The Final Polish
Proofreading and copyediting can make your work really shine. Here's what you need to know.
Image: Riala on pixabay
There's nothing like typing the last sentence of your thesis and feeling the stress and pressure of the last few months or years melt away.
Still, you're not done just yet. Now it's time to give your writing its finishing touches by improving your language, grammar, consistency, and style.
While you'll want to check your writing yourself, it's advisable to have another person also take a look. Since you know your own text so well, it can be difficult to view it objectively. Another reader with fresh eyes can more easily spot typos, strange grammatical constructions, and complicated sentences.
But who should you choose? And should you ask them to copyedit or proofread your thesis? Is it academically dishonest to use an editing service? These questions and more are discussed below.
Proofreading, editing, or copyediting?
Many people use the terms editing and proofreading to mean the same thing, but there is a difference. Proofreading is only concerned with the correction of mechanics: spelling, grammar, syntax, and punctuation. It's usually performed as a last step once the rest of the thesis is more or less in its final state.
Editing is a much broader term that can even include major changes to structure or content. Since changes to structure or content will very likely violate your university's academic honesty policies, you will usually only consider having your work copyedited. A copyeditor will examine a work's clarity and style as well as performing proofreading, but he or she will not make any changes to structure or content.
Copyediting takes more work than proofreading because it requires a text to be read multiple times. Each reading should focus on a different aspect:
- Mechanics: spelling, grammar, syntax, punctuation.
- Style and use of language
- Clarity and comprehensibility (can a non-specialist understand your text?)
- Formatting consistency (citations, figures, etc.)
It's especially helpful if you can find one person who is willing to read your work several times and focus on a different aspect each time. Otherwise, you can try to find multiple copyeditors.
If you are using a software program like Citavi, you may be able to get by with one less reading or a smaller team of copyeditors. Your software will take care of the citation formatting rules. As long as you checked the bibliographic information against the original source when entering your information, you can be confident that the citation information in your document is correct.
Do you need to have someone else copyedit or proofread your work?
Of course not! It's almost never a requirement that you get someone else to proofread or copyedit your work, be it a semester paper or Master's thesis. However, it almost always is helpful since another person will be reading your work for the first time and will be better able to spot problems that you otherwise might have overlooked. Since you know your text so well you likely aren't reading it as closely as another person would.
That said, if you're a confident and experienced writer with a firm sense of style, you can often get away with just having your text proofread. Far from being the voice of your generation? Then it might make sense to have someone else take a more in-depth look at your work.
Also, if you're writing in a second language, it's practically a must to have a copyeditor who is a native speaker, at least for important projects such as a thesis or dissertation. Even if you've spent months in language courses or abroad, a native speaker simply is more familiar with nuances in the language that you might not know.
Is copyediting academically dishonest?
When you work with a copyeditor, you give them some influence over your work. Although you're the one who decides whether or not to accept suggestions and what to do about any comments they share with you, you may wonder if you can still claim that your text is your own work when you submit a declaration of originality as part of your thesis.
Usually you do not need to worry, since a copyeditor should not change the content of the text you wrote. His or her focus should only be on the language, style, and mechanics of your work.
However, if language and expression are part of what's being evaluated in your work, using a copyeditor could be a problem. Also, some universities and departments have specific rules about when proofreading and copyediting is or is not allowed. For example, the University of Manchester does not allow copyediting services at all.
To be on the safe side, discuss your planned approach with your professor or thesis advisor. He or she can also help you decide if you need to include attribution for the copyeditor in your thesis.
How should you select a copyeditor or proofreader?
The person who edits your work does not need to be a professional copyeditor or proofreader. Usually it's fine to ask a peer, a friend, or a family member.
If you don't know who to ask and are thinking of hiring someone, you can first contact the writing center at your university or college. Many of these centers offer feedback and suggestions and can help you develop the skills needed to copyedit and proofread your own work. They also usually will give feedback on sections you're having difficulty with. If the center does not offer these services themselves, they may be able to point you toward a trustworthy freelance editor. Don't forget to ask your peers, professors, or advisor for recommendations as well.
No writing center at your university? You can search for a freelancer yourself by checking the website for the national editing society in your country. These organizations typically require their members to adhere to a professional code of conduct and offer a place to post your proofreading or copyediting job.
If time is tight or you would rather work with a company, be wary when searching online. Since there's no certification necessary to call yourself an editor, anyone can create a website and offer copyediting and proofreading services. A search for editing services will return many results, each one more tempting than the last: "Highest quality at the lowest price" or "The best proofreaders for the best grades - cheaper than the rest".
This kind of wording is used to attract gullible and cash-strapped students. Quality has its price, though, and low-priced editing services might not find all mistakes. Make sure to take your time when selecting a company for proofreading and copyediting, and look closely at what they offer. Also, try to find out who is behind a website or agency by checking the website's "legal" section. It should raise some red flags if you find the same company or group of people operating several websites under different names.
In addition, many companies that otherwise look legitimate also offer ghostwriting services. Ghostwriters will write a complete paper or thesis on a topic so that the recipient can pass it off as his or her own work. It should go without saying that you should stay away from any company that offers such services and should never use one, no matter how desperate you are! Use of a ghostwriting service is a clear violation of academic honesty and will have dire consequences for your academic career.
Once you've weeded out dubious service providers and are able to find a few reputable offers, you should ask for costs and a sample before making your final selection. If you can find external reviews for an editor or company, checking them can help you avoid any unpleasant surprises.
Using reference management software while working with a copyeditor or proofreader
Regardless of how you choose to arrange your copyediting or proofreading, you might wonder what to do if you're using a reference management program to insert citations into your document. Will you need to separate the Word document from the software before giving it to the copyeditor or proofreader?
Most programs insert citations into your document using Word fields. These fields all work the same way: if you make manual changes to the field they are overwritten when Word or the programupdates the fields. For this reason, your proofreader or editor should never make changes to fields directly, but should instead use Word's comment feature if they want you to change a citation. Additional tips for working with Citavi and a proofreader or editor can be found here.
Have you ever used professional proofreading or copyediting services?
What's your university's position regarding copyediting?
Let us know on Facebook!