This article is submitted by Jo Killmister, a professional editor with Manifesto Editing.


So, you’ve done the intellectual equivalent of climbing Everest, and your thesis, your precious brainchild, is ready for a final polish. How do you go about engaging and negotiating with an editor?

Finding an editor:

  • Your supervisor, faculty assistant dean (research) or faculty assistant dean (research training) probably keeps a list of editors; this list may well be found on Blackboard.
  • The Office of Graduate Research, Callaghan campus, keeps a list of editors.
  • Online, your first port of call should be the website of the national editing body, the Institute of Professional Editors Limited (IPEd)— IPEd maintains a directory of accredited editors, which you can use to find an academic editor whose field suits your needs. Or, if you prefer, you can ask the site’s administrators to put out a call to all members for someone to contact you about editing your thesis. (Note: there are many very highly skilled editors who haven’t yet sat for the accreditation exam for various reasons.)
  • You can also look for an academic editor on Facebook, where many editors maintain business pages, or else try Linked In.
  • Recent discussion among a closed Facebook group of 700 editors (Secret Editors’ Business) suggested that more clients contact editors through their websites than through social media. So, just type ‘academic editing’ into your favourite search engine and browse for someone with academic qualifications, editing credentials and experience relevant to your particular needs.
  • Whatever your method of finding an academic editor, it’s essential that your choice should be familiar with the Australian standards for editing practice (to find a pdf version try: These are core standards with which any Australian editor should be familiar.


Some essentials to keep in mind about the nature and limits of academic editing

People quite often use the term ‘proofreading’ as though it were interchangeable with the term ‘editing’ but, actually, there are three levels of editing: proofreading, copyediting and substantive editing. You can find full details of the tasks entailed by these levels at but here is a very brief and somewhat selective summary:

  • Proofreading is essentially a final check to ensure that a document is publication- or examination-ready; it ensures that all necessary parts are included and in correct order, that the appropriate style of usage has been followed and that last spelling errors, punctuation slips and typos have been fixed.


  • Copyediting, sometimes called line editing, entails detailed correction of grammar, syntax (word order), punctuation and spelling and a consistent approach to these elements. Copyediting also involves attention to the degree of flow between sentences. Any Australian editor should be familiar with the Australian Government’s publication manual, Style manual (Snooks & co. rev. 2002—there’s a new version coming soon) and apply its guidance on such matters as the expression of numbers and quantitative data unless your discipline has some overriding style sheet of its own for these items. (Later, when you’re writing articles for publication in overseas journals, you may be asked to refer to the Chicago Manual of Style or some other comprehensive equivalent of the Australian Style manual. By the way, the lower- case M is intentional here; it’s intended to flourish the SM’s stress on minimal capitalisation.)


  • Substantive editing is large-scale and consists of review of a document’s structure, evaluation of the suitability of its content and assessment of its language, style and presentation.

Because a PhD student’s thesis must be able to stand as that person’s own work, an academic editor may make changes at the first two levels described above but is prevented by ethical considerations (as well as university and IPEd policy) from making any substantial changes to structure and content. However, if your editor perceives problems at this deeper level, he or she may make suggestions about remedies in the track-changes version of the edited draft.

For much more information about the role of an academic editor and what a student may expect of that person, see for information for students, supervisors and editors.


What an editor may wish to know from you initially:

  • the nature of your academic document (e.g. thesis, journal paper)
  • the field of your research
  • the length of the document in words, pages and chapters and the number of appendices—in fact, after an initial dialogue with a thesis client, editors often ask to be sent the latest draft of his or her thesis so that they can edit random samples to calculate the likely hours of work involved
  • your citation system (author-date or footnote, and specific variant of one of these)
  • the name(s) of your supervisors
  • your deadline for completion of the job
  • any particular requirements of your discipline and institution (provide a relevant style sheet if one is available)
  • whether you’d like formatting included
  • your budget—if this is limited, it may be a good idea to make this known to an editor at the beginning to save time; he or she may have some suggestions to reduce costs.



  • People who assume that editing is a ‛micro’ matter equivalent to proofreading (so that reading time = editing time) tend to hold unrealistic expectations about editors’ fees. Some editors suggest that 50 hours is the average amount of time necessary to edit a thesis, but this figure assumes a certain level of English skill. If many sentences need recasting, then additional time will be necessary. It is not unusual in my experience for a thesis to take 60–70 hours to edit. Editors are a soft-hearted bunch and conscious that their own perfectionism may add time to a job so they often throw in many free hours; nevertheless, like students, they have bills to pay.


  • IPEd has, as yet, set no fixed charge rates. Editing charges vary as widely as the experience, credentials and personalities of editors. Discussions on online editors’ forums suggest that some academic editors’ charges work out at around $80 an hour whereas others charge a fixed amount that implies a much lower hourly rate. Whatever the agreed amount of payment, it’s vital that it be put in writing and agreed upon by both parties before the editor begins work.


  • Keep in mind that cheaper isn’t necessarily better. You want value for money in skilled attention to your expression, overall scrutiny of your usage across the document for consistency and stringent evaluation of your logical flow.



  • So, you’ve found an editor and agreed on the parameters of the work and its cost. Your editor may now send you a written document for your formal agreement setting out the editing tasks that the editor has agreed to perform, the timeframe involved and the sum on which you’ve agreed, asking that you indicate your assent in writing. This agreement is also in your interests, in case you feel later on that you have not received what you’ve paid for.


  • Method of payment—what happens when the job is complete and it’s time to exchange money for a beautifully clear and consistent document in which your original ideas appear at their very best? Some editors ask for a deposit of beforehand and then ask for the rest before sending the edited version. Of course, from the client’s point of view, this has its risks, just as the editor’s sending of the edited document before receiving payment carries risks for the editor. Recent developments in software such as (but not solely) Adobe mean that it is now possible to send a document such as a track-changes version of a thesis in locked format so that a client can scrutinise the edit and judge whether it measures up to the initial agreement. A happy client then pays (perhaps through EFT or maybe through PayPal) and the editor sends fully accessible Word versions.

Once you have the edited version of your thesis you may be astonished by the number of changes your editor has made. A trained editor’s eye picks up a remarkable amount of detail. (Switching it off can be a problem.) It’s a matter of courtesy to include the bearer of this trained eye, your editor, in your list of acknowledgements at the beginning of your thesis. Now to draw up the invitation list for your graduation party…

Jo Killmister, Manifesto Editing


You can contact Jo at or find out more at

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