The final step: working with a thesis editor

So here’s the secret that not enough people get told at the start of their PhD or Masters: when it comes to finalising your thesis, these days, you don’t have to do it all alone. There are plenty of editors out there—like me!—who will help you edit, proofread and polish the expression of your thesis so that the work you submit is as good as it can possible be.

However, there’s more to the process of working with a thesis editor than just handing over a manuscript. Last week I published a guest post over at DoctoralWritingSIG on how supervisors can help their students to work effectively with a professional thesis editor that goes through all the details—everything from timelining to assessing quotes to organising your acknowledgments. I’d definitely recommend you have a look at it at some point! But today, I’m going to keep it simple and just list the three big takeaway points for students who are thinking of working with an editor.

1.Plan ahead

Even these days, students often get the option of working with an editor thrown at them in the last stages of their thesis, when they’ve already got a million and one other things to think about and deadlines bearing down fast.

That’s not helpful. And worse, it often feels punitive—as if you’ve got this far and now you’re supervisor’s telling you that your writing’s not up to scratch. The truth is, though, that working with a thesis editor is supposed to be helpful. At this point, you know your manuscript so well that when you look at it you’re more likely to see what’s in your memory than what’s on the page, and let me tell you, that makes spotting tangled sentence structures and typos very difficult indeed*. A professional editor or proofreader is a pair of fresh eyes that can come in at the last moment and spot these issues, clear them up for you and take a job off your plate at a point where you’re already overburdened**.

So start thinking about it early. Research your university’s policies on use of editors, allowable methods of editing and ways of finding a good editor, and make a decision about whether or not you want to go down this path. The more work you do early on, the less stressed you’ll be in the final weeks of your thesis.

2.Write a brief

Editors are used to working to briefs—documents that list exactly what is expected of them for each job they do, and that also details what they are not expected to do. If you just send your editor your manuscript and a request to ‘please edit this’, they’ll be left trying to guess what you actually need done…and they may guess wrongly.

To avoid this happening, make sure that you write your editor a brief. All it needs to be is a short list spelling out what you want them to do, e.g. check for typographical errors and grammatical accuracy, minimise use of the passive voice, reduce unnecessary repetition, ensure all lists are in parallel structure, and ensure all captions are in the same format. The Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd) in Australia  has some good online resources available on how to write an editor’s brief, and so does the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) in the UK.

3.Allow plenty of time

It’s dispiritingly common for editors to get emails from students who have a 70,000-word thesis manuscript that they need edited…before their submission deadline in five days’ time. And okay, a good editor who doesn’t have any other work on at the same time could probably turn the job around that fast. However, if you want a really good, thorough edit done over multiple passes, with as few errors missed as possible, it’s best to build a decent amount of time for editing into your submission plan.

A good rule to work by is this: you’ll need a month or so to request quotes, compare them and choose an editor to work with (this should happen before you hand in your Notice of Intention to Submit); then allow two to three weeks for a really good edit, and a week to read, assess and respond to their suggestions, and key in changes to your manuscript. Then you can send your manuscript for printing and binding.


Finally, I recommend spending some time at the IPEd website, or your local equivalent, to find out some more details on thesis editing in general. I’d also recommend looping your supervisor in on the process, and making sure you get a contract with your editor that outlines clearly what’s expected of both you and them. And a quick note about the cost of thesis editing: while editors are a notoriously underpaid and undervalued mob, we still tend to reduce our rates substantially for students. However, the cost of editing a 70,000-word thesis manuscript is still highly unlikely to be fully covered by the $840 thesis production allowance provided by most Australian universities. When you’re making a decision about whether to use an editor, you’ll need to take that into account as well. If your budget only stretches so far, consider getting a proofread rather than a copy-edit, as it will be cheaper..


*As the five-page list of them that one of my examiners submitted with her report on my thesis can attest.

**What they will not do, and what you should never ask them to do, is fix holes in your argument or structure. They can offer suggestions, but rewriting to make the content work (not the same as editing for expression) is your job and yours alone.


About kleditor

Editing services and academic writing.
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