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