• Emma Lawson

Proofreading and editing a dissertation/thesis

Do you need your dissertation/ thesis proofread and edited, but don’t quite know what this will look like in practice?

What exactly will it entail, and what will be checked and revised? These are common questions I get asked when approached by clients who need their undergraduate, Masters or PhD dissertations/theses proofread.

First of all, let’s get clear on our terms of reference with some brief summaries.

What is proofreading?

Simply put, proofreading is a final quality check or tidy-up. It means that the following issues will be amended or queried:

  • Spelling, punctuation and grammar

  • Consistency of capitalisation, hyphenation and use of italics

  • Consistency of layout, including tables, graphs, illustrations and artwork

  • Pointing out vague, ambiguous or confusing sentences

  • Repetition

  • Obvious factual inaccuracies

What is copyediting?

Copyediting involves more intervention than proofreading. Copyediting also takes into account the flow, tone and logical sequence of arguments.

In addition to spelling, punctuation and grammar, the following are reviewed:

  • Language and wording, including tone, style and vocabulary

  • Querying obvious doubtful facts

  • Missing information

  • Consistency of referencing and numbering systems

  • Consistency of subheadings

  • Spacing, fonts, and unwanted formatting, including alignment and indentation of text

  • Contradictions, ambiguities and anomalies

  • Contents tables and chapter headings

  • Illustrations and graphs matching captions and labels

  • Terms and abbreviations

  • Internal links and cross-references

Ultimately, the job of the copyeditor is to ensure that work is correct, complete, credible, consistent and coherent. And probably some other words beginning with C.

Editorial professionals take arguments and ideas and ensure they make sense on both a grammatical and logical level. However, when it comes proofreading and proof-editing dissertations/theses, the extent to which this can be done needs careful attention (more on this below). They also consider the target audience and make sure that the wording, vocabulary and style are pitched to the appropriate level.

What is proof-editing?

Many non-publishing organisations and private individuals might ask for proofreading services when they are really looking for more intervention than a straightforward proofread would provide.

What will this look like?

Want to download the above image as a document for closer inspection? Get your free download here!

sample_proofedit_academic (1)
Download PDF • 126KB

What proofreading and copyediting are NOT

Proofreading and proof-editing do not mean completely rewriting the student's work. It’s the student's job to make their own arguments and formulate their own ideas. Proofreaders merely make suggestions on how to present ideas and arguments in a clear and consistent way. However, bear in mind that seemingly small changes make a big difference in whether words and ideas make sense. The placement of a comma or the decision to use that/which might make all the difference in the meaning of a sentence. Proofreaders will not suggest new arguments and ideas. Content should be unique to the student, and copyright permissions and plagiarism checks remain the responsibility of the student.

'[Plagiarism is the] action or practice of taking someone else's work, idea, etc., and passing it off as one's own; literary theft.' Oxford English Dictionary

Photo: Green Chameleon via Unsplash

To what extent can a dissertation/thesis be proofread and edited?

This is a tricky one. The most important note to add is that a dissertation/thesis should be the student's own work. It seems obvious, and yet the line between proofreading and proof-editing can become blurry if expectations and boundaries are not made clear and established from the outset. Proofreading or proof-editing academic work does not extend to substantially altering the text and essentially re-writing or cutting portions of the text.

Critiquing data and fact-checking anything other than obvious factual inaccuracies (such as typographical errors to do with numbers and dates, e.g. 'the end of the Second World War in 1954') are beyond the scope of a proofreader.

Fact-checking: ethical grey areas

A proofreader who checks and corrects the veracity of a fact or statement could be crossing a fine red line and breaching academic ethics.

A proofreader may flag up supposed facts relating to common knowledge, for example, that the minor prophet Malachi is the central figure of Christianity.

That being said, the proofreader may query rather than change the error. They will not make a correction or do research to make a correction. But even in the case of obvious factual errors in the realm of common knowledge, a proofreader will be careful to take into account the context of the thesis so as to avoid making any possible impact on the student's ability to change their argument or line of reasoning and affect the eventual grade awarded. It is the dissertation/thesis supervisor's job to check the logical flow of premises and the conclusions drawn from them.

Checking against university guidelines

There should be complete transparency among all parties, including the dissertation/thesis supervisor, who should be made aware of the nature and scope of the editorial assistance provided.

Heavy editing, which may be required when English is not the student's first language, would need to be explicitly addressed and given the go-ahead with the supervisor.

