Should I get an editor for my thesis?

I often get asked if students are allowed to use professional editors. In most universities you can and there are even funds provided for this purpose in some cases. Brendan Brown, Director of The Expert Editor, an Australian professional editing company that specialises in thesis editing, sent me this article recently. I thought the article was useful, so I’m publishing it even though I cannot personally vouch for this service. If you are interested, you can visit their website at www.experteditor.com.au or follow Brendan on Google+.

Screen Shot 2014-03-03 at 4.38.54 pmThe following guide will take you through some of the key  issues when it comes to thesis editing for Masters and PhD students. Although it is Australian specific, the general principles apply everywhere.

Why thesis editing is important

Editing is beneficial to a native-speaking student and virtually mandatory if English is your second language. It can enhance the quality of language, remove errors and ensure academic conventions are met. In particular, editing allows ESL students to be marked on the substance of their ideas, not their innate ability to write fluent academic English. Every student should utilise an editor in the final stages of their thesis, either a friend, family member or a professional.

Thesis editing is ethical and permissible

There is a misconception about the efficacy of professional editing for Masters and PhD student theses. One school of thought is that editing is akin to cheating and is therefore not allowed. This view is incorrect. Thesis editing is permissible as long as your editor follows relevant guidelines. The Australian Standard of Editing Practice (ASEP) and the Australian guidelines for editing theses outline the appropriate level of intervention by an editor. In short, they limit editor intervention to language, expression and referencing style conformity and forbid changes to structure and content.

Your university may also regulate – but certainly does not ban – the use of professional editing. They may require you to get permission before engaging an editor or require you to acknowledge any assistance. It’s advisable you check with your university about their exact requirements.

Two avenues for professional editing

Editing company

There are a number of professional editing companies in Australia, so as a consumer, it’s up to you to do your research and find the right one for you.

Editing companies are a popular option for two reasons. First, quality academic editors gravitate towards working for companies because they provide a regular flow of work, without editors having to market themselves. Secondly, companies may have multiple editors on their team, and therefore will usually be able to begin work immediately. If your deadline for submission is tight, this is advantageous.

Search Google for “thesis editing Australia” and the top 5-6 service providers will appear on the first page. It’s critical to do your research and examine each company’s website as no two companies are exactly alike in their affordability or level of service. Later in this article we outline the key questions to ask any editing company.

Tip: Just because you are going through a company does not mean your editor should be faceless. A company should always be able to identify which editor will be working with you, their skill-set and editing background. If a company does not provide this information, be wary about using their services.

Freelancer
There are three ways the find a freelance editor to edit your thesis. The first, of course, is to Google it as some freelance editors have their own website. If this fails another option is to approach national and state editing societies. Most have a list of editors that are accredited with them.
The third option to find a freelancer is to use an online workplace, such as Elance, Freelancer.com or oDesk. You write a small brief about the task and freelancers on the site bid for the job. The large number of freelancers, coupled with the competitive nature of the bidding, can result in low ball offers. However, be careful using these sites as the quality of freelancers is mixed. You must ensure that your editor is appropriately qualified and has a history of successful work.

Key issues in choosing a thesis editor

Efficacy of your editor

The most important consideration when choosing an editor is to ensure they provide an ethical service and don’t overstep their mandate. Most Australian editing companies and freelancers will comply with the various guidelines regulating academic editing for Masters and PhD students, but there will always be a few outliers. Some services may offer to re-write, or even write, your thesis. Avoid these services as if they have the bubonic plague. They’ll get you in serious trouble with your university if you are found out.

Affordability

The affordability of editing options can vary quite substantially. The market sets the rate editors can charge, and as with the economy in general, the market price differs between each service provider. Editing is time-consuming and an academic editor should be highly educated, so as a general rule you won’t be able to pay them peanuts. However, some options are more affordable than others, so it’s up to you to do your research and find one that’s in your price range.

Capability of your editor

Editors are humans and edit subjectively. So it’s important that you do your research and learn about the editor you hire. The following are key questions that you need answered. Is your editor a specialist academic editor or are they merely a generalist with a rudimentary understanding of academic conventions? Does your editor have a strong understanding of your specific referencing style? What is the education background of your editor? Do they have a history of successful thesis editing?

