Out of the Shadows
When Edits Made Easy first opened its (electronic) doors in 2008, it took some time before we even knew the name of one of our first dissertation editing clients. She was so convinced that seeking professional editing services was unethical that she wouldn’t give us her real name! A doctoral student at a prestigious university, and doing cutting-edge research in her field, she had nonetheless been given almost no instruction in the mechanics of how to go about writing her dissertation. She was desperate. Sadly, I’ve discovered that this is not uncommon: Even top-notch universities providing first-rate instruction in doctoral research fields often fail to equip their graduate students with adequate instruction on how to write their dissertations. Armed with nothing more than a set of formatting and submission guidelines, when it comes to focusing, researching, structuring, writing, and referencing their theses and dissertations, students are usually on their own. Or at least they think they are … until they discover services like ours.
What our early dissertation editing client eventually came to realize is that everything we were doing for her was entirely above board—in fact, certain universities require that a professional editor be engaged before a dissertation may be submitted, and some even make funds available for this service; where it’s not required, these days professional dissertation editing is often recommended strongly by universities and doctoral committees. The rationale is simple: The successful doctoral candidate is supposed to be an expert in a specific academic area; s/he is not also expected to be an expert in English writing or in academic formatting styles, and it is a waste of everyone’s time (students, dissertation committees, and universities) when good research gets obscured by bad writing, or when a dissertation can’t be passed because of citation or bibliography formatting errors.
I’m pleased to report that our clandestine client went on to successfully defend her dissertation, and that immediately after the defense, her dissertation advisor phoned me to say “Thanks” for my team’s work. Our client had come out of the shadows and not only revealed to her advisor that we were editing and coaching her dissertation, but she went on to ask her university to recommend Edits Made Easy to other doctoral students. Always with a hearty laugh, she and her advisor had come to call me “Ethical Albert” because of how much I insisted on sticking to our Academic Integrity Policy:
Edits Made Easy provides top-quality editing, formatting, and coaching in order to support clients in their own honest academic work. Our editors and coaches will never be complicit in plagiarism, nor will they conduct research or writing for academic clients to submit as their own work. Edits Made Easy’s team members seek to assist academic clients in producing high-quality texts of which they can rightly be proud.
Where’s the Line?
While some countries’ editorial associations (such as those of Canada and Australia) are quite explicit about the exact details of what constitutes ethical and unethical practices in dissertation and thesis editing, there is no uniform set of American guidelines for this work. However, most universities that have policies on the matter allow that professional editors may typically contribute to the thesis or dissertation project in three important ways:
1. Correcting issues of formatting, by bringing the overall document into conformity with university/departmental guidelines and by ensuring that all references, bibliography entries, and other elements of the work adhere to the guidelines of a specified style sheet (APA, MLA, Chicago, Turabian, etc.)
2. Editing language for clarity, correctness, and effectiveness of expression—especially important for non-native English speakers, but useful even for those for whom English is their first language
3. Raising questions and offering critiques regarding argument and presentation, but without making direct changes to content or structure
As a rule, it is always considered unethical for a professional editor to directly carry out research on behalf of the student or to make direct changes to the content or structure of a thesis, dissertation, or any other document that is being submitted for a grade. In the case of Edits Made Easy, we are proud to place our thesis editing and dissertation editing projects in the hands of highly qualified professionals who possess doctorates in their fields of study, and these editors provide plenty of feedback on the effectiveness of the student’s arguments and on the way the dissertation is structured. However, this feedback is always in the form of comments and questions, never direct changes to the content or structure of the work. Our editors’ direct in-line changes are made in the area of language (including grammar, punctuation, syntax, word choice, word order, capitalization, spelling, italicization, fluidity, clarity, and concision) and in matters of formatting (i.e., conformity with the specified style sheet and with university guidelines).
Keeping You Out of Trouble!
In some universities, a letter from your professional editor is required as a part of your thesis or dissertation submission package—and Edits Made Easy is happy to provide such a letter for you. This ensures the doctoral committee that they won’t get bogged down in language issues or problems of citation. But even in universities where professional editorial work is not required, Edits Made Easy can provide the documentation that will keep you from being sidetracked by ethics concerns. When we conduct a digital plagiarism scan, Edits Made Easy can bring to your attention potential instances of unintentional plagiarism before they get to your committee; and because we maintain tracked versions of your edited documents, we can offer proof of the specific type of editorial work that was—and, more importantly, was not—done on your dissertation. If your university requires it, you may certainly acknowledge Edits Made Easy’s editorial work in your thesis or dissertation, but if your university does not require this mention then we are happy to be your silent partners.
When in Doubt, Ask!
If professional dissertation editing is not a common practice among your fellow doctoral students, then it’s a good idea to discuss with your doctoral advisor your intention to have your dissertation edited. In all likelihood, s/he will confirm that, kept within the parameters outlined in this post, professional editing of your thesis or dissertation is an acceptable—even an advisable—practice. The end result will be your own original research and ideas presented in the clearest and most effective way possible—and that’s a recipe for academic success!