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Academic editing: All you need to know

Updated: May 27

Academic editing refers to proofreading services designed specifically to correct and improve academic documents. These documents might include journal papers, master’s theses, research papers, college application essays, and so on. 

Academic editing offers can play a major role in ensuring that you complete and submit academic work that you can take pride in.  Many writers may think that such assistance may be too expensive to be worth it. 

However, there are several benefits associated with academic editing. These include completing your thesis on time or getting published in high-end journals. Here is a brief list summarizing the benefits associated with professional proofreading:  

  1. It saves you time

  2. It  improves your writing

  3. It makes your writing seem more professional

  4.  It expedites your academic success

So how do you go about deciding when you need professional help to correct your manuscript? Also, where do you go to get professional assistance? And what should you look for in a good academic editor? 

In this article, I will tell you all you need to know about academic editing and what to expect from an academic editor, and where to find the best offers.

Table of Contents

Options for professional academic editing

What is academic editing? 

Academic editing refers to checking and correcting academic documents. These documents could include master’s or dissertation theses, journal manuscripts, white papers, and so on. 

These offers could include correction for:

  • Style and tone 

  • Grammar 

  • Sentence structure 

  • Clarity

Academic editing can be thought as existing in different stages and tiers. These tiers or stages are based on the level of modification required to be carried out on the document before making it ready for submission. 

On the one end, we have developmental editing, which may require significant changes to the conceptual development of a document. And this level of correction may occur even before the document is completed.

On the other end, we have proofreading, which is the final stage of the process. This includes making minor changes, such as correcting spelling and punctuation errors. 

There are more or less six different types of editing. They include:

  1. Developmental

  2. Substantive

  3. Copyediting 

  4. Mechanical

  5. Proofreading 

As I mentioned earlier, these levels can be seen as a continuum. Developmental editing can be seen as the most conceptual and proofreading being the last stage of the process.

Figure 1 shows the five stages of editing: 

The different tiers of academic editing

Figure 1 shows editing as a continuous process. However, in reality, most authors do not go through all of these stages. Writers may seek professional help at any stage of the process. 

For example, a senior or experienced author, who has published several papers and who is writing for a target journal may simply need copyediting and proofreading assistance. However, a more junior author may need both developmental and content editing. 

Let’s look at each of the various stages of the process in turn. 

Developmental editing 

Developmental editing is the most drastic stage of the process. It may involve having the entire manuscript written because the overarching concept, idea, or story was not well thought out.

In some cases, developmental editing may apply even before the manuscript is written. For example, an editor may leave extensive commentary and suggestions for the outline of a manuscript.

In the field of academics, a developmental editor would most likely be an SME or subject matter expert. 

Substantive editing 

Substantive editing involves organizing and presenting existing content. It is not as drastic as the developmental stage. However, it includes:

  • Rewriting to improve style

  • Rewriting to improve clarity

  • Rewriting to give greater structural integrity or coherence

  • Adjusting or recasting tables

This type or level of correction implies major modification. Before an editor goes ahead with this stage, they need to ensure that they are on the same page with the author. 

In fact, the editor should even think of submitting a sample of the work to obtain the approval of the author before going ahead with substantive editing throughout the entire manuscript.


Copyediting is also referred to as line editing. It deals with paying attention to every word and punctuation mark in the manuscript. However, unlike substantive editing, it doesn’t involve rewriting. 

To carry out proper copyediting, the academic editor needs to:

  • Have thorough knowledge of the style to be followed

  • Have confidence in their ability

  • Be willing to make quick and logical decisions

  • Be willing to defend their decisions to the author

Mechanical editing

Mechanical editing refers to consistently applying a specific style to a manuscript. Style refers to rules regarding: 

  • Capitalization

  • Spelling

  • Hyphenation

  • Abbreviations

  • Punctuation

In addition to this, mechanical editing also involves paying attention to usage, grammar, and syntax. 


Proofreading can be described as the process of carefully examining all the components of a text to find errors and mark them for correction. All the stages of correcting a manuscipt require proofreading.

However, here, by proofreading we mean correcting and double-checking the final version of the manuscript. This stage of editing is usually carried out after your manuscript has been converted into the format that it will be published in. 

In the case of academic authors who wish to get published in journals, this would be the PDF format of your manuscript after it has been accepted for publication in your target journal. 

Who needs academic editing? 

Academic editing has grown into a lucrative industry. Its rapid growth is based on the growing demand from academic professionals who speak English as a second language. 

The types of people who need such professional assistance include the following:

1. ESL (or English as a second language) university students

These are university students who study abroad in English and who need English language support. They might need such support in writing their theses, college papers, or even writing their college essay applications. 

2. University students in general

ESL university students are not the only ones who require editing help. Such services can be useful to any university student who has limited time to go over their own work or who struggles with writing English well. 

3. Academic professionals

Academia can be a competitive industry. Professors and lecturers very often can only get promotions after publishing academic papers in high-quality English language journals with very high English language standards. To do so successfully, they typically pay for academic editing, especially if they are ESL professionals.

4. Professionals who need grant writing assistance

Grant writing is a form of academic writing that can be quite challenging. Non-profits and university research departments frequently rely on such a skill. 

