Editing and proofreading: definition

Proofreading and editing represent two different stages of dissertation review. They are both integral to the process of writing a dissertation and publishing in general. It is necessary to define these processes and examine their differences before delving into their importance in academic publishing.

Proofreading refers to the process of looking for grammatical and linguistic errors at the word level in a manuscript. A proofreader is tasked with fixing spelling errors, correcting issues with tense, fixing punctuation and inconsistencies (for example, different values being assigned for a variable at two different instances in a manuscript). 

Editing however, in addition to fulfilling the functions of proofreading listed above, also comprises looking at sentence and paragraph construction and suggesting or implementing the optimal changes. Editing is concerned with improving the overall readability and clarity of a text

Proofreading is usually the final stage that a manuscript that has already been edited goes through to ensure it is publication-ready. Proofreading and editing represent micro and macro approaches to reviewing a manuscript, respectively. 

Why is it important to edit and proofread your dissertation? 

To meet standards of academic publishing

The standards of academic publishing are some of the highest among all other fields. There are stringent requirements for a dissertation to be free from any language or grammar errors while also being well structured and presented. This would therefore often require you to take resort to either self-editing or taking assistance from professional editors. 

To meet formatting guidelines

Apart from resolving issues with grammar and language, your dissertation also needs to be formatted as per university guidelines, which could be specific to the university or requiring the use of APA/MLA/Chicago/Vancouver and other similar guidelines, to be published. Formatting a dissertation according to your university’s recommended guidelines often requires some advanced knowledge of word processing software. The requirements can range from simple ones, such as setting margins and page size, to more complex ones, such as using running heads, setting page numbering, and creating an automated list of tables and figures

In addition, a round of editing/proofreading can also help resolve minor inaccuracies in a list of references, which are in fact very easy to be overlooked at the first draft but can severely compromise the quality of your dissertation.

To follow subject-specific conventions

There are several subject-specific conventions that you are expected to follow when drafting your dissertation. These may differ from general rules of academic writing in certain cases. 

For example, there is a general convention that all abbreviations must be defined at their first instance of use in a manuscript. However, certain terms are so commonly used in subject areas that defining them is deemed unnecessary. In physical sciences, the term ANOVA can be used without definition from the very first instance in manuscripts. In another example, in life sciences papers, the use of “cv.” to denote “cultivar” at the end of a species name has been rendered obsolete and is therefore no longer used. Even when being an experienced researcher, it is often difficult to keep up with these ever-changing conventions. Since professional editors have to process an extensive range of papers and dissertations meant for submission, it is easier for them to be aware of recent trends.

To get a different perspective

It is always useful to have a second pair of eyes look at the manuscript. Often, you may end up getting used to your own linguistic anomalies or miss obvious grammatical or language errors in the process of writing. This is because in the process of drafting a dissertation, the eye becomes trained to skip over some passages. In such cases, it is always helpful to have a second pair of eyes scan the manuscript afresh to point out language and clarity issues. Trained editing and proofreading experts are especially helpful in such scenarios, as they employ failproof methods of scanning manuscripts to ensure they are error-free.

To overcome challenges as non-native speakers

If you have written your dissertation in a non-English language, you may be required to translate your original dissertation into English to gain a larger audience or if your university requires that you do. This is inevitably accompanied by language-related challenges, as most institutions require submission in a language resembling that of a native English speaker. As a non-native speaker of English, you may often be unaware of the intricacies and nuances of native English phrasing. Thus, even when your dissertation is free from grammatical errors, it may not be deemed submission ready. To cite a simple example, while beginning a sentence with “But” may be acceptable in everyday communication or literature and is not grammatically incorrect, it is not appropriate in your dissertation, as “but” must be replaced by “However” or other similar expressions, such as “Conversely”. It is indeed quite difficult to be aware of the exhaustive list of such rules, and hence having your manuscript checked by a native speaker of English often becomes necessary.

The challenges further increase when your manuscript must be translated into English. If you choose to have your dissertation machine translated, it is likely to have innumerable errors in language, as machine translation in its current form is extremely inadequate, at least for academic writing. If translated by you or any other non-native speaker, the aforementioned problem occurs, where certain expressions or idioms are translated verbatim and therefore do not come across as native English phrasing. In both these cases therefore, it becomes important to seek the help of a native English speaker to edit and proofread the manuscript.

Conclusions and recommendations

There are several issues that can plague your dissertation after its initial draft, and it may be difficult for you to be able to perform quality control to resolve all of them and render the dissertation submission ready at the outset. In such cases, it often becomes useful and indeed necessary to seek support from professional editing and proofreading services to ensure that the dissertation is not rejected initially because of issues with language, formatting, structure, or subject-specific conventions. While self-editing may improve the initial draft, it may still prove inadequate to make sure the dissertation is absolutely error-free and phrased in native English. In such cases, professional editing services can come in to fill in the existing gaps.