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Why a Master or Phd Doesn't Guarantee Great Dissertation Editing

While this may come as a surprise, whether someone has a master’s degree or PhD makes little difference in his or her ability to be a great editor, let alone one for your dissertation.  There are, essentially, two components to a dissertation.  The first is the research and analysis that is behind it, and the second—the actual dissertation—is the formal report of that research and analysis.  The first is where your mentor—and maybe others in your program—will provide you any needed assistance, while the second is where you should expect a qualified editor to help.

What Exactly Is the Role of a Dissertation Editor?

When it comes to writing the dissertation, there are three primary components:  (1) the organization of the content, (2) the quality of the writing, and (3) adherence to any requested style (e.g. APA or Chicago).  These are the three areas in which our clients come to us for help, often having been advised to do so by their programs, and they are the three areas in which your dissertation editor should assist you.

Because dissertations are often written in sections, often out of order, and often with gaps lasting from a few weeks to a few months during the process, it is easy for there to be problems in the organization of the content.  To address them, your editor should check for the logic and flow of ideas, remove any redundant text, and reorganize the content as needed.  Your editor should ensure all the content is written in a scholarly manner, and should recommend adjustments to word choice and phrase, sentence and paragraph structure to achieve the necessary quality and tone of the writing.  If there is any part of the text that is lacking support, lacking analysis, missing a citation, cited incorrectly, or otherwise exhibiting signs of plagiarism, your editor should point it out to you, along with suggestions for how to correct the issue.  He or she should be an expert in the style guide you are required to follow, as well as be able to tailor his or her editing to any guidelines your program requires you to follow.

Why Having a Master’s or PhD Makes Less of a Difference Than You Think

While having a master’s or PhD may be of assistance to your editor, you may be surprised to realize just how little it helps, and how, in some cases, it might actually hurt.

The first characteristic you should look for in your editor is the ability to think logically and critically.  This is the foundation of any scholarly writing in general, and dissertations in particular.  To assess this, ask the editor to provide you a free sample edit of your dissertation.  All it should take is about 300 words to determine whether the editor you are considering has the abilities you are looking for.

A free sample edit is also a great way to assess the editor’s ability to help you produce the scholarly writing needed for your dissertation, as well as evaluate the editor’s knowledge of the style guide you are following.  If the editor suggests—or does not suggest—a style correction, he or she should be able to support his or her decision with specific references to the requested style guide.

What you should be looking for, therefore, is a preciseness and diligence of thinking that an editor will not have simply because he or she has earned a master’s or PhD.  Consider first that rarely does someone obtain a master’s or PhD with the hope of becoming a dissertation editor as a result.  Instead, many with a master’s or PhD fall back on dissertation editing when their original career goals do not materialize.  They do not have any experience editing other than with their own dissertations, and when they apply to work for my company, this lack of experience is apparent in their work on my editing tests.

Next, consider that not all master’s and PhD programs are created equal.  There is a significant difference among degrees obtained from the University of Phoenix, the University of Michigan and Washington University it St. Louis, for example.  Many times candidates make the mistake of believing they must find dissertation editors who are experts in their subjects.  The assumption is that the work of such an editor would be better informed.  The irony is that true subject-matter experts will not have any time for editing a candidate’s dissertation, and the ones who do have the time are likely not the experts they claim to be.  If they do have a master’s or PhD in a related field, there is a significant chance that the programs where they obtained their degrees were not rigorous ones or that they lack the knowledge to be an expert.

What Your Dissertation Editor Should Promise, and What He/She Should Not

The dissertation editor you hire should be able to make three promises to you, related directly to the three areas of concern he or she should be helping you to address.  First, your editor should promise to take a disciplined, diligent approach to editing your dissertation, to identify any issues in the logic and quality of your content.  Second, your editor should promise to correct any issues in the text that detract from a scholarly tone.  Finally, your editor should promise that he or she will be able to support any corrections made or not made with specific references to the style guide you are required to follow, including any particular guidelines your program has requested.

One particular promise you should be wary of is any guarantee that your dissertation is approved.  What should be guaranteed instead, for example, is that there will be no issues with adherence to the APA style or with the scholarliness of the writing that will keep the dissertation from being approved.  When considering which editor is the right one for your dissertation, make sure that what your dissertation editor promises falls within his or her ability to deliver.

Posted in  Academics
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