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A dissertation editor is a person who reads, critiques, and edits a doctoral dissertation. Doctoral dissertations are lengthy research projects akin to long thesis essays undertaken by Ph.D. candidates in universities around the world. The dissertation is usually the product of years of research, and often goes through several drafts and iterations before being presented to a dissertation committee for final approval and degree conferral. Dissertation editors serve the important function of helping the author hone the paper’s thoughts and arguments for the final version, and sometimes also help with formatting and aesthetic presentation. A dissertation editor can be an outside contractor hired to lend editing expertise, or an adviser assigned by the student’s university.
The strength of the dissertation is usually what determines whether a doctoral student will be awarded a Ph.D. The student’s academic adviser usually serves as an on-going dissertation editor of sorts, coaching the student through the various phases of writing. Advisers generally read and critique drafts, and offer advice for improvements at various stages.
Most dissertation advisers also serve as dissertation reviewers, and more often than not are on the team of faculty that determines whether or not the dissertation is strong enough to warrant degree conferral. Because of this, not all advisers are able to provide extensive editing to their advisees’ dissertations. Students who want an outside perspective on their dissertation may choose to hire a third-party dissertation editor to review their work, usually for a fee.
The dissertation editing market is robust, with editors offering services from dissertation proofreading and citation correction to content critique and, sometimes, re-writing services. Virtually anyone can be a dissertation editor. Some editors are themselves college professors. Others are professional editors for publications or media outlets, while still others are simply experts in the subject matter field in which they edit. Commercial dissertation editors who market proofreading and formatting services will generally accept any dissertation, while content editors usually work only within a certain field.
Most doctoral programs place restrictions on the sorts of dissertation editing services that students can use. Edits for style and formatting, particularly with respect to citations, are generally acceptable. Dissertations are usually hundreds of pages long, and contain sometimes thousands of citations. Ensuring that all of the citations are in the proper format can be time consuming and draining for writers. Similarly, the formatting of charts and graphs — which are very common in dissertations in the sciences — can be troubling to perfect.
A dissertation editor hired for dissertation formatting does not actually do any thinking for the writer. All he or she does is put the writer’s content into the needed form. This kind of editing is generally uncontroversial. Most dissertation editors fall within this category.
Eyebrows more often raise in academia when outside editors make content suggestions or modifications to a dissertation. The dissertation in many respects stands as a testament to the writer’s own original ideas, and most universities assert that it should represent the writer’s originally conceived argument. Some schools prohibit students from hiring outside editors to make substantive suggestions on their work. Outside substance editors are often criticized for lacking the intellectual relationship with a student that an adviser has, and are sometimes perceived as being more interested more in the financial gains of editing than the academic integrity of the dissertation argument.