When you hire an editor to work on your material, they will usually expect you to be working in Microsoft Word, and they will usually plan to edit your material with track changes enabled.
The Microsoft Word near-monopoly in editing isn’t absolute, but it’s the industry standard, and if you need to work with a different word processor or platform, it’s best to mention it to your editor up front. For my part, I can work in LaTeX, Wordpress, and Google Docs, but I prefer to edit in Microsoft Word when it’s an option, for one particular tool: track changes.
Track changes sounds very much like what it is. Your editor uses it to track the changes they make in your document so that you can easily see where something was deleted, inserted, moved, or changed. If you’ve ever seen a Word doc plastered with colorful lines and bubbles and notes, that’s the work of track changes.
How to Read Changes in Track Changes
The following two images show a passage that hasn’t been edited yet (figure 1) and the same passage edited with track changes (figure 2). The red marks and the descriptions in the bubbles on the right in figure 2 indicate what kind of changes I made. There are types of edits not shown, but we can look at the four most common here: insertions, deletions, formatting, and (not really an edit but handled in the same place) comments. I also provide a short note on moves.
I know confusion exists about the topic of names in academic writing because I see that confusion in the dissertations I edit. All the errors I cover in this post are problems I have seen at least once (and sometimes much more often than that).
The three topics we’ll address here are appropriate use of individuals’ personal titles, appropriate use of full names versus surname-only, and correctly attributing coauthors when a source has exactly two authors.
Titles and Propriety
The first error I see crop up sometimes, which should be easy to avoid, is referring to cited authors by personal titles such as Mr., Ms., Prof., or Dr. Name. I think this mistake appears because academic writing is probably the only genre in which it is sometimes a mistake. It’s acceptable in journalism, and of course in less formal writing you have much more flexibility to do things the way you want.
You might occasionally see personal titles in the works of eminent scholars (especially those writing a century ago or more), but they might have particular reasons for doing this that don’t apply to your work or that you don’t want to accidentally appear to be using. For instance, because it is rare, the use of personal titles in an academic work might deliver a tone of intimate familiarity or, at the other extreme, sarcasatic condescension.
Review of Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day: A Guide to Starting, Revising, and Finishing Your Doctoral Thesis (1998), by Joan Bolker
Although the title suggests a quick-fix miracle plan for producing instant PhDs, author Joan Bolker, a writing instructor and EdD who has taught at several elite Boston-area universities, admits to using it as an attention-grabbing tactic (xvii). Because it grabs attention doesn’t suggest she doesn’t genuinely mean it, however. The fifteen minutes are at the core of the book’s two main messages: start small and remain consistent.
I would have found this book helpful when I was writing my dissertation—if I could have been convinced to set aside time in my tight procrastination schedule to read it.
There are ironies in the dissertation-writing process that affected me throughout my work, that I see affecting some of the clients I work with now, and that this book seeks to curtail before the writer succumbs to them. I did many things wrong that Bolker would have alerted me to, such as setting overly ambitious goals too early, isolating myself from my peers in the belief that it would help me focus, and remaining too long with a first advisor who was not a good match with me. The irony is that we make choices we think will help but that paralyze us because we cannot turn into writing machines overnight; we’ll always be human, and Bolker’s book is for the human writer.
Continuing our series on “seldoms,” let’s cover passive voice and its foil, an old favorite of mine, first person.
Academic disciplines and academic advisors vary widely with regard to whether or not they discourage first person. In some fields, it’s completely acceptable and in others it’s still mostly discouraged, despite the fact that style manuals such as the sixth edition of the APA Manual explicitly allow and encourage first person when it is the option that offers the most clarity.
Unlike the context-sensitive first person, passive voice comes up pretty often as a characteristic of weak writing. I pair them together, though, because when writers are discouraged from using first person (by themselves or by others), passive voice is the technique they most often pick up. Teachers, writing resources, and word processor grammar checkers all discourage it for good but not universally applicable reasons:
First, passive voice obscures the agent of the action in the sentence. Who administered the surveys? Dunno, they were just administered. Second, some passive voice constructions—especially, ironically, those that do identify the agent—can become unnecessarily convoluted and confusingly wordy. Such constructions, when written by students who are advised by professors who were taught that first person must always be avoided, are hard to be read even by fellow scholars without . . . ahem. I mean: there are much simpler ways to write sentences like that.
In my October 13 post, I introduced this miniseries on rules we might have learned in school that we can still follow as academic writers but perhaps not as strictly as we did when we were being graded on them. In that post, I covered the “rule”—really more of a guideline—not to end a paragraph in a quotation. Today I’ll cover the rule—in this case an actual rule but one that can be broken if it’s done smartly—not to begin a sentence with a conjunction.
As in the previous post, I want to call this rule a “seldom,” rather than a “never.” Its effectiveness comes from breaking the rule occasionally but not all over the place.
Seldom Begin a Sentence with a Conjunction
The conjunctions of the English language we’ll be discussing are “and,” “but,” and “or.” An example of breaking this rule appeared in my my previous blog post, in which I wrote, “And indeed, most nevers of writing style . . . are subject to creative and effective rule breakage.”
