Proofreading Theses and Dissertations by Alison Chand

A little about how I started:

When I started out in proofreading and copy-editing in 2012, towards the tail end of my PhD, my work mainly involved some casual proof-editing of other postgraduates’ work mostly in the form of dissertations and PhD theses, to make a bit of extra cash. After the birth of my daughter later that year, I began to take editing more seriously and, on the most part, this was still the kind of work I pursued. I did some training courses in editing, starting with Chapterhouse’s distance learning course in proofreading and copy-editing and followed by the SfEP’s (now ciep) introductory day courses on the same subjects. I’ve picked up new training most years, including the SfEP’s follow-up Proofreading Progress, Copy-editing Headway and Copy-editing Progress courses. Throughout this time, my main area of work has remained student theses and dissertations.

Building experience:

I worked (and continue to work) independently on student theses with students contacting me through my lecturing work at the University of Strathclyde and the University of the Highlands and Islands. Now, though, I am also approached via the ciep Directory and Glasgow Editors’ Network. In 2012, I also became a freelance proofreader and copy-editor for ProofreadMyEssay (now rebranded as Proofed) and continue to undertake work for this company. As a result of my background in lecturing and university-level teaching, I was aware of some of the ethical issues involved in editing for students, and knew that I could not, for example, draw a student’s attention to factual inaccuracies when editing their work. Over the last six years I have gradually honed my craft, becoming more accomplished in tasks such as using tracked changes, working with references and formatting.

I entered the ciep (at that point as an Associate of SfEP) in 2012, moving to Intermediate member. Early in 2019 I upgraded to Professional membership status, a process which took up quite a bit of time. After taking a break from gathering evidence of my training, and not wanting to rest on my laurels, my thoughts turned to what training I should do next. It occurred to me that I had never actually undertaken any official training in the kind of editing I do the most – proofreading and copy-editing theses and dissertations.

Proofreading Theses and Dissertations – online course:

Before embarking on the ciep Proofreading Theses and Dissertations online course, I got hold of a copy of the ciep’s guide on the topic, which introduces the issues involved in working with students. These include specific requirements for calculating fees and working on samples, as well as ethical considerations associated with, for example, plagiarism and fact-checking. The basic principles of proofreading theses and dissertations discussed in the guide served as a useful introduction to the requirements and techniques involved in editing for students, while rightly pointing to the need for more in-depth consideration of some of the issues raised. With the intention of ascertaining whether my work practice fitted with ciep recommendations and looking for pointers for improvement, I decided to embark on the online course.

The Proofreading Theses and Dissertations course is divided into six sections and has ten exercises to complete, with corresponding examples and model answers where relevant. The sections entitled ‘First contact’ and ‘Negotiation’ give much useful insight into how to correspond with students and negotiating a fee. For me, the examples given of work agreement forms in these sections were particularly useful – while I normally agreed terms with students by email, undertaking the course prompted me to develop a work agreement form of my own. I now stipulate the work I will and will not be able to undertake for students, which adds another layer of professionalism and transparency to my work. I have since found that using the form and sending it to students helps me clarify with them some of the ethical issues involved in editing their work, such as plagiarism and the necessity for dissertations to represent their own original work. These issues are raised in the fourth section of the online course. The fifth section covers different formats, which was useful in its explanations of working with LaTeX files. While I am comfortable working in Word and, to a lesser extent, with PDF documents, I have steadfastly avoided LaTeX files, but, if I decide to take the plunge in future, I’ll have my notes from this course to guide me! I found the final section, entitled ‘Pulling it all together’, a very effective way of drawing together all the information and guidance presented in the course.

Overall, then, I think that the online Proofreading Theses and Dissertations course offers a highly useful introduction to this kind of editing work for those new to it, but also has useful insights for proofreaders and editors who have, like me, worked on theses and dissertations before, and are looking for ways to improve their methods of working. Studying it was certainly a good use of my time!

Working with a Proofreader on your Thesis or Dissertation

So you have finished your dissertation or thesis and you are ready to have it proofread. So much effort has gone into it and now you are nearly ready to submit it. You want it to be as good as it possibly can be but sometimes we are so close to our own work that we can’t see the simple mistakes in spelling or grammar that we can all make. Or perhaps English is not your first language and you need to be sure that you have not made errors in word choice or style that will detract from the flow of your argument.

You can find professional proofreaders in this website or in the Directory of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading. Once you have chosen who to contact, the next thing is to email them asking if they can do the work and how much it will cost.

Your first email to the proofreader

Address the proofreader by name (‘Hi Pat’) and don’t just begin ‘Hi, I’d like …’. Many professional proofreaders are suspicious of emails that don’t use their name and don’t answer them.

If you can, send the email from your university or college email address, rather than from a generic address on your phone. It indicates you are serious in your enquiry.

In your first email, mention:

  • the title or subject area of your dissertation
  • its word count (including any footnotes or appendices)
  • how many tables it has (or other special features that you want to include in the proofread)
  • your time frame – when you will have it ready to send and when you need it back
  • what you want done – just a proofread for language issues, or do you also require some formatting work, and is there any work to be done on the references?

What will the proofreader ask you?

You can expect the proofreader to ask you for a few things at this stage:

  • a representative sample of your text – perhaps 1,000 or 2,000 words – so that they can see the level of proofread that might be required and quote a fair fee based on this
  • the name of your institution and the name and contact details of your supervisor – so that they can be sure that your supervisor has given approval for your work to be proofread by a third party and it is all above board
  • your institution’s guidance or rules on formatting or style for the submission of theses and dissertations – if it’s published online, where this can be found.

How much time will you need?

Many proofreaders are busy (a good sign!), so don’t leave it late to try to find one. You are more likely to find the person you need if you can give them reasonable notice. You will save yourself some stress by not leaving it till the last minute.

Be realistic about the time this stage will take. You need to factor in time for correspondence with the proofreader, because they may need to check things with you as they read through your text. Think in terms of weeks rather than days.

After you receive the work back from the proofreader you will need some time to review their corrections and comments. You won’t be able to submit it immediately after the proofread – you need to allow some time for this.

What can a proofreader do for you?

Your institution will have rules about what interventions are allowed by a third party – you should know what these are. A professional proofreader will work to a code of conduct that ensures everything they do is ethical. This protects you as well as the proofreader.

For example, a proofreader generally will correct:

  • typographical errors – simple slips
  • mistakes in spelling, grammar and punctuation
  • simple formatting errors such as wrong fonts, spacing issues, messy paragraph alignment
  • inconsistencies in language – e.g. differences in spelling, capitalisation or abbreviation of the same term.

Your proofreader will be able to point out to you (for your own decision and correction if necessary):

  • language that makes your meaning unclear
  • repetition
  • poor logic flow in the language (though not in the argument of your thesis)
  • citations that do not match the references (if this is agreed as part of the work).

Your proofreader will not do this:

  • rewrite bits of your text
  • check your facts
  • check the content of your references
  • compile your references list
  • raise issues that have to do with the quality of your arguments or your evidence.

Getting the best service from your proofreader

Your dissertation is all your own work and should still be all your own work after it has been proofread. A professional proofreader understands this. They will never cross the line into ‘improving’ the work or anything else that would invalidate your research.

Follow these simple guidelines to avoid adding unnecessary stress and delay to the process of getting your dissertation finished and submitted. You will get the most value out of your proofreader and do the most credit to your own hard work.

Susan Milligan

With acknowledgement to the CIEP Guide Proofreading Theses and Dissertations by Stephen Cashmore. Thanks also to Alison Chand.