Six reasons why it may cost you more not to pay an editor to prepare your paper for publication

The pressure to publish in order to maintain momentum in your academic career is powerful.

But you risk switching your readers off if, having invested hundreds of hours researching, revising, and refining, you submit a paper that lacks polish, with erratic punctuation or clumsy clauses. You may even undermine reviewers’ confidence in the content itself.

In contrast, concise and accurate language serves to showcase the quality of your academic work.

It’s likely that by the time you get ready to publish you’ll have spent considerable time and energy on your research, making last-minute redrafts and additions while juggling a number of other demands on your time. Over-familiarity or fatigue at this stage can make it all too easy to miss small errors which may then be glaringly obvious to your readers.

But there is a way to avoid this – by employing a professional editor.

To some, this seems counter-intuitive. After all, you’re an academic and words are your tools. But think about it:

1. You are constantly deepening your expertise in your chosen field, but that may not mean you’re as good a writer as you are researcher, analyst, theorist or investigator. Many graduate programmes don’t include writing training, and with your attention fully focused on your specialist area, it may not be a skill you have been proactively developing.

2. You’ve been close to the text for so long you may have lost the ability to see it clearly. A particular word can often lodge in your brain and keep popping up throughout your argument. While this may go unnoticed by you, it is instantly spottable by an objective, professional editor. There’s a reason even full-time writers have editors: it’s hard for anyone to identify their own weak spots, bad habits, or inconsistencies. A fresh and experienced pair of eyes is invaluable, perhaps never more so than when you’ve spent the last six months living, dreaming and breathing your paper.

3. Your time is valuable and finite. It’s worth asking whether it’s better to pay an editor to identify and correct issues while you review new research, nurture your network, seek sources of funding and new opportunities? Or spend those hours catching recalcitrant commas? Mistakes come at a cost, as does your time. A good editor is likely to be quicker and more accurate than you, and able to free you up to focus on what happens next, after publication.

4. Your chances of being published will increase. With competition high, and an ever-increasing volume of papers being written for publication and peer review, journals evaluate and reject a high proportion of submissions, many for poor English. Polishing a sub-standard paper won’t get it published, but failing to polish a great paper might just cause you to fall at the last hurdle.

5. You’re writing in a second or third language. I studied Modern Languages, and cannot begin to express the admiration I have for academics who work alongside native speakers in a language they did not grow up speaking. A professional editor can ensure that any non-English errors or turns of phrase in your work don’t detract from your message.

6. You get a mini-writing tutorial, tailored entirely to you. Working through the changes your editor has tracked will shed light on your unique blind spots and writing weaknesses. This process will help correct your cavalier approach to colons, or whatever particular pitfall most commonly catches you out, so your writing can go from strength to strength.

So if you do decide to use the services of an editor, the next question is: what level of editing do you need?

1. Substantive editing: This is a deep edit, in which the logic, flow, and structure of your text is examined, and can include the identifying of gaps, revising of content, and modification of structure. This is best sourced from an editor with expertise in your specialist field.

2. Copy-editing: This type of editing will tighten and sharpen your writing, picking up issues like overly-long sentences or clunky wording, so it is clear, accurate and straightforward to read.

3. Proofreading: This is a final-stage polish, when all changes and revisions have been made, to remove any tiny inconsistencies, typos, or formatting quirks.

Your investment in your submissions for publication is significant. When so much is at stake it’s far better for an editor to find any mistakes you’ve missed than your academic peers. The question might therefore not be ‘Why use an editor?’, but rather ‘What will it cost me not to hire an editor?’

If you’d like me to copy-edit or proofread your paper please get in touch.

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Jo Mitchell is an experienced writer and editor. After studying Modern Languages at the University of Oxford she worked in fundraising at Oxfam GB and Viva, where she specialised in writing communications for major donors. She now provides freelance editing and copywriting services at Nightingale Ink in the firm belief that sometimes words can sing.

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