14 September 2020


Should You Hire a Professional Proofreader for Your Thesis?

By Catherine Pope

September 14, 2020

Posted in Writing

Proofreading is perhaps the one activity I dislike even more than housework. This stage is unbelievably tedious, but absolutely crucial. Typos creep in all the time, especially when you’re stressed and frantically editing the text. The only way to approach proofreading is calmly and systematically. And you need to do this right at the end, once you’ve finished writing and tinkering. Otherwise, you’ll have to go back and recheck all those additions and deletions. It’s tempting to outsource the pain by hiring a professional proofreader.

Universities sometimes have strict rules around the use of proofreaders and editors. This is to ensure that candidates don’t benefit from additional input. Check with whoever is responsible for postgraduate researcher regulations at your institution. There might be an approved list of professionals, or guidance on what help you are allowed to solicit.

In this post, I’ll explain what proofreaders do, what they don’t do, and how you can find a good one. I’ll also highlight some of the implications for your submission plan.

What do proofreaders do?

Unlike editors, proofreaders won’t change the sense of your text. They don’t generally point out that you’ve used the wrong word or that you’ve made a factual error. Their role is to spot spelling and grammar mistakes, inconsistencies, and keyboard mishaps. This means they don’t need to be an expert in your subject.

You might think it’s easy to do this yourself. After all, don’t word processors have a built-in spellchecker? While Word will admonish you for obvious errors, it won’t necessarily identify homophones such as their/they’re/there or notice when you’ve missed out an all-important ‘not’.

Some proofreaders will also help with formatting, ensuring that headings, figures, and citations are consistent. For this, they’d need a copy of the guidelines for your institution. Naturally, this takes a lot of time so it’ll be factored into the cost. Don’t assume this service is included — always check.

How can I find a good proofreader?

Perhaps you’ve seen ads or received emails promoting proofreading services at reasonable rates. These companies are generally best avoided. They often sub-contract the work to distributed freelancers who are paid low rates and may not be native English speakers. They’re relying on the spell-checker in Word — which you could do yourself and spend the money on treats instead.

Make sure you hire a professional. In the UK, I’d suggest approaching the Chartered Institute for Editing and Proofreading. Its members are qualified and experienced, with some having additional training in academic writing. You can probably also find one who understands your subject area. This isn’t strictly necessary, though, as they’re just checking for tiny details at this stage.

Bear in mind, too, that great proofreaders are in demand. You’ll need to negotiate a start date with them and make sure they have the MS ready to start work. They’ll have lots of other projects booked in with little flexibility. As you might have guessed, working with a proofreader is likely to mean completing your thesis even earlier.

How much do proofreaders charge for a thesis?

Proofreading is expensive. It’s a laborious process and you’re paying by the hour. The cost for an 80,000-word thesis is likely to be at least £600. If you go for the cheapest, you’ll get someone who is reading less carefully. Having said that, even great proofreaders miss typos. None has a success rate of 100% on a complex document like a thesis, but they’re likely to do a better job than you.

Before you hire a proofreader:

  • Check with your university — is there an approved list or guidance?
  • Complete all your own checks and edits — you don’t want to reintroduce errors.
  • Make sure you’re getting a professional — search the database of the Chartered Institute for Editing and Proofreading.
  • Clarify what they’re going to do — e.g. editing, proofreading, formatting.
  • Prepare a briefing document to explain anything that might be confusing.
  • Decide how you’d like them to work — e.g. tracked changes in Word.
  • Consider deadlines — by what date will you need to get the MS to them?
  • Remember that they probably won’t catch everything.

You’ll still need to check your thesis thoroughly, but the skilled eye of a professional proofreader might make you feel more confident — assuming you have both the time and the money. Otherwise, it’s a case of reading very sloooowly and carefully, preferably with a big cup of tea and some chocolate biscuits.

Do you need help with getting your thesis ready for submission? Get clear step-by-step advice on improving the structure, flow, and details in this online course. You'll receive immediate access to videos, transcripts, and resources. Oh, and lots of practical advice to help your thesis really shine.

Catherine Pope

About the author

Since completing her PhD in 2014, Catherine has supported thousands of researchers through to the finish line. Having enjoyed a varied career as a web developer, lecturer, and coach, Catherine now shares her skills and knowledge through PhD Progress.

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