Doctoral students face dozens of obstacles in earning their degrees, including obtaining final acceptance of their dissertations by university officials.  Doctoral candidates often must revise their papers after committee acceptance to eliminate problems with grammar, mechanics, style compliance, and formatting.  Completing these revisions can be time consuming and frustrating, especially when candidates must meet deadlines for degree conferral.

When doctoral candidates engage the services of professional editors to perform the final revisions, they ensure their dissertations will be free of the grammatical and technical issues that result in delayed acceptance and degree conferral.  The purpose of this white paper is to review the editing process, the types of editing services available, and the benefits of employing professional editors.

Why Hire a Professional Editor?

Driving the successful editing of one’s dissertation are four factors: time and cost, stress, career impact, and expertise.

Time and Cost

Doctoral students’ lives are complex.  Of the nearly half million doctoral students in the United States, 39.8% are married, and 28.4% have dependents (U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics [NCES], 2011).  These students must carve out significant amounts of time from already crammed schedules to attend class, study, and conduct research.  They must balance the high costs of their graduate programs with the normal expenses of maintaining homes and families.  They must also meet submission deadlines to ensure participation in graduation ceremonies.

The longer it takes to complete all degree requirements, the more money it costs.  According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (2010), the average expenditure for a PhD degree for full-time students is $39,000.  Having to pay for additional credit hours to work on the dissertation, including its revisions, only increases that cost.


Recent studies commissioned by GradResources indicated that most graduate students struggle with emotional fatigue (Repak, 2011).  Although time constraints, financial pressures, and graduate-school environments all contribute to student stress, the Barna Research Group found that, because many graduate students are classic overachievers, they create cycles of perfectionism that result in exhaustion and emotional fatigue (Repak, 2011).

Being so close to degree conferral, doctoral candidates may feel extreme stress when required to spend more time revising and correcting their dissertations because of issues pertaining to grammar, mechanics, style, and formatting.  Extreme stress can lead to lower productivity, decreased work quality, aggression, and depression.  Rushing through the revision process to meet graduation deadlines may cause candidates to miss significant errors, resulting in the need for more editing and revision.  Candidates who are frustrated by the process may even feel they have failed and, thus, not attempt further revision, choosing to remain ABD.

Career Impact

Having to revise dissertations may lead to delays in employment, salary increases, or promotions.  Most individuals pursue doctoral degrees to fulfill their career goals.  Completion of the dissertation or research projects and conferral of the degree are often required to achieve advancement with one’s current employer or to obtain a position with a different employer.  Delays in final acceptance and frustration with the system may even be sufficient to cause some candidates to abandon their goals of working in academia, even if they do complete degree requirements successfully.  ABDs find their careers stifled.

Dissertations often are the first major publications for these professionals.  Anyone who reads a doctoral dissertation receives a distinct impression of the writer: how that person thinks, analyzes, synthesizes, attends to detail, draws conclusions, and handles written expression.  Therefore, the dissertation should be a clear representation of who that person is professionally, both in terms of content knowledge and communications skills.


To edit a dissertation successfully, one must have

  • a thorough knowledge of formal English (grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization);
  • expert writing skills (sentence structure, paragraph organization, transitions, overall organization, voice, tone, syntax, word choice);
  • familiarity with the required style manual (APA, Chicago, MLA, Turabian, AMA, etc.);
  • familiarity with the school requirements for formatting and style.

Not only must an individual convey the content clearly and articulately in accordance with the dissertation structure required by the school or department, but the individual must also ensure near perfection in the mechanics and formatting.

The Problem

Failure to submit a properly edited dissertation may result in extreme stress and emotional fatigue.  Candidates may have additional fees levied to continue enrollment in the program.  They may face preventable career challenges, especially if conferral of the degree is delayed.  Because of their perfectionist traits, doctoral candidates may resist seeking help from external resources to minimize these repercussions.  However, identifying ethical and appropriate ways to save time and money and to reduce stress is essential to successful completion of their degrees.

The Editing Process


Editing is nearly as old as communication itself.  For millennia, individuals have had their documents read by others to ensure the clarity, correctness, completeness, consistency, and conciseness of their writing prior to publication.  Evidence of visual editing dates back 20,000 years; editing of the written word has occurred for over 9,000 years.

Modern editing occurs on multiple levels.  Individuals routinely self-edit their documents or ask relatives, friends, or colleagues to look at their work.  Businesses routinely hire personnel, both internally and externally, to proof and edit documents to be shared publicly.  Academics use editing services to ensure articles and books meet publishing company standards.  Students, especially nonnative speakers (i.e., English language learners, ESL students) and graduate students completing their theses and dissertations, seek feedback and correction of their work from both personal and professional sources.

Editors pore over physical documents, marking needed changes and corrections with red pencils, using a system of symbols.  For example, to show the insertion of a word or phrase, the editor uses a caret (˄) to denote placement of a word or words and writes the appropriate word or phrase above the caret.  This system is time intensive for both editor and client.

With the introduction of the personal computer, the Internet, and appropriate software, editing has entered its newest incarnation.  Using such tools as the “Track Changes” feature in Microsoft® Word®, editors can correct errors and note suggested changes and reorganization.  Although many editors still work with physical paper documents, electronic editing has become the method of choice for ease of communication and for saving time and money.

Types of Dissertation Editing

In its broadest sense, editing is the preparation of a document for publication by correcting errors and revising and adapting content to ensure accuracy and clarity.  Various levels of editing may be used, depending on the quality of the document: proofreading, copyediting, substantive editing, and developmental editing.  Each type is more complex and thorough than the previous one.

Proofreading, also called light editing, is the simplest form of editing.  Editors read a document for correct grammar, usage, punctuation, capitalization, and references to tables and figures within the text.  Awkwardly written passages may also be tagged.  Proofreading seldom involves rewriting or reorganization.  This kind of editing is most appropriate for well-written documents that require a light reading to ensure typographical errors or common grammatical problems are corrected.  Proofreading requires the least amount of time to complete and is the least expensive form of editing.

Copyediting is also known as basic, general, medium, or line editing.  In addition to proofreading, the editor reviews the document more specifically for sentence structure, continuity of content, structure, gaps, awkwardly written passages, citation and reference list format, and adherence to style requirements.  Editors may include more extensive comments concerning problems, suggest changes to organization, and delete redundant passages and excessive wordiness.  It does not include major rewriting or reorganization.  Editors must also be familiar with the required publication standards or have them provided by the client.  Copyediting requires more time and is more expensive than proofreading.

Editing Services

Editing may be performed by nonprofessionals, including the candidates themselves, or by professional editors.


Some doctoral candidates possess the skills and expertise to edit their own papers for technical errors and formatting discrepancies.  However, after working with a piece for months, writers are so familiar with it that they may not find all the problems in their dissertations.  This problem occurs because of the mind’s ability to complete patterns.  Convoluted passages make sense because the candidate knows what the passages mean.  Simple mechanical errors are overlooked because the mind “sees” the correct form on the printed page.  Thus, when candidates read their own work, they miss critical errors.

Some individuals also believe spelling checkers and grammar checkers are sufficient.  However, most spelling checkers do not catch problems with appropriate word choices or with homophones—words that sound alike but have different meanings (e.g., their, they’re, and there).  Grammar checkers sometimes give incorrect information, such as identifying complex sentences as fragments and indicating problems in subject-verb agreement that do not actually exist.

Friends or Colleagues

Candidates may ask or pay friends or colleagues to review their dissertations.  These individuals may be English majors or teachers or work in related fields.  They may be well known for their writing expertise.

Candidates using this kind of editing do get second opinions and fresh perspectives.  However, unless these individuals are equally adept at noting and correcting problems with style and formatting, errors may still be overlooked.  In addition, candidates may find it difficult to hold these individuals accountable for the quality of their work.  These editors may also be unable to meet submission deadlines.

Writing Centers

Graduate students at many schools have access to the services of writing centers.  The purpose of such centers is to provide individuals with seminars on effective writing, tutorial sessions to remediate skills in grammar and mechanics, consultations to help students focus their writing to meet specific assignments, and computer access and resources to aid in the writing process.

A brief survey of university writing centers revealed that none provide editorial assistance, as evidenced by this statement in the FAQ of the UCLA Graduate Writing Center (2009): “Our graduate writing consultants do not edit or proofread.”

Professional Editing Services

Professional editing services are provided by individual consultants, freelancers, and businesses with numerous employees.  Services vary but may include all four types of editing and supplementary services such as manuscript preparation, ghostwriting, critiquing, translation, graphics, publishing, and coaching.  Some services specialize in dissertation and thesis editing.  Others are oriented to the business and corporate world.

Individual consultants usually work with one client at a time.  Freelancers may be found through bidding sites where clients post jobs and interested individuals bid for them.  Most editing services employ several editors.  These businesses may distinguish themselves based on the types of works in which they specialize, the qualifications of their editors, their ability to meet tight timelines, and the range of additional services they provide.

The Solution

To save time and money and to reduce stress, doctoral candidates should consider employing a professional editing service to revise their dissertations for final submission.  Professional editors have the skills and expertise to complete these jobs satisfactorily and guarantee the quality of their work.  Reputable editors will also provide a sample edit to show the kind of revisions they can do and to ensure they understand the candidate’s exact needs in the editing process.

The Benefits

Working with a reputable professional editing service benefits doctoral students in several ways:

  • Reducing stress.  Candidates can continue with the other priorities in their lives without the pressures of finding time to edit; rereading material so familiar that it is difficult to find errors; working with unfamiliar formatting requirements; and juggling family, work, and other responsibilities to meet submission deadlines.
  • Saving money.  Yes, candidates do have to pay professional editors to review and revise their dissertations.  However, it is usually a one-time fee that ultimately results in cost savings by reducing or eliminating fees for additional hours of enrollment, lost wages or benefits due to taking time off to complete the revision work, lower salaries and fewer benefits because of missed employment or advancement opportunities, and lost revenues from delays in writing and marketing a book based on the dissertation research.
  • Freeing up time.  Candidates can focus on other priorities while waiting for their dissertations to be returned, knowing that the hard work will be done for them.
  • Ensuring accurate revision.  Doctoral candidates will not need to worry about the minutiae of editing.  They will know their editors are skilled, knowledgeable, and competent in English grammar, writing skills, and formatting.  They also know that such companies stand behind their work.
  • Enhancing employment opportunities.  Candidates who entrust revision of their dissertations to professional editors in a timely manner are ensured of having their degrees conferred on time, enhancing their ability to compete favorably with other graduates in highly competitive job markets.
  • Creating peace of mind.  Knowing that one’s dissertation is in capable hands and that the company will meet deadlines and correct any problems that arise to ensure the dissertation is accepted can bring welcome respite from the pressures of finishing the program.
  • Accessing supplemental services.  Many professional services offer clients services in addition to editing.  Services may include research assistance, data analysis, writing tips and techniques, consultations to help with writer’s block, mentoring to help guide graduate students through the dissertation process, preparation of the defense of the dissertation, legal services concerning copyright and fair use of copyrighted material, graphics, website design and editing, translation, preparation of scholarly articles, and book publishing.

What to Look for in an Editing Service

If you Google dissertation editing services, over two million entries appear.  To ensure you find the right service, consider the following:

  • Type:  Look for a service that specializes in academic editing and employs PhDs with broad experience who are knowledgeable about not only grammar, mechanics, style, and formatting but also the client’s field of study and the dissertation process.
  • Size:  The more editors a service has, the more likely clients will work with editors knowledgeable about the specific content areas related to their dissertations.
  • Editors’ qualifications:  Look for services employing editors with PhDs who have backgrounds in writing and extensive experience in editing.  They know both the requirements and the frustrations of that experience and have the necessary English and writing skills to edit dissertations thoroughly.
  • Guarantees:  Professional editors stand behind their work and gladly correct any errors or omissions they missed at no charge to the client.
  • Safety and security:  Look at the “Terms of Use” and “Privacy” statements of these companies to determine how they will protect personal client information and intellectual copyrights and secure classified or confidential documents.  Look for names and logos or seals for such companies as TRUSTe and VeriSign, indicating use of secure socket layers, and PayPal Verified and other reputable credit card acceptance services.  Check for the https designation at the beginning of the address in the web address window and the lock icon in the browser before making payments.
  • Ethics:  A reputable company is an ethical company.  Their editors will not plagiarize material or write academic papers and dissertations for clients.  They adhere to the distinctions between editing/revising and ghostwriting.
  • Technology:  Online editing companies should provide specific information about the types of files (e.g., PDF, rich text, DOC) they can accept and the programs they use to do the editing.  Look for companies that use features that mark changes and allow for noting issues or suggestions.  These features make it easy for a client to see what has been done and decide whether the changes should be accepted, leaving ultimate control of the dissertation in the client’s hands.
  • Communication:  Look for a company that encourages communication between the client and the assigned editor.  Questions about content or specific requirements can be handled immediately, saving time and frustration.
  • Time:  Look for a company that gives a fair estimate of the time needed to complete the assignment based on the length and complexity of the document.  However, be aware that, once an editor begins work on a document, he or she may see that the actual time required may differ from the original estimate because of the degree of editing required.
  • Cost:  Look for a fair price based on the complexity of the material being edited and the type of editing being done.  Companies use various methods of calculating the cost of a project (per hour, per page, per word).  Some companies increase fees for rush jobs; others give discounts for repeat business or large jobs.  The lowest cost quoted may seem optimal, but it may also result in an inferior product.
  • Supplementary services:  Look at the range of services available.  The newest service being offered is transformational editing, literally taking an approved dissertation and rewriting, revising, and editing it to form a scholarly article, book, or trade publication.  This kind of service allows candidates to get extra mileage and professional credibility from the work they’ve accomplished during their doctoral programs.
  • Accreditation:  Look for logos, seals, or statements indicating the company has been accredited or verified by a recognized outside agency such as the Better Business Bureau.  Take time to check any reviews such companies have of the editing service being considered.

Overcoming the Final Obstacle

By using professional editing, doctoral candidates ensure that their dissertations will meet the requirements of their schools and conform to the standards of academic writing.  They ensure that their first published works will represent them favorably.

Overcome the final obstacle to dissertation acceptance.  We welcome you to consider our dissertation editing services.




Repak, Nick. (2011). Emotional fatigue: Coping with academic pressure. Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics. (2010). Table 12. Average expenses for graduate and first-professional students, by attendance status and selected enrollment and institutional characteristics. Web tables—Profile of students in graduate and first-professional education: 2007–08. Retrieved from pubs2010/2010177.pdf

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics. (2011). Table 5. Percentage distribution of doctoral students, by selected student characteristics: 1995–96, 1999–2000, 2003–04, and 2007–08. Web tables—Profile of graduate and first-professional students: Trends from selected years 1995–96 to 2007–08. Retrieved from

UCLA Graduate Writing Center. (2009). FAQ. Retrieved from