Have you ever looked back on piece of work and felt slightly horrified when you realise there is typo on your title page? Don’t laugh I have a friend who submitted his thesis, not just a blog post, only to discover a mistake in the title. Or perhaps like me you tend to write so slowly that you are rushing by the deadline -how can it take me an entire day to write a page of intelligible text- leaving little time on that final polish. And speaking of polish, I have another friend who – just before handing in her Honours thesis- noticed that her spellcheck had changed petrography to pornography through the entire document. Surely the examiner would see the funny side?
I am notorious for not being able to spell. When I first left home my mother and I (and I’m going to show my age here) corresponded by pmail, as in paper mail and not email. Anyway, she once returned a letter to me covered in red pen pointing our my spelling and grammatical errors… Or there was my honours thesis where I spelled Brzezinski et al., no less than 12 different ways. I now use a citation program, and furthermore feel the man’s pain having taken Strzepek as a surname (which I also have been known to spell incorrectly). But when it comes to a large document I blame fatigue. And not just in terms of sleep deprivation, but fatigue with the document itself. Having read the blessed thing no less than 50 times you know what you expect to see and so you don’t notice you’ve written form instead of from, or sweater instead of seawater which is my current favourite. Or like I experienced recently, you mix and match from 5 different edits currently open on your desktop, and the end result….electronic paper mache (see inset).
But for many it is the issue of writing in a foreign language. Many moons ago I learned to speak Greek, fluently even, however there is no way on Darwin’s green Earth that I would be able to write my thesis in Greek. An interesting example of some of the difficulties that ESL students face was a former colleague who, when discussing what he observed in x-rays, described them as ‘white and black’ images. Technically they are ‘white and black’ as much as they are ‘black and white’, but this reverse phrasing is very conspicuous to the native speaker.
And this is where a copy editor can be the most useful person a PhD student will meet in the final months of candidature. And as long as you acknowledge the editor in your thesis it is perfectly acceptable to employ someone to edit for you. I have until now relied on my husband who writes messages like “gahhhhh” in the margins when my text is impenetrable. But recently I was approached and asked whether I would be comfortable to post a link for a copy editing service. I am perfectly happy to if it will help even one student get through the final months where you live and breathe your writing. We have a similar service that runs through the university, however the difference is that their expertise lies in the language, and not in the subject matter; apparently you can have both.
I’ve put a link to the service, and their blog, under Useful links in PhD resources for future reference. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to analyzing the sweater surrounding my deep-sea coral. I bet it’s blue.