Turn around time

This may be a crucial issue for those students who have left professional editing to the last minute. Thesis editing is a time consuming process, and it’s unrealistic for a 60,000 word thesis to be competently edited in a day. However, some editing companies and freelancers can accommodate a relatively short turn around, and won’t charge you extra for it. Other providers are more rigid in their approach and will charge extra for a tight return date.

A closing note

Australia isn’t short of academic editors, but it’s incumbent on you to do your research and find the right option. Hopefully this guide simplifies the search process for you and provides the necessary information to help find an editor that not only is ethical, but can genuinely improve the quality of your thesis.

Have you had any experience with an editor, or do you have one to recommend? Love to hear about it in the comments.

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21 thoughts on “Should I get an editor for my thesis?

  1. I wouldn’t use ODesk for something so critical. I used them for all of my PhD interview transcriptions and although everyone on there seems to have fantastic work samples and references the quality was very mixed. Eventually I found someone who was fast and accurate but a lot of money and one off hires went into this process. Great if you want something small, cheap and fast. Otherwise the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ applies.

  2. I had my thesis professionally edited and it was sooooo worth it. By that point, you are well and truly over it, and having a second set of [professional] eyes makes a huge difference. While I’m in Australia, I had it done by a company in the UK (because a trusted friend emigrated there and I knew she had experience in thesis editiing). So, for the UK based among you, I can highly reccommend Rocksalt Copy Creatives: http://www.rocksaltcopycreatives.com/blog/?category=Print+projects

  3. I had my thesis edited – it was an absolute godsend. She fixed all of the formatting errors that had crept in over 3 years of work on the thesis and undid the abbreviations of a key term I used in a couple of key chapters and decided to ditch!

    The only place I had a typo is the section in my acknowledgements thanking her (because I wrote it AFTER she’d finished editing!!)

    I highly recommend @tweedediting :-)

  4. Very interesting. I had worked as an editor of educational material for many years, and had also edited a couple of friends’ theses so I didn’t need convincing of the value of a good editor. I used a man I work with, whom I knew to be experienced and reliable, and I wasn’t sorry. People were surprised that I needed an editor, but I did. He passed the test of improving the quality of my thesis, for sure.

  5. I used an editor, Andrew Lavery of academic consultants in NZ http://www.academic-consulting.co.nz/
    I found submitting a pdf of the thesis particularly problematic – I had images and tables and multiple fonts (for different ‘voice’) as well as text placed on top of images … a bit of visual ethnography thrown in the mix … and the images would not stay stable when moving between my Mac and it being turned into a pdf file…
    Andrew was super in choosing fonts (up to 6) that could stay stable on mac and pc and within pdf format.
    This was my primary reason for employing an editor, and my university significantly contributed to the costs.
    All this on top of the normal editing assistance of ensuring the large document came together with correct pagination and table of contents etc.
    The software that he had access to for doing search by font sped up processes significantly. Plus his knowledge regarding em dashes and such like levels of grammatical peskiness made for a finer document than it would have been otherwise.
    The thesis was somewhat atypical in its use of prose and txt spk so i had wanted someone who was willing to engage with creativity.
    Having referred several colleagues to him I know that he also takes on Australian based clients.

  6. It is an awesome post. I may be biased because I am an academic writer/editor. It is true that many people feel that professional editing is cheating, whereas it is just an art of refining the original work undertaken by a student. We are wordsmiths who can lend professional touch to a raw research report to make it appealing.

