The Value of Having Your Thesis or Dissertation Edited by a Professional Editor

by Melissa MacAulay, Guest Blogger

Published at 2017-04-06


Having your thesis or dissertation edited by a professional editor can be an incredibly valuable investment. After all, a graduate degree is typically a once-in-a-lifetime venture, and is meant to be foundational to your future career. A professional editor is paid to spend substantial amounts of time and energy (something even the best supervisors don't have a lot of) reading your work and providing thorough editorial feedback on each and every page.


When it comes to graduate degrees, however, academic integrity is paramount. It's you that's doing the research, writing the dissertation, and completing the degree – not your editor. Therefore, the content that you produce must be yours and yours alone. If you’re thinking about having your thesis or dissertation professionally edited, it’s important to know what a good editor can – and can’t – do for you.


Before You Start

First and foremost, before you begin contacting editors, you should already have finished (or nearly finished) a fairly polished draft of your work. Bullet points or disjointed field notes will not suffice at this stage. An editor cannot write any portions of your thesis for you – see below – and so it’s important that you’ve already done the heavy lifting. (See my blog “3 Essentials for a Great Thesis or Dissertation” for more on this.)


It’s also vital that you discuss the matter with your supervisor beforehand. Your supervisor will likely want to know that you’re enlisting the help of a professional – or may even be able to refer you to an editor they trust. Having your supervisor on board protects you in the long run, since he or she is likely to be the final authority when it comes to receiving your degree.


What an Editor Can Do

First and foremost, an editor will check your work for errors in grammar, spelling, and syntax. This editing goes far beyond the capabilities of your word processor’s built-in spellchecker – as handy as it may be at times. Your editor will not only catch typos, but will likely draw your attention to dangling modifiers, comma splices, inconsistencies in spelling and usage, incomplete sentences, and more. All these small gaffes can quickly add up; in correcting them, your editor will ensure that your writing comes across as clean and concise as possible.


Furthermore, your editor may prompt you when she or he feels that something extra is required. For example, you may see a portion of your work highlighted with a comment such as, “This isn’t clear. Can you elaborate on this?” or “How does this relate to your previous paragraph?” It is then up to you, the writer and researcher, to follow your editor’s lead – or not!


What an Editor Can’t Do

Importantly, an editor cannot add new content to your thesis or dissertation. As said earlier, it’s you who earns the degree – not your editor – and so all intellectual contributions must come from you and you alone. While an editor may ask you to clarify an idea or passage, she or he should not provide original ideas. Generally, your editor will not be a specialist in your particular subject, anyway. Always remember: you’re the expert.


Not surprisingly, then, an editor will never write original content for you. Although your editor may suggest restructuring a sentence, or even inserting a transitional phrase, she or he will never go ahead and write something entirely new into your thesis or dissertation. Once again, it is important that each and every sentence is yours and yours alone.


Setting Editorial Limits  

Other editorial duties will fall either on you or your editor depending on your institute’s guidelines or your supervisor’s own preferences. Your supervisor may see the formatting of references and citations, for example, as an essential academic skill that you must learn for yourself. This is yet another reason to discuss the matter with your supervisor before hiring an editor; only then will you have the complete picture of what your editor can and can’t do for you.


Hiring an editor to polish your thesis or dissertation can provide an extremely useful service. As with any other kind of editing, however, the goal is to make your writing the best it can possibly be – while ensuring that it remains your work.



Melissa MacAulay worked with TEC for close to three years before moving to Durham, England, in January 2017, where she continues her freelance academic editing. We hope she will be a regular contributor to our monthly blogs. You can find her online at