The Oxbridge Editing Blog 20th August 2018

The importance of good academic editing

20th August 2018
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In academia, there is a culture of collaboration. Research activities are conducted in groups, learning is enhanced by seminars, and papers are peer-reviewed before they’re published. There is real value in working with others – problems are solved more quickly, ideas flow more abundantly, and it can be great for morale. As such, it makes sense to take a collaborative approach to your academic writing.

Whether you’re looking to boost your undergrad grades or hone your PhD thesis, a second pair of eyes can help refine your prose. A good ‘collaborative’ editor will enhance your academic writing, without losing any of the valuable content. Here are 4 ways an editor can work with you to add depth and clarity to your essays.

Editing enhances your credibility

It’s important to show readers you respect their time. Clumsily written essays alienate readers because they are tiring to decipher. If your essay is littered with typos, referencing inconsistencies and bad grammar, you’ll also seem less credible to your readers. You might have an excellent grasp of your topic, but if you don’t present your insights in an appropriate academic style, your ‘authority’ on the topic will be called into question.

Proofreading for syntax, spelling and punctuation is an important aspect of editing. Nonetheless, academic editing goes one step further by improving the grammar, referencing and formatting of your report. If English is your second language, or you have dyslexia, good academic editing can help you develop a greater affinity with your readership.

Editing neutralises bias

Edited writing is satisfying to read because it is non-biased. Well-balanced, non-biased writing does not involve ‘sitting on the fence.’ Rather, a well-balanced essay discusses a variety of conflicting perspectives, in equal depths. This kind of writing is nuanced and convincing.

Let’s imagine you’re studying an MSc in Psychology and you’ve been asked to discuss whether Piaget or Vygotsky provides a more convincing account of child development. Let’s assume you’ve studied Piaget’s theories extensively at undergrad, and his ideas informed the theoretical framework for your dissertation. You may spend little time researching Vygotsky’s theories because you know you can write convincingly about Piaget’s ideas. If you’re not careful, your specialist knowledge could cause your arguments to become biased and imbalanced. This is a very crude example of bias, but subtle imbalances occur in even the most accomplished academic projects.

An editor would neutralise this bias, by drawing attention to where your arguments lack balance. In this example, they would encourage you to reference your arguments consistently throughout and to demonstrate you’ve researched each theory in equal depth.

Editing helps build your crescendo

Good academic writing should take the reader on a journey. Each paragraph should build upon the last until the conclusion is revealed. The final destination, or the crescendo, should be memorable. There is a formula for achieving this, and it’s an editor’s job to ensure this formula is being respected throughout the essay.

As Stephen King states “When you write, you spend day-after-day identifying the trees. When you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.” If you fail to attend to the structure of your essays, readers will sense that your work has been rushed. A good editor will appraise the ‘higher-level structure’ of your report. They’ll help you build gradual momentum through the use of textual signposting. Repetition and poorly expressed ideas will be remedied, and each paragraph will be reviewed by the editor to ensure it adds value to your argument.

The conclusion should tie-up the strands of your paragraphs effectively. A good academic editor will ensure this climax is neat and compelling.

Academic editing makes you a stronger writer

When a lecturer marks your essay, they rarely have time to give you detailed feedback on your writing style. Let’s assume you have the tendency to misuse semicolons. A lecturer might draw your attention to this and advise you to improve your knowledge of punctuation. However, once you’ve researched how to use a semicolon appropriately, you may still lack confidence in expressing your ideas because the ‘rules’ of punctuation can seem quite abstract. Real-life, applied examples might be more helpful.

An academic edit is a line-by-line review, often performed using the ‘track changes’ function in Microsoft Word. The amendments are visible alongside the original text, so you can see how the edit has improved the fluency of your writing. Academic edits provide students with real-life examples of how they can improve their style and vocabulary. If you’re hoping to publish your work in the future, this kind of appraisal will be a great preparation tool.

Something we haven’t discussed yet is your marks; a good academic edit is bound to boost your marks. After all, it would be a shame for clumsy grammar or poor referencing to cost you a grade boundary. However, more than boosting your grade, academic editing can prepare you for a long-lasting academic career. As discussed, higher education is based on a culture of collaboration. Choosing to edit your work demonstrates that you’re committed to your academic development and that you can respond constructively to critique from your peers.