  7. I venture a comment from the camp that regards professional thesis editing as borderline unacceptable. I am in the humanities, and I accept that the situation in other disciplines may well be different. I am one of a (growing) number of academics who are of the view that thesis editing results in a skewed perception of the student’s abilities. Since the PhD is often used as a benchmark when looking for academic jobs, a professionally-edited thesis can give the impression that an applicant is more competent than they are. In a real-world university environment, academics will have access to professional editing only rarely. Even the ‘editing’ offered by companies like Oxford and Cambridge UPs is increasingly minimal, meaning that an academic will have to be able to edit to a professional standard on their own. This is particularly true of journal articles, which are the academic’s bread and butter. Journal articles will hardly ever be ‘edited’ in the way that a monograph might, but a half-decent reviewer will send an article straight back if it doesn’t meet very exacting standards. In my opinion, a student (again, in the humanities…) who is not competent to edit their own thesis is not competent to be an academic, because this is realistically going to be a significant part of their job, if they continue in the field. As it is, there are far too many academics who cannot communicate as effectively as they should be able to, and encouraging the professional editing of postgraduate theses can only exacerbate this problem.

    • This is an interesting opposing view. You do have a point here and it makes me wonder whether hiring a thesis editor would reflect on my capability badly. I agree that students, whether using an editor or not, should be competent enough to do substantial academic editing themselves. But again, it boils down to disciplinary expectations and preferences as some disciplines are more particular about the aesthetic representation of the intellectual content of the thesis, i.e. how the arguments are crafted. Indeed, in this case, the language and content go hand in hand. Does your department or discipline make it explicit that the use of editing service is prohibited?

      • Hi Kale,
        Thanks for your reply. Yes, I think you’re right that a lot of things come down to the expectations of particular disciplines. In the humanities, where the rhetorical construction and presentation of the argument is at least as important as the actual approach (in literary studies I find this to be true…), then I think that students have to be able to edit their own work. There is simply no point to a postgrad student who can develop an interesting and original argument, but cannot communicate that argument persuasively. In the hard sciences, where the quality of the research is much more geared towards facts, figures, experiments etc., then I can see that there may be an argument for language editing, particularly in the case of ESL students. In my department/area, and in all departments of which I have personal knowledge at other European universities, professional editing is explicitly forbidden, and is grounds for expulsion from a postgraduate program.

  8. Great post and comments. I completed a PhD myself, and while I did not use an editor, I’d strongly recommend it to non-native English speakers. Anonymous makes an excellent point, and I would imagine that it is particularly true of the humanities. My background is in the sciences: I have known brilliant non-native English speaking scientists who might not have been able to begin a scientific career, were it not for editing services. In the STEM fields, academics are evaluated more heavily on the basis of their science. It is not the editor’s place to modify that aspect in any way, but merely to ensure that the science is communicated clearly. I now do freelance editing for theses, journal articles, and grant applications, which I find to be very rewarding. Keep in mind, too, that using an editing service can potentially save academic advisors valuable time–I’ve had a couple of advisors who recommend that their students send documents my way for just that reason.

  9. I am in my final revisions post defense/viva. I should have hired an editor before the defense, it would have gone better. I will not hand it in again until it’s been edited. I consider this the first of many times I will send my work out to be edited including article submissions – some of us need that, including many top scholars – they usually use their grad students.

    Any US thesis editor recommendations?

  10. As long as it is acknowledged plainly in the thesis (i.e. on the cover page), I think it is borderline acceptable. However, the comment above is absolutely correct in that a students ability to write and edit a thesis is part of the process of obtaining a PhD and he/she is being examined, in part, on their ability to communicate their research effectively. If an editor is required to get the students thesis into a readable state, then in my opinion it is very unlikely that the student will possess many of the critical tools required to make it in an academic environment. Obtaining grants and getting papers published in high quality journals is highly dependent on ones writing ability, and using editors is not a long-term strategy.

    Academic writing is a skill that takes time and practice, and it is in the students best interest to develop this skill and avoid the temptation to take the easy way out.

  11. I have hired a copy editor and its the best thing I did, and I will continue to hire a copy editor for all my academic writing. I am glad that your writing is perfect and/or you have a spouse to copy edit your work.

    For the rest of us, writing a check for copy editing is the difference between graduating, getting a submission accepted or not.

  12. Pingback: Should I get an editor for my thesis? | The The...

  13. Thank you Inger! I would love to recommend https://www.scribbr.com/. They helped me by proofreading my thesis and their customer support was amazing. They also offer 24 hour services for those students that are really in a hurry. And yes they charge more if you want your thesis back within 24 hours.

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