You have that final research paper nearly done, and you want it as flawless as possible before submitting it to your professor. After careful investigation, you decide to hire an editing firm such as FirstEditing ( and have one of their professional academic editors help you.

But wait—what exactly does an academic editor do? What should you expect from your editor? Below are some tips on what a professional editor can, will and should do, as well as what s/he cannot, won’t and shouldn’t do.

What your editor will do:

An academic editor providing a technical edit, which is the standard level for theses and dissertations, will carefully edit your work for grammar, punctuation, consistency and continuity. The true beauty of the technical edit, however, is in the little details that can be enormous stumbling blocks to good grades or professional publication: in a technical edit, your editor will examine your citations and references with a gimlet eye to make sure they adhere to the style guide you request.

FirstEditing ( has editors who are experienced professionals, some with backgrounds in academia. They’re familiar with all the major style guides: APA, MLA, Chicago, Turabian, Harvard, etc. While some basics are similar in each, there are also slight differences: for example, in APA style, a parenthetical citation would look like this: (Smith, 2009). In Harvard style the same citation would be: (Smith 2009).
Does all this nit-picky detail really matter? To your dissertation committee, it most definitely does. Appearance can be just as important as content, because these professionals have chosen the style they feel is easiest to read and most suited to their particular requirements. A technical edit can help you adhere to the style they demand.

Editors who provide a technical edit also serve as commentators on your work, pointing out areas that seem weak or that are especially strong; indicating where citations are missing or seem to be needed; asking questions whose answers might help to clarify a confusing passage…better to have an editor make these types of comments than your committee or the journal review panel!

A final “plus” of technical editing is that it includes a degree of formatting. Editors generally won’t place your charts and diagrams or alphabetize your reference list (other than relocating that stray reference that’s in the wrong place), but they will make sure your margins are correct, your references are formatted as they should be, your line spacing is consistent, your headers and footers are placed properly, etc. All this ensures a consistent, professional looking final product.

Most professional editors also offer running comments within the text—some editors are very chatty and will comment on almost everything; others reserve their comments for questions concerning continuity or logic, or to point out a really nicely-phrased passage.

What your editor will not do:

First and foremost, your editor will not generate content. In other words, professional editors are not ghost-writers: they do not take your rough outline and create your paper or create your reference list. Their job is to take your rough diamond and polish it to perfection.

Your editor cannot and should not guarantee that your work will be accepted by a publisher or will earn an “A” from your prof. What your editor can do is polish your work, thereby ensuring that it has the best possible chance of being published/earning an “A.”

Finally, a professional editor should never ignore your concerns and editing instructions. If what you ask for is not practical or is not covered by the editing fee, s/he should alert you to that fact or inform you that your current level of editing doesn’t cover what you’ve asked for, so that you can upgrade your level of editing if necessary.

Keep these tips in mind when seeking an editor, and be sure to check out the professional academic editors at FirstEditing (

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