Selecting the Right Academic Editor  
Printed in the Open Exchange Magazine
October–December 2006
by Vitalee Giammalvo

The key to successfully completing a doctoral dissertation or master’s thesis is finding a competent editor who knows the format and style requirements of your field. Of equal importance is selecting an editor with a flair for revision and a knack for putting you at ease. I am always surprised when graduate students recount their stories of how difficult it was to find the right editor. One student came to me in tears after spending hundreds of dollars on a person who did not substantially improve her writing. Another was traumatized by an editor who made her feel unworthy and demeaned.

The editor is the proofreader, or second set of eyes, who corrects typos, along with errors in grammar, punctuation, and the formatting of citations and references. Many students attempt to convert their committee chairpersons into the editor—a role that chairpersons do not relish. One student said that a committee member had become so disgruntled that he refused to correct another error in her dissertation. Sometimes committee members insist that a student work with an editor. Upon successful completion of a doctoral dissertation, candidates are often told that the editing and revision made the difference in whether they graduated.

Clearly the editor plays an indispensable role in helping graduate students attain their advanced degrees. But what should you look for when selecting someone to review your work?

An editor must be able to skillfully apply confusing and often contradictory format and style rules that comply with the various manuals. (I am well versed in the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association [APA, 6th edition] ; the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing [MLA, 2nd edition] ; and The Chicago Manual of Style [15th edition]. I also follow guidelines set by the American Anthropological Association [AAA].) The manuals outline in-text citations, references, tables, abstracts, titles and level headings, pagination, punctuation, capital letters, and thorny usage recommendations. An editor must even be knowledgeable about the peculiar word preferences of the various style manuals (e.g., the APA frowns upon using “since” to mean “because” and prefers “whereas” to “while” when showing contrast between groups). Moreover, graduate schools publish their own style sheets, which sometimes contradict the manuals. Finally, committee members have their own stylistic preferences, and some schools have specialists who check to ensure that the final document complies with the style sheets.

As a graduate student, you are probably immersed in the substantive angle of your research, and you may not have time to master the rules in your publication manual. Therefore, it is essential to hire an editor who knows your publication manual. I recommend these guidelines: (1) Select someone with whom you have rapport. It is important that the editor respect you as well as the integrity of your work. (2) Discuss credentials (editing specialties, degrees, and experience). (3) Select the editing method that suits you—either on the computer or on hard copy. These two methods vary significantly and can influence your stress level and budget. (4) Check references. (5) Contract for a small job (one to three hours) to determine whether you like the editor’s style. (6) Lastly, remember that the editor is not writing for you, but with you.

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