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Becoming an academic editor: one year later

By Nicole M. Roccas

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Nearly a year ago, I decided to strike out on my own and become a freelance academic editor.

It wasn’t a hasty decision—I was about to finish my PhD in history and had been considering career options for several years. During that time, I took on small, short-term copy editing jobs I found through friends or online job sites. Editing, I found, came naturally and complemented my tendency to be fastidious with written language.

Nonetheless, when I finally launched my own editing business, I encountered a steep learning curve. As I reflect on the past year, here’s what I’ve learned—and continue to learn.

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A week in the life of an academic editor

broken-pencilsBy Kerry Fast

I get odd responses when I say I’m an academic editor—from fellow editors, that is. Everyone else I say that to seems vaguely impressed, though not quite sure how to carry on the conversation from there. But other editors, even those who edit academic writing, seem to think that academics enjoy nothing more than deliberately obfuscating meaning on a topic they’re valiantly trying to sound as if they know everything about.

The truth of the matter is that academics who write well know how to construct complex sentences that convey meaning beautifully. It’s the ones who don’t know how to write that hire editors. And it is in this bunch that I find clients who make editing academic writing stimulating and enjoyable for me.

I spent hours this week removing italics from a thesis proposal and then when I had finished that job, I started all over again with removing italics, this time from a thesis chapter by Annabelle, a PhD student. I do not enjoy this part! But I did enjoy the work I did for Annabelle in other ways — hers was a challenging piece of work. Her ideas were sophisticated, but poorly expressed because English is not her first language.

Editing can be a delicate business of not putting words into someone’s mouth, but making sure that the complexity of the ideas is adequately communicated. In a phone conversation, she wanted to know why I had removed all the italics. She also wanted clarification of my comments about jargon. A half-hour later we both had a better understanding of what jargon was and how and when to use it. I appreciated the way she ended the conversation: “We’re a team now.” The hour-long conversation had been hard work on my part, but deeply meaningful.

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Exploring the ethical grey zone of academic editing

academicBy Samita Sarkar

Some time ago, when I was a student at York University, an English professor warned us against the dangers of having our papers professionally edited, equating it with co-writing and plagiarism. I wondered if this were true, since various editing businesses openly distributed their cards around campus. When I opened my editing business a few months ago, I realized there was a high demand for editing papers, theses, and academic journal submissions, so as a new business person I had to re-evaluate my professor’s advice. That same professor had thought that online courses promoted “lazy learning,” so maybe I didn’t have to agree with her on everything! After all, there is a huge difference between writing and editing.

Still, an editor must consider a number of things before agreeing to take on an assignment in academics, whether it involves an essay, a thesis, or a journal submission. In this field in particular, it is especially important to draw an ethical line as to where editing ends and rewriting begins.

Before accepting a project in academics, or indeed in any field, editors should ask their client to sign a contract that makes it crystal clear to all parties what will and will not be done as part of the editorial assignment. The sample contract provided on the EAC website is a great place to start; it includes an indemnity clause which protects editors from issues such as copyright infringement on the part of the author. The EAC document also provides guidelines for ethical editing of dissertations. As an added safeguard, editors can ask students to have their professor or supervisor co-sign a contract before editing commences.

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