The university should have a guide, statement or code of practice concerning exactly what level of editorial help is acceptable for dissertations/theses, and this should be carefully looked at and understood before asking someone to take on editorial work. It should be made clear with the supervisor exactly what services have been used.

For example, here is guidance from the University of Birmingham regarding postgraduate research theses:

'... a postgraduate researcher must not employ a 'ghost writer' to write parts or all of the thesis, whether in draft or as a final version, on his/her behalf.'

'Postgraduate researchers may use 'third party' editorial assistance (paid or voluntary) from an outside source. This must be with the knowledge and support of supervisors. Moreover, use of 'third party' editorial assistance must be stated in the thesis acknowledgements and strictly follow these guidelines below:

1. If the postgraduate researcher chooses to use a ‘third party’ editor, it is the PGR’s responsibility to provide them with a copy of this statement and ensure they complete the Third Party Editor Declaration Form confirming their compliance with this statement. When submitting the thesis the postgraduate researcher must also acknowledge what form of contribution the ‘third party’ editor has made, by stating, for example, “this thesis was copy edited for conventions of language, spelling and grammar by ABC Editing Ltd”.

Photo: Clay Banks via Unsplash

2. A ‘third party’ editor cannot be used:

2.1 To change the text of the thesis so as to clarify and/or develop the ideas and arguments; 2.2 To reduce the length of the thesis so it falls within the specified word limit;

2.3 To correct information within the thesis;

2.4 To change ideas and arguments put forward within the thesis; and/or

2.5 To translate the thesis into English.

3. A ‘third party’ editor can be used to offer advice on:

3.1 Spelling and punctuation;

3.2 Formatting and sorting of footnotes and endnotes for consistency and order;

3.3 Ensuring the thesis follows the conventions of grammar and syntax in written English;

3.4 Shortening long sentences and editing long paragraphs;

3.5 Changing passives and impersonal usages into actives, vice versa as may be appropriate; 3.6 Improving the positioning of tables and illustrations and the clarity, grammar, spelling and punctuation of any text in or under tables and illustrations; and

3.7 Ensuring consistency of page numbers, headers and footers.'

What I offer

I offer both a proofreading and a proof-editing service within the parameters laid out above. I provide a tracked changes version and a clean version of an edited dissertation/thesis and will send it back within an agreed time frame, factoring in the time it takes for corrections and queries to be dealt with in advance of the deadline.

The process

After the initial enquiry, the student/researcher sends me a representative sample (a 1,000 word sample accurately reflecting the nature of the entire dissertation/thesis). I then send across, usually via email, an Academic Agreement to be read and signed by the student/researcher, which includes exact details of what I will amend and query, as well as details of the academic project in question. The name and contact details of the dissertation/thesis supervisor will be provided by the student. The agreement will also include a quote based on the word count and how long it takes me to proofread or proof-edit the 1,000 word sample. My prices start from £8 per thousand words.

Photo: Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash

My specialisms:

  • Politics

  • International relations

  • International development

Why use me?

  • I have experience proofreading and proof-editing dissertations at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

  • I am confident in the world of academic language and writing. I achieved a distinction for my own social sciences dissertation, as well as receiving the Peter Campbell Award for Best Overall Academic Performance from the University of Reading.

  • I love learning! You’ll be giving me a brilliant excuse to learn something new and interesting!

I know just how incredibly stressful it can be to pour your heart, mind and soul into such an important piece of work. When the deadline is looming and you have drained your umpteenth cup of coffee, it can be hard to maintain a sense of calm and composure. It feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. You want your hard work, talent and determination to shine through. You don't want anything to stand in the way of success and let you down. I know. I've been there. That's why when you work with me, I will offer a friendly, supportive and reliable service. This is what one of my clients had to say:

Thanks so much for understanding and being flexible. Your comments are so helpful, I'm glad I came to you... I felt like you had my back and that really calmed me down. Natalie Record, MSc programme.

Do you need your essay, article or dissertation proofread or proof-edited? Drop me a message on my contact page for more information about my editorial services or send me an email: emmajanelawson@gmail.com


https://www.oed.com/ (accessed 18/08/2020)

https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/as/studentservices/graduateschool/documents/public/rsa/editorialhelp.pdf (accessed 18/08/2020)

Cover photo: Sharon McCutcheon via Unsplash