There are often strict requirements that come with requests for proposals (or RFPs), such as a limited word count. An academic editor may be able to edit grant proposals to meet these requirements. 

5. Professionals who need help with white papers

 White papers are a type of paper that are a mix between academic and business writing. These documents are typically informative and loaded with statistics. 

White papers can include information and data about a new product for business purposes. Or they can include information about a development project by an NGO such as the World Bank or FAO (Food and Aid Organization).  

Instead of journals, such papers usually target  the general public or a more sophisticated B2B audience. Academic editing can help you hit just the right note between using technical jargon and appealing to a non-technical audience. 

An academic editor can significantly improve the quality of your academic writing. Most people, whether or not they are ESL speakers, are surprised to find out just how much these type of services can help. 

This is because an academic editor has a specific set of skills that are typically taken for granted by the average non-professional or even professional writer. So exactly what should expect from an academic editor? 

Image of youn professor, a prime example of a customer for professional academic editing.
Image of a young professor, a prime candidate for academic editing assistance.

What to expect from a professional academic editor

An academic editor brings a specific set of skills to your academic document. You should expect for your edited manuscript to be free of spelling, grammar, and typo errors.

Here is a list of other things that usually come with hiring an academic editor: 

  • Direct changes to your document to improve clarity, flow, and readability

  • Tracked Word revisions that allow you to see and review changes made by the editor 

  • Formatting citations and references to meet the guidelines and expectations of your target journal

  • Comments on missing or confusing information and how the document could be improved 

  • A brief summary of how document has been changed and any major concerns that require further attention or work

1. Affordable pricing. Because of the intense competition, proofreading and editing prices can be relatively inexpensive. With standard turnaround times of three to seven days, you can expect to be charged around only $30 to $45 per 1000 words.

2. Access to skilled proofreaders and editors. Proofreading websites or companies use both in-house and freelance editors. These freelance editors are located throughout the world. They have to go through challenging qualifying tests and training before they start working for these companies.

3. Speedy and convenient services. These companies offer rapid turnaround times. Their turnaround times range between four or even two hours and two weeks. They are usually web-based and you can upload your document and pay for these services 24-7.

4. Educational resources. By educational resources, I mean resources that support students to become successful academics or scholars. The ideal proofreading company is not content with editing or proofreading your document. 

Instead, they offer a wide range of useful resources, such as blogs and YouTube videos, to help answer or explain any difficult questions you have about academic tasks and writing.

What types of documents qualify for academic editing?

Academic editing encompasses a wide range of documents. These are academic documents related to university coursework, journal publications, and writing academic reports. They include the following: 

  • Academic essays meant to complete coursework

  • Journal articles

  • Master’s theses and PhD dissertations

  • Research projects

  • Book chapters meant for academic books published in journals

  • Academic books

  • White papers for business products

  • Conference Proceedings

  • Conference  posters

  • Conference presentations

Of course, many scholars can complete or submit these documents on their own without the assistance of an academic editor. However, there are specific advantages and talents that an academic editor brings.

This is a specialized service that improves both the language and structure of your document. Besides that, it can simultaneously strengthen, streamline, and emphasize your ideas and arguments, while making sure your paper meets the strict formatting requirements of  your target journal or required coursework.

The following section looks at the various benefits.

1. A professional editor provides a fresh set of eyes

Manuscript writing can be very involved and tedious work. It often takes several intense hours of academic writing, editing, and proofreading, which can be quite exasperating. Eventually, you will get sick and tired of that manuscript. You need to take a break. At this point, you’re too familiar with the text and too biased against it to see either its flaws or room for improvement.

A professional editor provides a novel point of view since they are coming to your manuscript as an unbiased professional, and also because they are seeing your work for the first time. They can read it with brand-new eyes, which enables them to spot trouble areas that you’ve missed.

What does this mean? Well, it could mean that your interpretation of results may need to be expanded or perhaps your literature review may not be sufficiently updated. Or maybe you repeat yourself too much.

Let's say you are writing a grant proposal for example. Your audience might not be too technical, yet the language you use is too jargonistic and goes over their head. A professional editor will help you hit just the right tone for that type of audience.

2. You can leverage years of expertise and experience to your benefit

A professional editor, as opposed to an amateur or hobbyist, will bring years of experience and expertise to your academic writing. Of course, it might be tempting to hire that friend who likes to write or who has a blog for a hobby. Resist that temptation.

A professional editor understands the assignment and will deliver. They have likely edited several dozens if not hundreds of papers for that particular journal that you are aiming for. Or they might be a published academic author themselves.

Maybe they know how arduous the review process is. They know what reviewers want and expect from a research paper. And they know just how to do just the right manuscript correction and proofreading to increase the chances of your manuscript being accepted.

Being a successful academic is not a one-man job or project. It is not something that you can do solo. It is a collaborative effort that includes you, your advisor, and other research colleagues. Your professional academic editor can also be part of that collaborative team.

3. A professional academic editor can help you become a better writer

The best professional editors do not simply correct your errors. They provide critical feedback, which if followed can help you slowly evolve into a better writer or editor of your own work over time.

