10 ways to avoid annoying your editor

If you want your thesis professionally edited, I have tips for you. Tips on not annoying your editor. Remember, your editor has the power to fire you as a client, if you are obnoxious, or if your work is appalling.

As you may know, it is now a recommendation that students get their postgrad theses professionally edited. I have done my fair share of these — and have just finished one. I got great feedback too, which was awesome.

Thesis work is long, and often tiresome. You can be harrassed, you get hate it until you’re halfway through. It is tedious, and interesting. You learn things about ‘stuff’, and you learn more about the nature of students. No student — ever — (in my experience anyway) enjoys or likes writing Literature Reviews. Most students pick up the pace and flow when they get to what they know: data and analysis.

1. Your Supervisor is your primary editor.
This means that all structural work, and major glitches in consistency (including grammar, punctuation, referencing, and so on) should be fixed by the time it gets to your editor. If it isn’t, then your supervisor has not done his or her job properly. A good editor will be very blunt and honest about this.

Your editor (in Australia, anyway) is not allowed to do structural editing work. Don’t believe me? Read this pdf. Below is a blurb taken from the Iped website on what is and is not allowed:

It is expected that the academic supervisors of research higher degree students will provide their students with editorial advice relating to matters of substance and structure; language (including matters of clarity, voice and tone, grammar, spelling and punctuation, specialised and foreign material); and use of illustrations and tables. They may also assist with copyediting and proofreading. This type of advice is covered in Standards C (‘Substance and structure’), D (‘Language and illustrations’) and E (‘Completeness and consistency’) of ASEP.

Professional editorial intervention should be restricted to copyediting and proofreading. This type of advice is covered in Standards D and E of ASEP.

In relation to matters of substance and structure (Standard C), the professional editor may draw attention to problems, but should not provide solutions. Examples may be offered in order to guide the student in resolving problems.

2. Editing takes time. DO NOT HARRASS.
I always tell students that editing a thesis takes six to eight weeks. Minimum. It takes more like 12 weeks if your editor also has a full-​time job. If you contact an editor and expect to have a turnaround within a week or two, expect the editor to turn around and say ‘piss off’. It takes you 1 – 4 years to write; a good editor will take his or her time, because they want you to get good marks as much as you want it. If you want a half-​arsed editing job, get one of your friends to “read over” it. Cos that’s all editing is, right?

3. Learn how to conjugate basic terms.
You are a postgraduate (maybe a Doctoral) student. If you cannot conjugate basic terms, go away. Here’s an example.

Singular: country.
Singular possessive: country’s.
Singular contracted: country’s.
Plural: countries.
Plural possessive: countries’.

4. Know that your tenses must agree (this is part of proper conjugation).
If you are a Doctoral student and you can’t get this right, then… *facepalm*.

You cannot write “community” and then write “are drawn together”. community is singular; are refers to a plural term. Putting such writing in front of your editor will cause said editor to curse you over, and over, and over. And curse, they will! Not to your face. But to your words. I guarantee it.

5. Learn the rules for writing dissertations.
And, importantly, learn the rules for writing dissertations at your institution. If possible, provide your editor with a copy of said rules.

General rules for dissertation writing includes:
– keeping lists parallel (like this one; see how all beginning words end in –ing? That.)
– full-​justifying block quotes
– putting all quotes of 30 words or more into a block quote
– punctuating and capitalising block quotes properly
– italicising all Latin terms, such as ad hoc
- keeping your referencing consistent (don’t fluctuate between p. and p and with or without spaces on page numbers)
- it is customary to thank your editor in your acknowledgements.
- use an active, first person point of view, not the usual passive, third-​person. Active, first-​person writing demonstrates that you own your research, cuts down on superfluous words, and moves the writing forwards.

6. Learn when and how to use commas and semi-​colons
If you don’t know the difference, ask your supervisor. If your supervisor doesn’t know, raise your eyebrows at them, point out that he or she is supposed to be your first editor, and ask them why they don’t know. Then go and Google the rules, and apply them stridently.

7. Appreciate good formatting
This means eliminating all underlines. Underlines make words difficult to read. It is, frankly, abysmal. If you use appropriate font sizes and appropriate bold and italics, you don’t ever need to underline anything.

Similarly, keep the formats of all of your tables consistent. You won’t win points for fancy table formats; you will lose points for making them difficult or inconsistent to read.

And make your figures readable. They’re supposed to add meaning, not detract from it.

8. Learn the basics of good writing
NEVER use two words where one word will do.
NEVER use a complicated word, where a simpler version of it exists.

9. Do not remove small pronouns in the belief it makes you “academic“
Eliminating ‘that’ or ‘the’ just makes you look like you can’t write, or refuse to read your work aloud to yourself.

10. Only ever give your thesis to an editor when you AND your supervisors deem it “finished”.
You will always be surprised at how much work there is to do. But it’s better to do it when it’s “finished”, than giving your editor a half-​arsed version, with lots of changes to come afterwards. Because at that point, you may as well pile your money in your kitchen sink and set fire to it.

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