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I'm thinking of hiring a contact/freelance editor to help me improve my paper, before I submit it. I'm looking for someone to perform proofreading and copy editing as well as broader, substantive editing services, to save me some time.

How should I find and select a suitable editor? Should I look specifically for a technical editor with knowledge in my general area, or will any editor be able to help? Does anyone have any recommendations for how to make this most effective?


Clarification: the term "editor" is potentially confusing, because it has multiple meanings. The meaning that's likely to jump to your mind is that of an Editor at a journal, but that's not what I'm referring to. Instead, I'm referring to professionals who help with editing manuscripts. Many folks are familiar with copy editing and copy editors; that is actually just one type of editing service, and other editors may offer other editing services (e.g., developmental/comprehensive editing). I'm trying to be a bit more general and not limit this question to just copy editing -- but if you're not familiar with the editing profession, you can think of my usage of the word "editor" as referring to a "copy editor" and you won't be too far off.

  • maybe get recommendations from other students who worked with the same editor ? – AJed May 12 '13 at 5:05
  • If you look at Related questions on the right hand side of this page, you may find some qusetions similar to yours. – scaaahu May 12 '13 at 5:17
  • Have you asked your peers/colleagues? usually they know someone who is good in that matter. If they do not know, then ask the student union or graduate student association (assuming you are a grad student). – seteropere May 12 '13 at 8:06
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How to find an editor

In the UK, there's the Society for Editing Professionals (SfEP) - get one of their members who meets the criteria for selecting an editor (below). This search for Advanced SfEP members in academic consultancy should give you a lead (disclosure: the editor I work with is on that list). If you're not in the UK, your country may have a similar organisation.

You could also try asking the journal publisher of your choice, as some now keep a list of recommended editors for pre-submission work.

Ask your peers for recommendations too.

If your employer has a department of Research Services or similar, they may be able to recommend someone.


How to select an editor

Here are some criteria for selecting an editor for pre-submission services, based on my own experiences of hiring technical editors over the last 7 years, and working with one as a publishing strategist too over the last year or two. These criteria are in no particular order - I recommend finding someone who meets all of them.

  1. Someone with a good track record in technical editing / publishing. Everyone's got to learn some time, and so every new editor needs their first client. But you don't want to be that guinea pig, unless saving money or helping their career along is more important to you than getting the best result. Someone with a track record will already have thir editing-macros / tools and ready, and have streamlined their workflow.

  2. A gamekeeper turned poacher. That is, someone who's been an editor on the post-submission side, working within journals. They'll know the rules and the etiquette from both sides. They may even have a helpful network at your target publisher.

  3. Someone you can communicate clearly with: you'll only find this by actually doing it, at least via phone / skype / emails / tweets / whatever. Clear quick communication will save you money and give you a better result.

  4. Someone who understands your speciality at least enough to get the gist of what's required. As a minimum, that means if you're in the humanities, you want someone from the humanities; if you're in sciences / tech / engineering / maths (STEM), you want someone with a STEM background.

  5. Someone fluent in your writing medium. So if you write in LaTeX, you want someone fluent in that. Ditto for MS-Word, LibreOffice, whatever.

If you find might be using a good editor a lot, it's probably worth finding someone who you could develop a longer-term professional relationship with; in that case, pick someone who'd be able to help you develop your publishing strategy over time, too.

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This is probably not going to be an answer you might like specifically but here's what we do.

I am a doctoral student and in our department, it is pretty common for students to iterate pre-submission and post review drafts with each other (especially before the deadlines of major conferences). It works pretty well. I have also seen tenured and un-tenured faculty doing this in our department.

Therefore, my bigger recommendation is, circulate drafts among your own departmental colleagues. Surely someone will give you sanity checks on your submission material?

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    Thanks, Shion, I'm certainly aware of that option, and I agree it is a good one. However, my test readers are a precious resource, and I don't want to expend their energy on fixing writing issues. I'm looking to make the quality of the writing in my papers be as good as possible before sharing it with my test readers, so that my test readers can focus on the substance/science and not get distracted by problematic writing. – D.W. May 12 '13 at 4:30
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    Than again, getting your co-workers to read your papers is a great way to stimulate working together. In addition, I don't think it is wise to wait very long before letting other people read your work. You could end up in some errors in thought, which you no longer see yourself. Ofcourse you don't let your colleagues read a crap manuscript, but getting feedback in an earlier stage is really good imo. – Paul Hiemstra May 12 '13 at 17:17
  • +1 for the above comment. I have found this to be the best strategy when needing member checks from colleagues. – Shion May 13 '13 at 3:50
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You may be able to use "any" editor to help with simple matters of grammatical constructions and general structure and clarity. However, if you require a lot of technical jargon in your paper, you may find it more advantageous to seek out someone who works in your specialty. Otherwise, they may want to change words that have specific meanings in your field.

If your university has a "writing office" or some other service that it offers to students and staff, I would begin by inquiring there. They may either have some professionals on staff who can help out, or provide you with recommendations for professionals in your area.

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First, to avoid any confusion, an editor is typically a person associated with a journal or a publisher. The purpose of an editor is not to primarily to work on improving a paper but rather to judge if a paper is up to the standards of wherever it is supposed to be published. It seems in your question, you are looking for someone to help you with the writing process. This means you might go very wrong if you contact an editor for the tasks you describe. A copy editor and a proof reader is usually also part of a publishers chain and the purpose of such persons is to make sure everything adheres to the publishers standards before going into print; they are part of the end of the publishing chain, not the beginning. So, persons professionally working under titles like these are not likely of interest to you at a manuscript stage.

So typically, what you describe you need help with is part of what we all have to do to get published. We all should learn this process through our (primarily graduate) education but, in the end, there will always be room for further improvements for as long as we live. The first source for help should be your peers, or simply friends, in your research environment. They should have enough insight to check the science and general writing aspects. What may be more problematic if not an native English speaker, is language.

In the case of language there are numerous specialists that can be hired to check and correct your paper if that is also what you need. Many publishers have associated such specialists and it is probably necessary to find some service that specializes in scientific writing; remember that threre is much need for other types of translations, legal, fictional literature etc., so that many specialize and may not be suitable for science writing.

So, try your peers, you will probably have a hard time finding a person to hire to proide the services you require, with the exception of language corrections.

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    You write that "The purpose of an editor is not to primarily to work on improving a paper", but that's exactly what the job of a developmental editor is. – EnergyNumbers May 12 '13 at 14:28
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    I think you are missing the point. Few researchers care about what happens on the technical publishing side with the paper after it gets accepted (except the annoying requests for a two-day turnaround with proofs). But improving English presentation, especially for non-native speakers, is a relatively cheap way to improve the chances to see their paper accepted. I have seen too many papers that seem to be technically correct, but gosh you just can't figure out what the authors did, as their presentation is simply incomprehensible. (Sometimes, this is true of native speakers, too!!!) – StasK May 12 '13 at 20:33

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