Letters To The Editor For February 16th

~Those Bogus Editing Tests~

Ingrid Sprague’s article about testing scams blew me away. Just yesterday I ended a three-week long “testing” relationship with a television producer/publisher for one of the major networks. The situation you outlined in your article is exactly what happened to me, right down to the pressure to sign a lengthy, binding contract, with no fixed term, on the spot before the last test even was evaluated.

Excellent work on Ingrid’s part. I am glad that someone has the courage to speak out against such scams that, for now, are doomed to perpetuate. As you mentioned, it is next to impossible to judge a real test(s) from genuinely interested individuals who often, surprisingly, come from major companies, versus a lower than low scam intended to take advantage of others’ willingness to work.

-Name not published on request


I enjoyed seeing Ingrid Sprague’s article on Editing Tests, and I’d like to add a couple of comments.

I also suspect her work is just fine. I recently received an editing test too. I don’t normally respond to such ads, but this one dealt with a subject I enjoy and the company is quite well known. While it was not blatantly bogus, the test I received was so poorly designed I would not work for these people even if I passed the test.

The test format was antiquated–beyond normal testing errors. Plus, material for that subject is usually presented in APA format, and no style guide was specified. This left me wondering whether to edit for a thesis, consumer magazine, or website. Then, the real laugh came when I saw the timed testing requirements. They were obviously using the Word properties file times to verify the applicants’ self-stated times, and anyone who is computer literate can manipulate time in Word files just by opening and closing them.

To their credit, they don’t seem to be trying to get free work. The test was too short to be worth the work to post the ad and send out the tests. They just use very poor test materials and procedures, and I can say that with some certainty because I’ve taught office automation at college level. My computer skills are above average, and I managed office education work-study programs in the corporate world. On top of all that, college students I tutor get A’s on APA formatted projects.

So who do you suppose passes? I didn’t even get a canned reply. The whole experience left me scratching my head.

Penny J. Leisch
Penny’s Pens & Pics
Writing & Photography
A $Winning$ Combination

~Different Point of View on Editing Tests~

Hi, Angela.

I’m an avid reader of your newsletter and find it enormously helpful not only to writers but to anyone in the publishing business. I just finished reading Ingrid Schaefer’s article on editing tests, and had to write to express a slightly different point of view.

I’ve been running a small publishing and translation firm for almost 28 years. I hire lots of editors and proofreaders, some desktop publishers, quite a few indexers, and the occasional writer. I am essentially a broker of editorial services between my clients (lots of international development agencies, large for-profit companies, trade associations, university presses, law firms, and the occasional individual author) and talented freelancers. In order to ensure that my clients get the best-quality editing or proofreading, I have to screen everyone who works for me. I do this by testing. My tests have been the same for all 28 years I’ve been in business. About 7 percent of the people who take my tests do well on them and end up working for me – I sometimes think there are almost as many poor souls out there who have duped themselves into thinking they can edit as there are publishers who are out to scam people!

The proofreading test is one page, the copyediting test is four, and the substantive editing test is four. I go over every single test that is returned to me and mark it up on hard copy with comments. I explain clearly the reasons behind any error of omission or commission. And I mail the tests back to the applicant with a letter explaining why I am or am not interested in taking him or her on as a freelancer. This takes time, a lot of time. And it’s boring work, when you’ve been looking at the same tests and the same types of errors for 28 years. But because I have used the same criteria to vet editors for so long, I have developed an extraordinary roster of talent, including many people who have worked with me since the beginning or close to the beginning of my business.

I also select a small group of freelancers from time to time and test them (usually 2-3 pages) on their ability to work successfully with a particular client of mine. I’ll give them the client’s style manual and ask them to edit a couple of pages. In this way, I can maintain groups of editors whose work I know I can trust with the documents I get from a particular client. That saves my clients and me time, which is always an issue in publishing, because I don’t have to go over everyone’s work before sending it back to the client

I don’t pay my freelancers to take tests. It wouldn’t be possible or logical to do so, since so few people out of the large number who apply are really suited to working for the types of clients we have. I do give those who do well on the tests plenty of work if they want it, and I pay them well for it. Everyone who works for me gets paid exactly 30 days after receipt of an invoice, no exceptions. That’s a strain on the company, too, because we are writing checks every day. But I feel it’s only fair.

I am a very strong and vocal advocate of writers, editors, proofreaders, and all freelancers being paid for work and I laud your efforts to champion that cause. The practices of the company Ingrid Schaefer described were deplorable, and her points about not agreeing to edit a full chapter of anything are very well taken. But there are some situations in which testing is appropriate.

-Name not published on request – she’s already deluged with applicants 😉

~Get a Contract to Ensure Payment~


As a freelance writer and web developer myself, I felt I needed to respond to your inquiry from a designer who was not paid for work. Your advice was sound, but I also would add that using a contract is the best way to avoid non-payment. A well written contract describes the flow of work and when and how payments are made. My contracts all end with a reminder that material only becomes the property of the site owner when payment is made in full. There is so much theft of work on the web. We all need to be educated and protect our rights.

Leslie Robinson
Chrysalis Designs