Newsletter of the STC's Technical Editing SIG (June 2002), pp. 1, 3. Download
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experts estimate that the average reader can absorb about 250 words
per minute. They promote techniques that allegedly boost that rate
to nearly 1,000 words per minute. Unfortunately, some folks may
expect similar speeds for technical editing. After all, isnt
editing like reading? If so, a 20-page white paper should be edited
within 20 minutesor less.
editing must surely take longer than reading. Maybe it takes, say,
five times longer. That would mean editing about twelve pages per
hour. Sounds good. Just read the page five times and out pop the
that heuristic may hold true for a simple edit, but substantive
editing takes more timefifteen to sixty minutes per page,
some experts say. So, how long can editing take? I suppose
its safe to say that editing should not take longer than writing.
(Not counting wordsmiths who write faster than human beings can
Table 1, I present some practitioners numerical benchmarks
for estimating editing time. These rates or speeds were collected
from an informal survey of the STCs Technical Editing SIG
listserv and some simple Web searches.
Benchmark Editing Speeds, at Three Levels of Detail.
Hollis Weber [a]
Estimator X [c]
Gary Conroy [c]
W. Thomas Wolfe [d]
Mary Jo David [c]
Richard Ketrone [e]
Joanna Williams [c]
estimates given in terms of 500 words per page.
[b] Original estimates found in The Copyeditors
Handbook (see Resources, below). Top row assumes Difficult
text; second row assumes Standard text.
[c] Original estimates cited in pages per
hour (250 WPP assumed).
[d] Original estimates given in pages per
day (six hours per day assumed).
[e] Original estimate cited 15 to 30 minutes
per page (250 WPP assumed).
that in the Table, Ive converted everyones estimates
into words per hour (WPH) instead of pages per hour. Here are my
counts are universally accepted in this world of diverse printed
and on-screen page sizes
counts may be more persuasive to clients in substantiating longer-than-expected
counts support the editors focus on words, not pages
counts of selections or full documents are easily run from modern
word processorsthats how I cut this article down
to 1,000 words!
the Table, the levels of editingheavy, medium, and lightrepresent
a spectrum of editorial interventions, where a heavy edit involves
the most rewriting and content-level corrections and a light edit
involves only the most superficial proofing of glaring errors. The
key is to interpret these intentionally vague categories in terms
of your own skills and text. For your reference, the estimators
mentioned a variety of technical document types, including online
help systems, manuals, white papers, proposals, Web pages, release
notes, installation guides, Web-based and paper-based training materials,
post-project reviews, marketing copy, requirements, needs analyses,
and much more.
these benchmarks in mind, the best way to estimate editing time
a rough time estimate based on a word count and your prescription
for a heavy, medium, or light edit; use one of the benchmark
ranges as a starting point
editing, keeping track of the number of words you mill per hour
your measurements against the benchmarks
through trial and error your personal word processing
speedthe number of words your brain can mill in an
personal word processing speed is the uncertain factor in our formulacomplementing
the discrete pile of words you are given to edit. That speed is
subject to all the functions that make editing slower than speed-reading:
checking for rule violations (spelling, punctuation, grammar), consistency,
parallel construction, verb strength, accuracy, logic, persuasiveness,
rhythm, tone, appropriateness, flow, and many other nuances.
about personal speed means acknowledging a universal limitation:
You can think fast, but you cant think faster. (For this insight,
I thank the Oracle character in Tom DeMarcos The Deadline:
A Novel About Project Management.) Coffee may help, but when
you edit, the tyrannical ticking of the clock cannot make your brain
process words at a quicker rate. As Mary Jo David of Write Away
Enterprises, based in Plymouth, Michigan, wrote to me, "No
matter what I do, my editing average always seems to
be anywhere from three to five pages an hour." Im the
same waymy mill is often set in heavy-editing mode.
trick to estimating is to identify your brains preferred rate
of word processingnot the optimum, two-espresso brain speed,
but something more comfortable and sustainable. Just as you are
unique, so must your estimates be unique to your skills and the
constraints imposed on you. Once weve determined our personal
word processing speed, well find it easier to schedule our
work when the ideal amount of time our estimate calls for is compressed
by an external partys deadline. Shifting out of heavy-editing
mode should become easier for me the more Ive measured myself
in the other modes.
hope this brief article contributes to your skill at predicting
the future. Please e-mail me with your insights: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I am just beginning to study and write on the topic. Below, to compensate
for everything I havent mentioned, I refer you to some books
and online resources. I especially recommend the helpful articles
that Robin Cormier and Jean Hollis Weber have posted onlineread
these classics for a much more logical approach to the subjectand
Michelle Corbins intriguingly useful Java-based calculator
for editorial times.
Gary. "Estimating the Time Required for a Documentation Project."
Robin A. "Estimating Editorial Tasks: A Five-Step Method."
The Editorial Eye. http://www.eeicommunications.com/eye/estimate.html
Amy. The Copyeditor's Handbook: A Guide for Book Publishing
and Corporate Communications. Berkeley, Calif.: University
of California Press, 1999.
JoAnn T. "Dependency Calculator."
Managing Your Documentation Projects. New York: John Wiley &
Carolyn D., David Dayton, and Bruce Maylath. Technical Editing,
3rd ed. New York: Longman, 2002.
Jean Hollis. "How long does editing take?" Technical
Editors Eyrie: Resources for technical editors. http://www.jeanweber.com/about/howlong.htm
W. Thomas. "Estimating Time."
permission to reprint or post this article, please contact Dave McClintock of Wordsupply.com
at email@example.com. This article originally
appeared in Corrigo: Newsletter of the STC's Technical Editing
SIG (June 2002), pp. 1, 3. Copyright ©2002 by Dave McClintock.
Editors: Help David Update This Article: E-mail David McClintock with your typical words-per-hour editing speed for light, medium, and/or heavy edits: firstname.lastname@example.org. Just indicate how you'd like to be identified (anonymous or with contact information).
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