The rule not to begin a sentence with the words “and,” “but,” or “or” is one of grammar, not style, but it leaks into the realm of style because its breakage is so common that it conveys a particular meaning to your audience. Using a conjunction to transition into a sentence can, if done appropriately, add punch to your next point, but if you bear in mind that you’re really not “supposed” to be doing it at all, then it can remind you to keep the impulse reined in. The tiny act of rebellion of the sentence-leading conjunction is where some of that punch comes from.
“Never end a paragraph with a quotation.”
“Never begin a sentence with a conjunction.”
“Never use the passive voice.”
“Never use first person.”
Whether you heard them in high school, in a first-year college writing course, or not at all, there are numerous—possibly endless—rules of formal writing style that start with the word “never.” “Never” has the magic power of catching attention, but its power is weakened by the fact that it doesn’t really mean itself, and you can always find plenty of counterexamples by reputable authors.
And indeed, most nevers of writing style (not to be confused with out-and-out mistakes, like writing “defiantly” when you mean “definitely”) are subject to creative and effective rule breakage at certain times. In fact, “never” in this context really means something more like “Avoid . . .” or “Don’t usually . . .” or “Question your impulse to . . .” or “Be aware that some people will be annoyed with your writing if you . . . .”
The more flexibility a rule has, however, the more important it is that you pay close attention to its usage before you take advantage of that flexibility. Or to put it another way: You can’t creatively and effectively break a rule you don’t know how to follow.
The small but mighty Communication Central conference for editing, proofreading, and writing freelancers was held on the last weekend of September. Unlike the massive American Copy Editors Society (ACES) conference that I wrote about in March, CommCen was attended by about fifty people, a small enough number for an ambitious networker to shake hands with everyone if she tried but large enough to collect a varied span of knowledge from editors and other freelancers with an impressive range of experience and focus areas.
I consider the 2013 CommCen to have been, if editors were debutantes, my personal “coming out” venue. I learned more in those three days (including Laura Poole’s excellent Editorial Boot Camp) than I had in the previous thirteen months of my muddling through the swampy novice editorial waters. It’s a terrific conference for anyone, but I would recommend it particularly to new editorial freelancers who don’t yet have a community of colleagues to learn from and who might feel intimidated at a large-scale meeting of an industrial organization. Here are my takeaways from the 2015 CommCen:
The intended audience for this post consists of writers who use citations in their work and editors who are new to working with material that includes citations. Most of my work involves reference work of some form, and some of it consists entirely of references.
Sometimes authors ask for a “reference check,” but this can mean a lot of different things. Often, authors who are students or are otherwise new to working with an editor don’t actually know the extent of the reference check they need and are relying on their editor to do whatever it is they think is correct. In practice, this needs to be something that client and editor agree on before work begins.
What to Expect When You're Expecting Citation Help
At a minimum, checking references will usually mean the following:
A while back, I wrote about the state of gender neutral pronouns in writing. Until we get to the point where the singular “they” is standard, however, there is the question of how to negotiate the singular gender pronouns “she” and “he” in academic writing.
The usual way of describing a generic or hypothetical subject in nonfiction writing was, for a long time, with a masculine pronoun, unless there was a particular reason for using the feminine, a practice called the generic masculine. I happen to be reading Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations right now, and he gives us plenty of examples:
Among the savage nations of hunters and fishers, every individual who is able to work is more or less employed in useful labour, and endeavours to provide, as well as he can, the necessaries and conveniencies of life, for himself, and such of his family or tribe as are either too old, or too young, or too infirm, to go a-hunting and fishing. (Smith  1909, 5)
But: “In most parts of Scotland, she is a good spinner who can earn twentypence a-week” (Smith  1909, 125).
Smith, of course, wrote during a time period when this was normal and unquestioned. In the first quotation, the pronouns, despite being gendered masculine, are meant to be read as generic. Whether Smith was thinking of individuals of both sexes when he wrote that paragraph or just of men is unknown and, for the purpose of the book, not very important. In the second, the worker being described is explicitly intended to be read as female. It took 125 pages for him to use the word “she,” though in previous chapters, “her” appears in references to “a tender mother” (117), “the labour of the wife” (72), and a greyhound (19).
The type of material that belongs in the appendix of a dissertation will vary considerably from one research project to another. My only two appendix items were my IRB materials and a list of resources that didn’t work neatly in the reference list, including websites and a pseudonymous directory of my participants.
I’ve edited dissertations that included the study’s complete interview transcripts, all of the study’s tables, and the various letters sent to people and groups requesting interviews or permissions.
Standard Appendix Material
Many if not most universities have resources, usually on the web, that list examples of the types of appendix materials they consider standard, normal, or acceptable. I’ve reviewed a number of universities’ thesis and dissertation help pages to compile the following list of typical appendix materials:*
I'm Lea, a freelance editor who specializes in academic and nonfiction materials. More info about my services is available throughout this site.