The Doctoral Student, the Advisor, the Advisory Committee, & the Academic Editor – Part 6

This article concludes a series of 6 articles. I’ve spoken much about who is involved in the doctoral process and that the academic editor is one of possibly 8 people. To conclude the series, a good look at what can be expected of an academic editor. What is a copy edit and what is a content edit?

Lack of clarity about the different editing focuses and what can be expected.

Copy edits

Copy edits mean checking all language and punctuation, making sure the work has an academic tone, that house a style is applied (if provided), and that the formatting is correct and consistent. While doing all that an editor will work to keep your writing voice. Not an easy task. The degree of sophistication of the final document depends on three aspects: your level of writing, how well and how often you self-edit, and the number times you have an academic editor edit your work.

My favorite images when trying to describe how editing works is the onion or the ladder. As you keep peeling the onion layers or climbing the rungs of the ladder, so a piece of writing improves. Someone who writes well to start with and does good self-editing could manage with one edit at the end. They next layer or rung is immediately achievable. Someone who writes poorly, be it poor English or poor academic English, would need at least two edits. A first edit would get it reading reasonably. A second edit would ensure that the next layer or rung is possible.

Content edits

It is of no use polishing a paper if the content is lacking. Then you will have well-written words which lack content. So if one person is doing both the content and copy edit, the starting point is the content. The idea is for the author and editor to work the content repeatedly until the thoughts are logical and words flow. Gaps in literature are often the most common content problem, or an unclear thesis, fuzzy questions, loose hypotheses, etc. And once the content has been tightened and honed, then the copy edit process applies. If you cannot manage the content by yourself and there is not enough help from the university, be prepared to pay the expensive rate of a content editor.


I think often students are hoping for a content edit when they are paying for a copy edit. Often a student needs a content edit, but only wants a copy edit. So even if you are not writing under ideal circumstances, know yourself and know the process. Know what you should be doing, know who is in the chain of faculty help, know what kind of help you need from an editor and be prepared to pay for good editing.

What could be less than perfect circumstances?

* When one chooses a topic, one would expect the process of discovery to be simple. Not so. This is normal, but if in any way you find it problematic, get help.
* One chooses your academic advisors expecting perfect help. Unlikely.
* If you are not a great writer, acknowledge that, and find and pay for a good academic editor.

So although it is your duty to be assertive, the doctoral road is structured to help you in many ways. Sometimes the help might feel like a hindrance, but know that it isn’t. True, there are times when you have to jump through academic hoops to satisfy academic egos, but that is part of the process. Just get over it and get on with the writing process. Don’t let anyone point you in the wrong direction when help is needed. And through all the trials and tribulations, be sure to value the expertise of a good academic editor.

And while battling the content road of your doctoral journey, be sure to equip yourself with some basic self-editing skills. Download your own personal copy of the Language Online 21 Proofreading Tips. Print them. Read them, and of course apply them.

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