Writers don't take kindly to unkind and unhelpful commentary; a professional editor can give you helpful and useful feedback without offending you. Academic writing is long and grueling work. You stayed up late for several hours weeks at a time to finish that thesis or journal paper. You drank gallons of coffee and lost hours of sleep. Maybe even your wrists and shoulders are sore from all that typing and your eyes burn from staring at the screen for so long.

So someone causally dismissing your work as not being good enough can be jarring and even discouraging. This is where the professional editor steps in. A professional editor knows how to provide just the right feedback. 

Editors worth their salt can provide useful commentary and feedback that will show how your work can be improved or expanded. This advice will not simply apply to just one manuscript but to your academic writing in general.

Maybe before encountering an academic editor, you did not understand the importance of differentiating between UK and US English and being consistent in that regard. Maybe you did not know the difference between using an academic tone and a more informal tone in your writing. A professional editor can help point these things out without being rude or uncouth.

Picture of three workmates: Academic editing provides editors who can be part of your team
Academic editing leads to recuriting editors who can be part of your team.

4. A professional editor ensures consistency

A lot of academic writing focuses on consistency. Journals and other institutions that deal with academic essays There has to be consistency in:

  • The English used, that is, US versus UK English

  • The citation style (i.e., APA or MLA, or CMoS)

  • Formatting (i.e., line spacing, font style and size, indentation, etc.)

  • Academic tone

Ensuring this type of consistency is tiring. A professional editor has the work ethic and experience to implement the required English usage, punctuation, tone, and formatting throughout your manuscript.

In addition, professional editors often have tools that can enforce formatting consistency with little effort.

For instance, PerfectIT is a correction and proofreading tool that can implement consistency in spelling and academic tone by, for example, US versus UK English or enforcing a formal tone (e.g., using "moreover" instead of "besides").

Trying to ensure that your manuscript is consistent manually by yourself can be quite tedious, consuming, and even discouraging. Your time could be better spent.

5. An academic editor saves you time and money

There is an opportunity cost to proofreading your own work. Perhaps, your time would be better spent doing other things. Maybe you are a student and you have other assignments and courses to attend to. 

Spending all this time and effort on personally editing and proofreading your manuscript means your projects suffer. In short, you pay an opportunity cost. This cost could include things such as your other research projects suffering from being delayed. You may lag behind in your courses or you could make less money from your work.

Hiring a professional editor might on the surface seem expensive, but when you consider the time and money saved overall, it might just be worth it. Just think of it as a sort of delegation of tasks. You can focus on your job as a researcher, while the editor focuses on fine-tuning your writing.

Options for academic editing

Professional academic editing can be provided by using 1) commercial proofreading software, 2) a professional academic editor, or 3) through an academic proofreading website. 

1. Paid academic editing software. This is highly specialized software that has been specifically trained to edit academic writing. This does not include general proofreading software such as Grammarly.

 A good example of such software is PerfectIT. However, you need a high level of English language expertise to use this software effectively. 

2. Academic editing from companies. Proofreading companies have arisen all over the internet to meet the growing demand for professional proofreading assistance. 

These companies are usually websites that rely on proofreaders and editors from all over the world to edit large volumes of work on behalf of a global clientele. 

Their services are usually 1) affordable (around 30 - 45 USD per 1000 words), 2) fast (most have 12 to 24-hour turnaround service and 4-hour turnaround times), and 3) convenient (e.g., available 24-7). The freelance and in-house editors they rely on are usually highly trained and efficient.

3. Getting a personal academic editor. This refers to academic editors who work for themselves instead of working on behalf of a company or website. They might be somewhat expensive. 

Also, although they might be as effective as an online company, they might not be as reliable. That is because academic editing companies have a strict vetting,  qualification, and training process for their freelance editors. 

So make sure you are certain of the experience level and skill of the personal proofreaders you contract. 

Final thoughts on academic editing

As mentioned earlier, research is a team effort. Let a professional editor be part of your team. They provide a fresh pair of eyes and can leverage their experience and expertise to lighten your workload and expedite the process of submitting work that you can take pride in.

Proofreading services from professional proofreading companies are generally convenient, affordable, and reliable. However, a personal academic editor typically provides more personal assistance, which can be as effective as those from big websites. However, personal editors should be carefully chosen. 

Frequently asked questions

1. How much do academic proofreading companies charge? 

The price of academic editing assistance will vary based on a number of factors. Services from the more popular proofreading companies can be as low as 30-45 USD per 1000 words. 

2. What is the difference between copy editing and academic editing

Copyediting is part of the academic editing process. It involves correcting a paper just before the final proofreading stage to correct grammar, spelling, tone and style, and confusing syntax. 

3. How do you edit academic writing? 

When correcting a manuscript, you should always have the target audience in mind. Make use of a style sheet. What is a style sheet?  This is a list of formatting and stylistic requirements for the target journal or rubric that you’re following. Making corrections against a style sheet ensures that your academic document remains consistent and meets the standards of your target journal or university rubric. 

Are you interested in learning more about academic editing? Click on the link to talk with a representative from EminentEdit.

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