Academic editing

Academic editing

It is never the task of an editor to rewrite or reform the work of a writer.

This is an edict writ in stone when it comes to the editing of academic work, both undergraduate submissions and postgraduate publications. Rules exist which govern the process, and sometimes that comes as a surprise to undergraduates. The winning of a degree or diploma, based as it is upon the reputation of the academic institution, is a process tightly regulated within and between academic institutions. Part of the general standard is a guarantee that the knowledge assessed belongs to the graduate or undergraduate: that it’s their own work.

The competitive nature of modern academia means that many students try to find editors for their work and so improve their rankings.

This is usually not a problem if the editor is in fact your academic supervisor, whose job it is to help shape the student’s thesis or essay so that it fairly reflects the best the student can offer. Acknowledgement of a supervisor’s input is usually delivered in the form of a foreword or endnote to the work and there is an implicit guarantee that the supervisor has complied with professional ethics when they assisted the student.

If an external editor is employed in an academic context, the process becomes a little more complex. Two things have to happen: the editing process must begin early; and the external editor has to be aware of the limitations imposed upon their interventions. While it’s true to say that an editor has a relatively free hand to assist with matters of style, presentation, grammar and other semantic housekeeping, the editor must maintain a hands-off stance in matters of interpretation and content.

Employing an external editor who is unaware of this or who, being unaware of this, has specialist knowledge of the work in preparation can lead to absolute disaster. Is the work still your own? Tertiary learning institutions have used anti-plagiarism software for some time, with varied success. Of more effect is the gut feeling produced in a tutor or supervisor that the presented work is significantly superior to that which was expected from the student, and who then feels professionally constrained to follow-up on their reflex and challenge the student formally.

Was the problem created by the editor or the student?

If you can choose who is to edit your work, and you intend to pay them, count yourself lucky. You’re in a position to begin a relationship which can have huge benefits to you personally and to your work and over which you will have control. But you do need to have more than just a clue about who it is you’re going to employ, and you do need to understand that it is best if you regard the editing process in terms of an understanding relationship rather than a series of technical steps.

Editing, language and writing