Proofreading takes time. Your proofreader needs enough time to read every word, make edits, double-check style conventions, and possibly fact-check your work before sending it back to you.
Looking over the revised copy your proofreader sends you takes time, too. As the author, you are in charge of whether or not you wish to accept any changes your proofreader has proposed. Hence, when you receive your work, you must ensure enough time before your deadline to accept/reject/query any changes.
Proofreaders and editors may be fully booked when your project is ready for proofreading. You'll save yourself from a stressful situation by looking for a proofreader early on.
If you have a deadline, request availability and a quote early to avoid disappointment because some proofreaders get booked up months in advance.
I recently came across a request by a university student. They wanted a proofreader to proofread 90,000–100,000 words in three days. They were looking for a proofreader three weeks before they wanted the work to commence. They were not likely to succeed. Why? A proofreader reads 1000–2500 words an hour* – they have to read each sentence slowly to ensure they mark every typo and spot every it's vs its – it would take them (at 2500 words an hour) 40 hours. Please note that most proofreaders only EDIT 4–5 hours a day to ensure quality work. This means it would take a proofreader 8 working days to complete this project. Three days for such a big project is definitely NOT enough time.
If you do not have a deadline – you may be self-publishing and not in a hurry – I recommend looking for a proofreader when you know you are almost ready for that final quality check. This should give you enough time to find a proofreader and book your slot without feeling rushed to finish your writing before a specific date.
Example projects: an estimation of time required by your proofreader:
University paper (such as a thesis or dissertation): allow 1–4 weeks for proofreading before your deadline (depending on the length of your thesis). Many leave this too late and end up with a rushed job. When hiring a proofreader for your paper, allow your proofreader enough time. If your thesis is 10,000 words in length, allow a week (in case of queries). If your thesis is 100,000 words in length, your proofreader needs two to three weeks. The more time you can give your proofreader, the better! (Don't forget, we are human too and like some downtime on weekends instead of being glued to our screens day and night.) Also, remember that you probably want at least a week to review the proposed changes before submitting your final draft. Keep this in mind when inspecting your diary.
Monthly blog post: allow two days for proofreading before your deadline. Blog posts are often 1500–2500 words in length, and they don't take long to proofread. However, ensuring your blog post has a spot in your proofreader's diary is always a good start, so when you know your deadline, start requesting a quote and check availability.
Manuscript: allow 1-4 weeks for proofreading before your deadline. Depending on the genre of your manuscript (young adult, contemporary, fantasy, or non-fiction, such as business or academic) and the word count, the time required to proofread your manuscript can be from 1 week to multiple weeks. Often, fantasy novels have more than 100,000 words with many unusual names/terms that need thorough checking for consistency. This type of novel might require two weeks of proofreading, whereas a young-adult novel (often less dense) consisting of 80,000 words may take one week.
So, how long does it take EXACTLY to proofread a text?
Proofreading a dense text, such as a thesis, takes longer than proofreading your average blog post, and this needs to be considered when requesting proofreading services. All documents are different, depending on your brief, so is the time required to proofread your text.
According to the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) survey of April 2020, a freelance proofreader may edit four to six pages of a medical/STEM document an hour, which is 1000–1500 words an hour*. This same proofreader may be quicker when proofreading non-fiction or business documents as they average seven to ten pages an hour, which is 1750–2500 words an hour. The quickest proofreading jobs were fiction, which were completed at 2750–3750 words an hour.
*The average page averages at 250 words.
A rushed job is never a quality job!
After reading this article, don't forget to move your 'look for an editor/proofreader' task to the top of your to-do list where it belongs.