Why is Academic Editing Important?
By Dr Rani Kerin
In the spirit of full disclosure, I feel I should begin by stating that I am an academic editor. However, I am also a published academic. My field is Australian Indigenous history. In writing about the importance of academic editing, I am speaking as an academic with insider knowledge: as someone who knows, first hand, the difference academic editing can make.
What is an Academic Editor?
Before becoming an academic editor, I worked as an editor in various formal and informal capacities. I thought I was a reasonably skilled editor, but the training I went through to become an academic editor proved otherwise. Academic editors are highly skilled academics and highly trained professional editors. We come from a broad range of academic fields; we share an eye for detail, a passion for clarity and a love of language; we understand the idiosyncrasies of academia; and we know and care where the comma goes!
What is Academic Editing?
Academic editing is a specialised form of editing for academics, students and universities. Academic editors provide a service that is far more comprehensive than normal or standard copyediting. Routine tasks—language editing, formatting and referencing—are completed to the highest of standards, but academic editors do much more than that: we engage deeply with the document, helping to improve its logic and flow by strengthening and highlighting core arguments, streamlining structure and eliminating repetition.
The depth and extent to which we do this depends on the document and the client, of course. All our editing follows the ‘Guidelines for Editing Research Theses’, so for a postgraduate thesis, the work we do in terms of logic and flow would be very different to the types of changes we could make when editing a journal article for an academic. This is just another reason why it should be a specialist academic editor who performs editing for students and academics. Not every editor has the skills and experience to follow the ethical guidelines of academic editing correctly.
We work on broad range of documents, from conference papers to PhD theses, from journal articles to grant applications and from book chapters to whole books, readying them for publication without the need for further editing.
Academic editing is important for three main reasons.
1. Because First Impressions Count
Academic editing can help you to make an excellent first impression. We all know how important first impressions are. This is especially important for theses. A thesis that is poorly presented does not inspire confidence. A candidate whose thesis contains infelicities in formatting, errors in referencing, inconsistencies in chapter headings or capitalisation, mistakes in figures or tables, or problems with pagination risks raising the ire of weary and wary examiners. It makes sense to court the sympathy of examiners by making your work as attractive as possible.
This is true for other types of academic writing as well. Abstracts that are over-length or have the incorrect number of keywords can result in journal articles or conference papers being rejected. Likewise, journal articles, book proposals and book editing that do not conform to conventions or requirements in terms of length and style are likely to receive rejections or tersely written reviews that focus more on presentation than content.
2. Communicating Your Message
Of course, the content is what really matters, and this is where academic editing can make the biggest difference. Like all forms of writing, academic writing is all about communication. Writing is difficult for everyone, but some struggle more than others to communicate their ideas. This brings me to the second reason why academic editing is important—its ability to lift the quality of academic writing. Academic editors do this in several ways.
Clarity of Message
Academic editors work to ensure that your meaning is expressed as clearly and concisely as possible. We do not change your content. Instead, by improving the logic and flow of your writing, we make sure that your ideas and arguments are expressed perfectly, so that the content of your research—your message—can be understood and appreciated for its true worth.
Standard of Expression
Many academics, although brilliant, original and insightful thinkers, are poor writers. Many academic documents suffer from grammatical errors, verbosity and repetition. Weaknesses in sentence structure, word choice and tone are also common. These problems, which reduce the effectiveness of academic writing, are not easy to fix, but they are fixable. Academic editors, trained in the formalities of academic writing and skilled in the art of expression, are adept at improving the standard of academic writing.
Even the best writers benefit from editing. Writers are notoriously bad at spotting errors in their own writing. Their attachment to their own prose and knowledge of what they intended to say blinds them to errors that detract from the overall flow, dulling the finished product. Hence the need for a second pair of eyes. Academic editors, by seeking out and correcting typographical and all other errors, provide the final polish for your work.
3. Academic Editing to Improve Your Own Writing
Finally, academic editing is important as a learning tool. Too few academics have the time to edit their student’s work. Essays are returned with minimal feedback: comments such as ‘awk’ (awkward) stand in place of detailed corrections. Academic editors, by rephrasing awkwardly constructed sentences, correcting errors in punctuation and grammar, and standardising referencing and formatting, provide opportunities for postgraduates, and especially international students, to learn to become better writers. This applies to academics as well.
With so much riding on academic writing these days—scholarships, employment, publications, promotions, grants—it makes sense to ensure your writing is of the highest standard possible. When you engage an academic editor, you are hiring the services of someone who understands the rigours of evidence-based scholarship; who is alive to the importance of argument and analysis; who recognises subtleties and nuances in meaning; and who is able to bring out the best in your writing.
Who doesn’t need that kind of help occasionally?