Marieke Krijnen uses her own experience of academic studies to provide editorial support to PhD students whose first language is not English. We asked her to share her working practices and her tips for success.
What services do you offer?
I offer copyediting, proofreading, document formatting and reference formatting services to PhD candidates. The service that most of my clients pick is copyediting, which is of course a spelling, grammar, typo and consistency check but also includes improving word choice and usage, fixing overly long sentences and pointing out things that are not clear.
I also check that references are complete and correctly formatted and that university guidelines are followed. Reference formatting is my second-most-used service. Clients send me their list of references, which I format according to the required citation style. I also look each one up and make sure the author name, title, journal name and other details are spelled correctly.
Why did you decide to start working in this field?
I got my PhD in 2016 and was doing my first postdoc in 2016–17. After nearly experiencing a second burnout, I knew academia wasn’t for me in the long term. I needed to earn more money, work less and have more flexibility and at the same time security. I think that owning one’s own business can bring a lot of security, because you can always get more work and more clients and no one can make you redundant; I know not everyone agrees with this.
My writing and level of English had always stood out to others, and they often asked me to read things over for them. I decided to see if I could make money providing editorial services.
I had a lot to learn, of course, and slowly discovered the world of editing associations, editing training, style guides and edibuddies. I was extremely pleased with what I found (a bunch of people nerding out over punctuation and usage) and essentially never looked back.
Do you have a subject specialism?
I edit almost exclusively in the social sciences and humanities. I do not at all trust myself to edit something from the life sciences or physics. While I don’t get involved in the content of dissertations, I can often understand which terminology is common in the field and which terms may actually be a mistake or a false friend (I work with many ESL clients). I very often look things up regardless of what I think is the case, but if I were working in a discipline that’s not my own, I would spend all my time looking things up. Not fair to the client!
What do you enjoy about working on theses/dissertations?
I enjoy learning about new research and ideas, and I thoroughly enjoy the process of supporting someone during the last stages of their PhD. I know from experience how intense things get in the final months, so to be able to be there for them and reassure them feels very rewarding. PhD students are the only clients I make an exception for in terms of being available during weekends and evenings.
What are the benefits to students of engaging an editorial professional to work on their thesis/dissertation?
I think the biggest benefit is having a second pair of eyes go over their work, reassuring them that things are complete and consistent. Clients often tell me: ‘No one has read and engaged with my thesis as closely as you have.’ And it’s often true: I’m the first person who reads the entire document from cover to cover, engages with it, tries to understand what it says, and checks all the details at the same time. Sadly, most supervisors and jury members simply don’t have the time to do this.
While an editor should not do a candidate’s work for them, having someone check that all elements are in place and correct or that all citations are present in the reference list can relieve a lot of last-minute stress before submission of the thesis. Moreover, I’ve heard from clients that working with me provided them with the motivation to continue writing and finish their thesis, as they had to send it to me by a certain date.
How far in advance would you advise students to contact an editorial professional?
I generally book out around three months in advance for larger projects such as theses. I like to have a month for a full thesis edit, so contacting me as far as possible in advance is the best. I need to draw up a contract, I need an email from the supervisor confirming that editing is allowed, I need to find out how I will get paid … The earlier all this is set up, the better.
What should students look for in a potential editorial professional?
They should make sure that the editor has had editing training or has other editing credentials. The editor should have some form of online presence (a directory listing, a website) with information about their training, experience and skills. If testimonials are provided, this is even better. Vetted editors can be found in the CIEP Directory, for example, which lists Professional and Advanced Professional Members only.
PhD candidates can also ask their colleagues if they can recommend an editor. I get most of my work through referrals. If someone says they had a great experience with an editor and online research seems to confirm that the person is qualified and professional, I would say go for it. Check that the editor is responsive, draws up an agreement (either via email or in a separate document), and asks for supervisor permission.
What are students’ main concerns or worries about engaging you?
The cost of my work can be a bit of a shock to clients. I am usually paid with university funds, so most PhD candidates don’t pay me out of pocket, but some do (note that in many western European countries, PhD salaries are not that low).
I have heard from clients that while they were worried about paying so much at first, they did not regret it, because they realised afterwards how much they got in return. They were unaware of how many checks are involved in editing, the extent to which an editor goes to check and double-check things and make the writing consistent, the style sheet that is drawn up, the level of support they receive during the final stage of their PhD and so on.
I can imagine some clients are worried about an editor changing the meaning of things, but a good editor is always careful. For example, the editor makes a suggestion in a comment instead of changing something and always uses tracked changes so the client can see exactly what was changed.
What common issues do you encounter while working on theses/dissertations?
I have encountered instances of plagiarism. Usually, universities run a plagiarism check on submitted PhDs, so if I catch it before that happens, I can signal it to the client. Depending on how egregious the plagiarism is (is it entire pages? Is it just a few sentences the client forgot to provide a citation for?), I either flag it, leave a comment about it, and move on or send back the work and tell them I can’t work on it any more.
How much do you intervene?
I do not intervene in the content/argument of the thesis. I intervene when something is ambiguous or unclear, leaving a comment explaining what precisely is ambiguous and why (ie, ‘it could mean this but it can also be read as that; please clarify what was meant’). I also frequently intervene when I suspect that a ‘false friend’ was used. For example, if someone writes that a neighbourhood is characterised by a high level of promiscuity, and I know that person’s first language is French, I go to my dictionary, look up ‘promiscuité’, and see that it means ‘overcrowding’. This is one of my favourite things to do, and I have a list of such terms now that I can refer to. I keep my (digital) French, Italian, German, Dutch and Spanish dictionaries open at all times for this reason.
Finally, what are your top tips for students who are looking for an editorial professional?
If you want to engage a good editor, start looking for one months in advance!
Second, make sure editing is allowed at your institution, because a good editor will ask for your supervisor’s permission.
Finally, try to have an idea in advance of which kind of English you want to use in your thesis (British, Canadian, US spelling?), which university guidelines are in place regarding writing style and which citation style you will use. A good editor will ask all these questions once you contact them, but if you have this information for them already, they will be grateful.
Marieke Krijnen is an academic copyeditor and an Advanced Professional Member of the CIEP. She obtained a PhD in Political Science and has a background in Arabic and Middle East studies and urban studies. In her free time she enjoys trains, birds, and playing violin. She’s on Twitter as @MariekeGent and her website is www.mariekekrijnen.com.
The Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is a non-profit body promoting excellence in English language editing. We set and demonstrate editorial standards, and we are a community, training hub and support network for editorial professionals – the people who work to make text accurate, clear and fit for purpose.
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Posted by Harriet Power, CIEP information commissioning editor.
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the CIEP.