Editing Methods

A Basic Taxonomy of Documentation Styles That Editing Services Should Know

In their freshman English courses, many college students must use Modern Language Association (MLA) style.  Some even learn MLA well enough to apply it in later undergrad papers.  However, when they take classes outside of the English department, they often find they must learn other documentation styles. The more common among these additional styles are the American Psychological Association (APA) style and Turabian or Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS or CMS; often referred to as Chicago style).

For graduate students and professionals engaged in scholarly writing, the documentation styles tend to be more varied, with many disciplines and professional groups having their own specific styles, including the Council of Science Editors (CSE), the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Political Science Association (APSA), the American Sociological Association (ASA), the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE, pronounced “I triple-E”).  In addition, many other professional organizations have their specific styles, many journals have their own in-house styles, and some publishers have their own styles that apply to all of their journals or to those focused on certain fields.

The various styles can be very confusing.  Besides the more salient differences (whether notes or parenthetical citations are used and whether dates follow authors’ names in parenthetical citations), the styles are often differentiated in the bibliographic entries by the use of parentheses and punctuation or the placement of the date.

To identify styles by the in-text citations, I generally apply the following system.

Numbers used to represent citations

  1. Are the numbers superscript (1) or regular font (in-line) in brackets (2)?
    1. Superscript numbers are used for different purposes in different systems.

a. In some documentation styles, superscript numbers indicate footnotes or endnotes that provide authorial comments only (used in MLA or APSA, for example).  These notes are not used primarily to indicate references unless, as specified by MLA, a parenthetical citation would contain enough references so that its length interferes with reading the text.

b. In other styles, the footnotes or endnotes indicate the sources for information used in the text and may contain authorial comments (alone or with reference information).  Such notes are used in the CMOS/Turabian notes-bibliography style.  Notes corresponding to superscript numbers appear at the bottom of the page on which the numbers appear (footnotes), at the end of a chapter (chapter endnotes), or after the last chapter (endnotes).  The information in these notes is repeated in a bibliography that often follows the final endnotes.  The bibliography is in alphabetical order.  This notes-bibliography style allows the use of shortened citations or Ibid. after the initial note giving the full publication information.  However, many students complain about having to duplicate the information from a bib entry for a source in the first note referring to that source.  Simply copying the information will not work because the punctuation in the notes is different from that in the bib entries.

c.         Finally, superscript numbers can indicate entries in the final references list (often labeled References or References Cited).  The entries in the final list are organized in the order in which they appear in the text and are numbered.  Subsequent references to a source will be indicated by the earlier superscript number assigned to that source.  Styles using this citation/sequence style include AMA and one of the CSE styles.  AMA indicates page numbers in superscript parentheses immediately following the number: 5(p377).

  1. Non-superscript (in-line) numbers in brackets usually indicate a citation/sequence style (with entries in the references list organized in the order of their citation in the text).  IEEE is an example of this style.  However, ACM has an alternative name/sequence style in which sources in the references list are organized alphabetically by authors’ last names and numbered consecutively.  In the text, a number in brackets (following punctuation marks if any are present) indicates the source being cited.


Parenthetical in-text citations

  1. Do parenthetical citations include the publication date?
    1. If parenthetical citations do not include a date, the documentation style is very likely MLA.
    2. Styles that include the date in parenthetical citations are often used in the social sciences and in some humanities.  They include CMOS/Turabian author-date style, APA, ASA, APSA, ACM, and CSE name/year style.  These styles can be further differentiated by the formatting of the citations.

a.         If an ampersand (&) is used to join multiple authors’ names instead of the word and, the style is very likely APA or Harvard style.  APA is further identified by a comma following the author’s name before the date and preceding the ampersand (Smith, Jones, & Brown, 2010) while Harvard style does not have either of these commas (Smith, Jones & Brown 2010).  Both Harvard style and APA have the page number preceded by a p and a period: (2010, p. 5).

b.         Styles that do not place a comma after the author’s name can often be differentiated by the way the date and page number are treated. APSA and CMOS/Turabian author-date styles separate the date from a page number with a comma (Name 2010, 23).  CSE name/year style also separates the date from a page number with a comma and indicates the page number with a p with no punctuation following it: (Name 2010, p 23).

c.         ASA separates the date from the page number with a colon: (Name 2010:23).

d.         Some styles do not use parentheses for the in-text citations.  Specifically, ACM uses brackets: [Name 2010].


Thus, the taxonomy for the documentation styles is as follows:

Numbers or Information in parentheses

If numbers, are they superscript or regular font?

If superscript, do the numbers indicate notes?

If so, do the notes contain source information?

If not, the style is probably MLA or APSA. (Skip to “parentheses” questions below.)

If so, the style is probably CMOS/Turabian.

If the numbers do not indicate notes, check the references list for numbered entries. The style is probably AMA or CSE.

If the numbers are not superscript, they are probably in brackets.

If the numbers are consecutive early on in the paper, the style is probably a citation/sequence style, such as IEEE, and the entries in the references list are not in alphabetical order.

If the numbers appear to be random, the style is probably a name/sequence style, such as ACM, and the entries in the references list are in alphabetical order.

If parentheses are used, do the in-text citations include dates?

If not, the style is probably MLA.

If so, is an ampersand used to connect authors’ names?

If so, does a comma appear before the date?

If so, the style is probably APA (which has a p and a period before the page number).

If not, the style is probably Harvard (which also uses a p. before the page number).

If an ampersand is not used to connect authors’ names, is the date separated from the page number with a comma?

If so, does a p without punctuation appear before the page number?

If so, the style is probably CSE name/year style.

If not, the style is probably APSA or CMOS/Turabian author-date style.

If the date is separated from the page number with a colon, the style is probably ASA.


Finally, if the author-and-date citation appears in brackets instead of parentheses, the style is probably ACM.


If you are having trouble, hire a good editing service such as Edit911.

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Who Does the Editing? Again, most other editing services don’t make it very clear who is editing your work, much less including staff names and bios (http://edit911.com/staff). All of Edit911’s editors are PhDs and published scholars in a wide range of fields and disciplines.  Many on the Staff have been with Edit911 for 7-10 years.

How Dependable and Responsive is Their Customer Service? Dr. Baldwin has one or two assistants, depending on the day, but for the most part he—the owner—answers emails and phone calls. He likes it that way because it ensures that his clients receive the very best treatment and service.  No client of Edit911 ever gets delayed or ignored.  All questions, concerns, or issues are immediately addressed to our clients’ complete satisfaction.

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Do the Editors Themselves Actually Write and Publish Their Work? When you think about it, isn’t it absurd to hire an editor who doesn’t actually write anything? All of our editors are published authors of their scholarly articles, books, and novels. They also write blogs (http://edit911.com/blog), books, white papers, and articles for Edit911. Few other editing services provide any information at all about their editors, much less whether or not their editors are published authors.

Do the Editors Offer Any Mentoring and Advice as They Edit? Since almost all of Edit911’s editors are college professors, they enjoy teaching and helping their clients in any way they can. So, they explain their editing and offer constructive suggestions. These two samples of our editing reports demonstrate our editors’ level of engagement with their clients.

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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.