6 Tips for Using an Academic Editing Style Guide

In performing any academic editing, such as dissertation editing or thesis editing, you will usually need to use two style guides.  The first is provided by your university and may or may not be combined with the policies and procedures for dissertations and degree conferral.  The second is a professional style manual.

One Style Does Not Fit All

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Some schools use one professional style manual for all departments; others allow each department to choose its own manual. The most common of these are the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), The Chicago Manual of Style (CMS), and the MLA Handbook (MLA).  Some departments use A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations (Turabian).  Other manuals are used less commonly in the writing of dissertations and theses.

Go Right to the Source and Ask the Horse

You can determine which style manual you are required to use by checking the university style and formatting guide or asking your advisor.  Ideally, the professors for your courses leading up to the dissertation process will expect you to use the required professional manual for their assignments.  In that way, you will begin to build the skills needed in the dissertation or thesis process.

Learn & Apply Its Rules

Professional style manuals include information related to the technical aspects of writing your dissertation, including the requirements of formal language, and to the publication of articles and books.  Some manuals are narrow in focus; others try to anticipate as many situations as possible that writers may confront.  Most typically include information related to the following:

  • Grammar
  • Punctuation (including use of italics)
  • Capitalization
  • Preferred spelling (including hyphenation)
  • Use of numbers
  • Use of abbreviations
  • Use of scientific terminology
  • Formats for tables, charts, and other graphics
  • Reference list or bibliography entry requirements by type of source
  • Internal citation formats
  • Footnote and end note formats
  • Levels and formats for headings and subheadings
  • Elimination of bias in writing (including gender bias and preferred terminology for racial and ethnic groups)

Pay Attention to the Edition

When you locate the specific professional style manual for your department, be sure to note which edition the university requires.  These manuals undergo continual revision, with new editions being published as often as every three years.  Typically, universities will update their requirements to include the most recent manual editions.  However, students who begin the dissertation process under one manual edition are not usually required to change as long as they complete their dissertations in a timely manner.

Be Wary of the Guides’ Limitations and Contradictions!

You should also be aware of the limitations of these professional guides.  For example, APA and MLA are geared specifically to the sciences and language and literature, respectively.  CMS is much broader in scope and is generally used in the social sciences.  When APA and MLA do not contain specific information, editors often rely on CMS to determine correct form and required information.  They then adjust the formatting to meet APA or MLA requirements.

You may also find that information in the professional guides contradicts information in your university dissertation style and format guide.  Remember, the university guide always trumps the professional guide.

Consider Using an Editing Service

If you’re stumped or just want to be sure, you may want to hire an editing service to check everything for you. Be sure to tell your academic editor not only the specific style manual required but also the specific edition.  Editors often have multiple editions of these manuals to use as resources.  Knowing which one you must follow is imperative to ensuring an accurate edit of your paper.