Who needs it?
Anyone who has had the experience of writing a postgraduate thesis for a Master or a PhD qualification knows how gruelling and laborious it can be. It can also, of course, be very exciting – but there’s no denying that it’s a mammoth task that can swallow you up and spit you out, and that some people never complete it. Australian statistics show that between 2010 and 2016, some 437,000 students enrolled for a postgraduate degree but only some 65,000 completed one in the same period. This may be due to all sorts of reasons including change of career goals, family and work conflicts, health reasons or financial strain (Bednall, 2020, The Conversation)
So….. if you are one of the persevering ones who has hung in there and completed a thesis, which is quite an endurance test, you will want to be sure that your final product is as good as it can be. Professional editing of your thesis will help to ensure this.
Living with your thesis
and thesis blindness
By the time you submit your thesis you have ‘lived’ with it for years. It can get to the stage where it occupies every waking moment and you become completely absorbed, to the point that you can practically recite certain sections that you have written, revised and adapted. In other words, you can become too familiar with it, so that you sometimes don’t see any minor errors or ‘bumps’ because your brain is supplying the right words, even if your written copy has minor errors. You need a pair of fresh eyes to go over your written text to look at what you have written ‘from the outside’: you need editing.
Professional thesis editing
A fresh pair of eyes to bring out your voice
A professional editor, who may not be (in fact often is not) a specialist in your field, will first read for meaning. Is what you have written clear and logical? Does the writing flow? Can the reader follow your line of reasoning? Is the outline of your thesis logical? Have you adhered to the sort of thesis structure required in your field of research?
At a more granular level, is the text grammatically correct? Are there any minor or major grammatical errors which make the reader’s task difficult? Can your writing be improved so that it has more impact? Are you adhering to the academic standards required for citing in academic contexts?
Academic writing requirements
You may have overlooked some of the requirements indicated in the above questions. The researcher’s major focus is the research and content of the thesis. The editor looks at how you have expressed what you have done and found, and focuses on how clearly you have conveyed your ideas. You are likely to have a strong emotional connection to what you have written as a result of your research. Therefore, sometimes you are reluctant to edit or cut anything you have written. The editor can be more objective in editing the language to ensure that your meaning is clear and your text is easy for an outsider to read.
It does not matter how good a writer you are. The very fact that you ‘live’ with a thesis text for a long time and that you read and re-read and tinker with the text means you cannot achieve some of that distance that is so necessary for objectivity. Some sections you will often re-read and modify, so that in the end when you read it you actually misread what is on the page. This is where the objectivity of the editor comes into play and provides the outsider view.
Some writers fear this and see it as a loss of control. However, remember that the author is always the one who has the final say, particularly at the thesis level and particularly because every thesis operates at a very high level of sophistication. The thesis writer is the ‘content’ expert – the editor is an expert outsider who can provide ‘technical’ and language support but who can never override your decision.
How to choose your editor
And why to avoid MS Word’s track changes
So, what to look for in a good thesis editor? Look for someone who will write comments and suggestions on your text rather than ‘corrections’. A good editor will question sections that seem a little unclear, that ramble and are repetitive, and that have the occasional grammatical slip. It is important to note that many universities do not want thesis editors to use the Track Changes tool, because that would allow students to simply accept all changes. They prefer corrections on hard copy, which show that students have considered editing advice and then made their own changes, as they see fit.
Most Australian universities have online advice about thesis editing and a list of editors that they recommend. You should ensure you read the relevant research advice and obtain a quotation before committing to an editor.