Academic copy-editing

Why it deserves a special mention

Academic copy-editing needs a page of its own because, while it includes a lot of what I have written on my page about Copy-editing and Proofreading, both authors and copy editors also need to know the following (which is not always the case elsewhere):

  • what a style guide is and how to use it
  • what it means to reference sources correctly (in text and at the end of the document)
  • the specific requirements of the institution to whom the text will be submitted
  • that the author’s voice remains central to the written work, despite the above points!

In my experience as an academic copy editor, I have learnt that copy-editing academic texts is different to copy-editing other texts. First and foremost, I have to be mindful of the extent of my intervention. Often, the completed copy is to be examined or assessed for competency (as in the case of post-graduate work). Or I copy-edit the work of someone who has already demonstrated competence in their field of expertise. It is vital that the author is respected for their effort and for documenting it. My role as the copy editor is to clean up the text without intruding on the content or changing the meaning of the text. I need to be more cautious with academic copy-editing and tread lightly, albeit thoroughly.

Examinable texts

As an academic copy editor, I work according to the style guide supplied by the student. My task is to ensure that the student’s work is respected and their voice is maintained. I cross-check references (text to reference list and vice versa) but do not verify them. The student accepts or rejects my edits and reviews comments I may have made. The final copy remains that of the student – this is essential in the academic sector and honours the student’s authority as author. I also provide a certificate of editing, upon request. This confirms that the integrity of the document is intact.

Non-examinable texts

I copy-edit academic texts and scholarly articles that are to be submitted to various journals for publication. These texts carry the same demand as texts for examination. The credibilty and authority of the author must align with the reputation of the institution or journal for whom they are writing. The author’s voice remains key and, again, I use a style guide to ensure that the writing requirements are accurate, and the document is ordered and tidy. In the case of non-examinable texts, I generally work through a coordinator rather than directly with the author.

Style guides – key to academic editing

Whether I am copy-editing for an author whose work is to be assessed or for an author whose work is to be published, I need to see the prescribed style guide. As a copy editor, my job is to check that you have applied the style consistently and correctly.

A style guide gives you, as the author, a framework within which to work and tells you what to do in your writing (type face, font size, headings, page numbering, spelling conventions and referencing, among other things). It is your job to make sure you have the correct style guide – these differ from institution to institution and even between departments and faculties.

A word on referencing

Referencing means that you give credit to every source you have used. It is the responsibility of any scholarly author to acknowledge their sources. Referencing happens in the body of your text and at the end of the document in a reference list. The prescribed style guide will tell you what referencing style has to be used in your writing.

As a copy editor, I do not verify any references but I will check that what you have cited in the text is listed at the end and that everything in the reference list is captured in the text. You will correct any discrepancies I have flagged. I also make sure that you have applied the correct style to your referencing (this, too, differs from one style to another).

I really enjoy academic copy-editing. The topics are varied and the authors are really committed. An edited academic text raises the author’s expertise and ensures that their hours of labour are reflected with the completeness and thoroughness they deserve.

Happy clients

‘Please thank her for her prompt- and thoroughness, especially given the size of the report.’ (Author feedback to Research Project Officer at Southern Centre for Inequality Studies)

‘The level of quality that customers perceive depends on the degree to which the service provider meets or exceeds customers’ expectations for service quality on the five dimensions of service quality. I want you to know that you have provided me with superior service quality that has exceeded my expectations along all five dimensions of service quality. I particularly value your reliability and responsiveness … your performance was flawless with regards to every service attribute. You are a master of your craft, and your work has inspired me.’ (Master’s student, International Business degree, IIE)

‘Remove the comma, replace the comma, remove the comma, replace the comma…’

RD Donald

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