By Shannon Wilkins
Writers reach out to editors when they realize that their eye for errors has limitations. When writers have been working on a document for days, weeks, or even a year or more, they can become so close to the words that they don’t see the flaws that can be so glaring to a reader. Professional editors are good at providing a different perspective. We see the errors in style format, but we also see areas that need to be clarified further in order for the audience to grasp the writer’s argument—whether that audience is composed of members of a dissertation committee or peer reviewers at a journal.
There is no getting around the reality that editors do charge fees. I have had potential clients who have said, “I just can’t afford it. I will edit it myself.” Here is what I suggest for what you can do when hiring an editor seems out of reach for you.
My best advice is to plan to hire an editor. If you know that money is a scarce resource—especially if you are a student, it definitely is—look at your timeline and plan to save money so that you will have it when you need to acquire an editor. Also, often, you can pay part of the fee in advance to make a reservation with an editor. When you need to actually use the editing services, the editor will be available, and you will have had the time to save the other funds that you need to finish the job.
If you still can’t afford an editor, find the best writer you know who loves you or at least holds you in the highest regard. Editing an academic document is a tedious process. Not only does the punctuation have to be in the place the style guide says it does, but the words have to be well placed. A misplaced word can totally change the meaning of a phrase. Also, academic language isn’t business language, so the tone of the writing has to be consistent with the standards of the academy. Editing an academic document takes tremendous concentration and a willingness to do some research to clarify the writer’s words. I often read journal articles in the field of the topic I am editing just to get a sense of what the peers expect and the kind of language that the writers use in the field. When you are submitting your document for graduation or career advancement, you want someone who will do the tedious work.
If you still can’t afford an editor and you aren’t loved or highly regarded by an excellent writer who will edit your document for free, consider doing the following:
In order to get a sense of what is expected, look at other similar documents (e.g., theses, dissertations, or journal articles) that have been approved. I did this when I was working on my dissertation. I looked for format and analyzed the general language of the dissertations. I looked at dissertations that had been approved by my department, dissertations in other departments, and dissertations in my field that had been approved at other universities. Complete the same kind of process for theses, journal articles, and books. Doing this will give you a greater sense of the expectations for academic writing.
Get a copy of the style guide that is allowed by your university for your discipline or the one required by your publisher. Your library might have one. Public libraries often have them. Don’t depend on websites only to find information about style. The book will be more helpful because it will have more detail, including many examples. Buy a book if you can.
Read at least the first few chapters of the style guide. The first few chapters usually have information about the standards for academic writing. For instance, a style guide might have instructions on how to refer to certain groups of people so as not to offend.
At least, thumb through the next few chapters to see the kinds of topics covered. The style guide might address how numbers should be noted—written out or in Arabic numerals. When words have certain prefixes, they should not be hyphenated. Figures and tables need to be in a certain format. You don’t have to memorize the book, but you do need to know the kinds of guidelines that are in the book so that you will know to look up instances that appear in your document.
When you edit for format, do so in stages.
– Make a list of all the citations in the text.
– Check these against the list of references at the end. Often, I find that some in-text citations don’t make it to the reference list.
– Check to see that all entries in the reference list have been used in the body of the text.
– Check the format of each citation in text.
– Check the format of each reference entry.
Take a break from your writing. A week might be sufficient. When you return, you might be able to identify vague language and definite mistakes that you might have glossed over before.
Review the document at least twice. Take a break for a couple of days. Then, review the document again. I am convinced that little gremlins somehow drop various typos on a copy that was perfectly clean before. The only cure for such an attack is a series of close readings.
Again, my best advice is for you to obtain the services of an editor. Editors see what you don’t see, and they don’t take as long to review a paper as your trusted loved one might. Also, in many cases, they have worked with multiple style guides, so they aren’t fumbling through style guides trying to figure out which arcane rule applies to your specific reference. Finally, editors know what clear writing is, and academic editors know what clear writing is for theses, dissertations, journal articles, and books.
If your budget is an issue, plan ahead. When you know your deadlines and writing timeline, contact an editor to get on the editor’s schedule. Pay the deposit, and save up so that you can pay the balance when it is due. Best regards for completing the final stage of your document review.
Shannon Wilkins has edited manuscripts on pharmacology, dermatology, cardiology, echocardiography, endocrinology, transplantation, hand surgery, asthma, cancer/oncology, and other topics.