If you open your student mailbox right now, in addition to the multiple requests from fellow students to complete their surveys, you would probably find one or two cold emails from academic editors offering their services. Choosing an editor is often something which is done at the last minute, a few weeks (sometimes days) before a final submission is due and many students consequently run into trouble with this process.
Given how expensive the services of an editor can be, I have written this post to flag some issues to look out for when you do decide to make use of an editor.
They cannot re-write your work
When you send your document for language editing, only send the final version you would have submitted in the absence of an editor. Many students do a poor job of self-editing their work, anticipating the use of a language editor. This makes it difficult for your supervisor to read your work, but you might also find that the editor does not have much to work with.
The purpose of a language editor is to improve on the work you have written. Thus, if your work is 95% there, they might be able to push you to the 100% mark. However, if your document is 50% ready, they really won’t have much to work with.
They can’t do your work for you and they’re expensive. So, make sure you get bang for your buck by sending the best possible version of your work.
Skip the unsolicited emails
Always use a recommended editor! I cannot stress this enough.
Ask your fellow students or your supervisor if they can recommend anyone. We hardly ever meet these editors face-to-face and if they end up not holding up their side of the agreement, you will have no recourse. If there is a risk of reputational damage, you have some leverage over them.
Have something in writing
It is always good to have a written and signed agreement. This may be preferable to only having leverage in relation to their reputation. Should the need arise, this should be something that can be presented in a court of law.
This may seem a bit extreme, but when you consider the fact that an editor for a PhD thesis could cost anything from R10 000 upwards, you want to make sure that you can recover your money if the services are not delivered.
Clarify what will be included in the fee
Some editors only do language edits in the main document and then charge extra for checking references. Some include reference checking, while others do not check references at all. Make sure that you know what your appointed editor will be looking at.
If you know that you generally struggle with referencing, be sure to make use of an editor who includes it in their package or who can do it for an additional fee. Do not wait until your document comes back to discover that it has not been done.
Ask for track changes
While this seems like an obvious thing for them to do, you do not want to take the risk. Despite the fact that you have people helping you along the way, such as the editor and your supervisor, you will be the one who takes the final responsibility for what is in your document. If an editor does track changes, these are simply suggestions. If you don’t have a track changed document, you won’t be able to see which changes have been made unless you read through your document again (which you should eventually do anyway).
In summary, never accept a document that has not been track changed. This will show you (1) where changes have been made and (2) whether changes have been made at all.
Work through the changes systematically
Related to the previous point, you know better than the editor which rules are and are not acceptable in your institution and your discipline. It is therefore important that you do not blindly accept all the track changes.
You have to work through them systematically to decide which proposed changes are acceptable and which are not. It is okay to reject a suggested change if you are not comfortable with it.
Agree on timelines
If you have a short deadline, make sure that you communicate this to the editor, before entering into any agreements and making payments. Also, ask them how much time they need to edit your document. Often they will ask you for the word count to be able to determine how much time they need and how much to charge you.
If you do not do this, you may find yourself having paid the deposit, but not being able to submit an edited document, because they are still busy with it on the day you should be submitting it.
Be transparent about when you need the document. You might find that they turn down the work because they simply cannot finish the work within your date parameters. That’s okay, rather look for someone else who may have more time.
Who gets what, by when?
You need your work and they need their money. Who’s going to make the first move? To avoid finding yourself in a classic Mexican standoff, make sure that you have agreed on this process of exchange beforehand.
This is where a written agreement will come in handy.
Agree on when the deposit should be paid and how long after the first payment you can expect your first batch of edits. The same goes for subsequent payments, with the last one being the riskiest. Know who is going to make the first move. Are you gonna pay the final amount before they send you your work, or are they gonna send their work first before you make the last payment?
Make sure that both of you are on the same page.
Make sure you’re actually sending the FINAL draft
There is nothing as painful as sending work to an editor, paying a few thousand rands for the service and then being told by your supervisor that you still need to make significant changes to your work.
Firstly, communicate your intention to send your document for language editing and before sending it out, confirm with your supervisor that they do not think any significant changes will be necessary going forward.