Over the years many of my clients have hired editors to help them refine their writing. For some students, knowing that their dissertation will be professionally edited at a future point makes the task of writing on any given day easier and actually helps them be more productive. It can take some of the pressure off of a student who knows that they do not need to obsess over every sentence and worry if their grammar, sentence structure, and formatting is perfect. It can also be reassuring to know that someone else is reading your dissertation to see if it flows and makes sense. Working with an editor can also be especially helpful for students who are nonnative English speakers and may have particular concerns about their ability to write and express themselves clearly and accurately. An editor cannot write your dissertation for you but they can help you improve the readability of your dissertation and improve your confidence in the final product. Naturally, check with your university to ensure that their guidelines allow use of an editor.

There are different types of editors who edit doctoral dissertations. Some editors focus on the mechanics of writing such as spelling, grammar, sentence structure, flow, and readability for the target audience. Some focus exclusively on spelling, grammar, and format consistency. Others also focus on developmental editing and the overall organization of your work. Such editors may point out areas of writing that are difficult to understand, require more background information or development, or seem disorganized. They may also point out where your argument is weak or inconsistent.

In my opinion, good editors do some or all of the above but do not offer ghostwriting services to graduate students. Doctoral students are responsible to be the authors of their work. Having any other person write your dissertation for you is unethical and violates your academic responsibility.

You can learn a lot about writing from an editor. Look for an editor who is willing to help you understand the grammar rules and the rationale for their suggested changes. In this way, your work with an editor can help you improve your writing skills. When hiring an editor, seek someone who has experience editing dissertations or academic writing in your field, who is an expert in using the appropriate formatting required by your university (e.g., APA or Chicago style) and who is willing to offer references. I highly recommend checking references and calling several editors to find the best person to meet your needs. Editors charge by the hour, the page, or the project. It is very reasonable to expect an estimate of the cost of editing your dissertation. You may want to give the editor a few pages to edit so you can see the quality of their work before offering you an estimate.

Many students work long hours trying to make the dissertation match their university's formatting guidelines. If you do plan to hire an editor, focus on the content rather than the format of your dissertation, because your formatting work will duplicate work the editor will do. Your editor can quickly set up formatting that will be robust and comprehensive, including pagination, and automatically generated tables of contents and figures. Additionally, they can format citations and references for style and consistency.

If paying for a dissertation editor is not in your budget, see if you can find another student with whom you can trade editing. Remember, no matter who has edited your dissertation, you are ultimately responsible for the content and quality of your work. Once you receive an edited version of your dissertation, be certain to review it carefully for errors, inaccuracies, and editing that may have changed the meaning of your sentences.


This article was written by Alison Miller, PhD, owner of The Dissertation Coach, a business dedicated to helping doctoral and master's students successfully earn their graduate degrees.

Please visit thedissertationcoach.com for more information.

Copyright August 2007 by Alison Miller, Ph.D., The Dissertation Coach