company must appear like a big one, in order to find customers, make sales, and create revenue. From one perspective, I can understand this; times are tough, and people do all sort of things to make living. It is one thing to find customers but completely different to keep them. In order to keep customers, you have to provide quality. In my case, that did not happen, so I continued searching. The important thing to mention is that, in the end, they were fair, and I got a refund.

Then, I tried another approach, and I turned to asking for help from some more expensive editors — local proofreading companies from England. I had hopped that finding someone locally, who has a registered limited company, it is more likely that he will be genuine, have credentials, and will be more professional than the cheaper “crowd sourced“competitor.

After a few documents, I had requested correction of some edits I did not like. I tried re-reading the document several times, but, every time I read it, it was the same, the meaning was changed, and what I wanted to say was not the same anymore. For that particular text, that small change was significant, like changing the word “brother” for “foe.” After I asked for a review, they explained that they do not do reviews and that, if I want a review, I must submit the same document again and pay full the amount a second time. Well, needless to say, I started considering my next option.

While reading, and re-reading, again and again I saw similar patterns from my experience at “,” and funny idea popped into my mind: What if? What if this company is actually outsourcing the job to

It was a funny idea, and I had a few laughs about it, but then I have to remember: a few years ago, I read an article about a star software developer from a big American company who was receiving a huge salary but, personally, he was not doing much. Mostly, he was spending his time on reddit and other social networking websites. He outsourced his entire job to China, where, for a fraction of his huge salary, a huge team of people was doing what he was supposed to do. *1

The next platform I found online was The idea behind Fiverr is to provide some type of work for $5. In reality, $5 is the base for the unit of work; the more you order, the more you will pay. The amount of work provided largely varies from one seller to another.

- What are the good things about Fiverr?
It is affordable and, sometimes, even a very cheap option to do something, and there are many, many real people who are available for work.

- What are the bad things about Fiverr?
There is no chance to check the credentials of someone. You do not have any background about them, and you can only take for granted what they say about their skills. But, in the end, if you are not satisfied you can always ask for refund.

As the initial payment amount is small, many people decide not to bother about a refund, which has caused an accumulation of scammers. There are lots — and I mean lots of them — from all corners of world, especially for proofreading. The technique is simple: they will take document, edit small bits, wait a day or two so that it looks they are genuinely doing something, and then they will try to flatter you, by complimenting your writing skills, by using the “we are friends” manipulation technique.

Now, if you are not a native speaker, it is very difficult to know about the quality of the work they are providing. Generally speaking, we all lack certain skills, regardless of what they are. The way we manage our lack of skills is to employ other people to provide a service for us, but there is a catch: if we do not know how the end result should look, how can we determine what we expect to get in return or verify its quality?

If you are a businessperson, and you are lacking certain skills, you will never know, but what happens will bite you later, and it will bite hard. So, in order to protect yourself, you have to find a way to avoid pretenders.

I’ve used a simple technique, in order to test new editors: I give them a text that was already edited, and after I am able to compare differences. The results are mixed; humans are not like machines. Sometimes, editors will shred a text to pieces, and you can almost see the influences of different writing styles and well-known authors (that is, if you read books ), and, sometimes, they will just change a letter or two. But, when they do not edit obvious mistakes you have put in the text deliberately, you will know that you are head-to-head with a possible fake editor.

The second part of fighting scammers is understanding the importance of the contract. In this context, the contract is a form of mutual agreement, which does not need to be written, that has to be fulfilled in exchange for money. Under any circumstances, regardless of how small the amount of money is, you should not pay without satisfying what is expected. By accepting badly conducted work, you are silently agreeing to continue with the same or similar bad practice. By paying, without “contract” fulfilment, you are encouraging even more scammers to do the same thing.

Now, the question is: what is the acceptable level of quality?

For many types of work, there is a broad range of what can be considered as acceptable. For others, there are strict rules. However, there is always the minimal threshold you cannot ignore. Take plumbing, for instance: you can accept that there is difference between the quality of PVC, copper, or iron pipes, but, regardless of the type and price you use, there is minimum of health, safety, and good, working order you can accept.

Grammar is the same: for the editor, there are a minimum number of rules that have to be fulfilled; on the other hand, style and how imaginatively words are used is more something that should define the writer, rather than the editor. The editor can help with that, but that should not be his/her main role.

This entire experience made me think about something else: trust and how important it is to our society. I would even dare to say that trust is a crucial component of our society, and — without it — society could not exist. None of us knows everything. As single pieces, we are not very strong, and we cannot achieve much in the course of our lives. But, in unison, we can work wonders. The glue that keeps us from falling apart is trust. Everything in our society depends on that glue. Every social transaction is like a promise that, if fulfilled, will make the bond stronger, and, if betrayed...

Notes & References: