Editing theses and dissertations: an ethical guide

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Learn about getting permission to use an editor, what to look for in an editor, types of editing allowed, getting a cost estimate. . .and why the investment is worthwhile.


Finished drafting your thesis or dissertation—or almost there? Congratulations! I know from experience how much work, time, and sheer emotion it takes to get this far—especially if you and your supervisor are happy with the overall content and structure.

The next step? Editing

Before you format and submit your work, editing is essential. Perhaps your thesis supervisor has recommended it. Or perhaps you’ll want to publish part of your work after graduation. 

You should review your draft closely, and these tips for academic editing will help. But even experienced writers find it tough to edit their own work and meet the standards most universities expect for a thesis or dissertation. As well, keep in mind that editing must follow your institution’s policies governing ethical conduct and academic integrity.

 Editing is a special skill. I can help.

A trained editor with extensive experience as a former post-secondary writing instructor, I can find those small but essential details that writers tend to miss. In that way, I’ve helped grad students successfully submit their work and graduate on time.

Is it ethical to hire an editor?

Yes! But you do need prior permission, so check with your supervisor first before you start investigating options. Then to help ensure your editing arrangements meet your institution’s ethical standards, follow these guidelines:

Contact a professional.

Your editor should be a member of an established professional association like Editors Canada (best for grad students at Canadian universities) or the American Copy Editors Society (ACES). Editors Canada outlines clear editorial standards and guidelines for ethical editing of student writing

  • CAUTION: Avoid dissertation-editing services that
    • aren’t affiliated with a reputable editing association
    • don’t require your supervisor’s permission beforehand
    • ask you for full payment up-front.

Get written, signed permission from your thesis supervisor.

The Editors Canada permission form also lets your supervisor specify beforehand the scope of editing allowed. Be aware that editors may not be permitted to fix problems with formatting if you’re using a thesis template.

Share your institution’s thesis submission guidelines with your editor.

It’s not the editor’s job to format your thesis, but it’s helpful for your editor to know the requirements. Caution: if your institution requires a thesis template, think of that as the final, finished version of your thesis. So wait until copyedits are completed before using the template.

Why? Let’s say your headings or captions need editing to conform to a required style. If you’ve used pre-formatting, editing could affect your table of contents or list of figures. It’s best to have copyedits done in a standard Word doc. Your editor can flag anything you need to know to ensure your final version meets requirements.

What types of editing are allowed for theses and dissertations?

For graduate student work, Editors Canada guidelines specify two types of allowable editing: copyediting and limited stylistic editing.

Copyediting means

  • fixing spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors
  • fixing or pointing out inconsistencies for names, figures, tables, and mechanics (e.g., abbreviations and numbers)
  • pointing out but not fixing problems with citation style. The writer has to correct these.

Limited stylistic editing (if allowed by your supervisor) means pointing out but not fixing

  • problems with argumentative flow
  • awkward or overly long sentences 
  • unclear wording.

How much does it cost to edit a thesis?

Is editing a good

Graduate students are usually on a tight budget. For that reason, I keep my fee for theses and dissertations at the lower end of typical editing rates. In Canadian dollars, my fees start at $40 per hour.

Of course, the total cost depends on the length and complexity of the thesis, how much needs to be edited, and how soon it has to be done. I provide an estimate beforehand, which includes how many hours the editing will take.

TIP: Ask me for a free sample. I’ll copyedit 4–5 pages of your thesis at no charge. That way, you can review my changes and be sure you’re comfortable with them before agreeing to a service contract.

How do I get an estimate?

Simply email me with the following information:

  • the title of your dissertation
  • finished length (in 1.5-spaced pages or total word count) including front and back matter
  • your anticipated defence date or submission deadline
  • citation style (e.g., APA, Chicago…)

Or you can fill out this short form. Either way, I’ll ordinarily reply by the next business day.

Not quite ready for an estimate yet, but curious? I’m happy to answer questions.


Finishing, defending, and submitting your thesis after years of hard work is a life-changer . . . and I’m proud to say I’ve helped graduate students achieve that goal. For them, professional editing was worth the investment

And for you? Get in touch with me to find out.

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