The importance of editors for undergraduate students

As an undergraduate, I paid little attention to the acknowledgment pages of the books I read for my degree. Back then, I did not know just how significant that easily turned acknowledgment page could or would be in any academic’s life. What I know now is to look for and to read the heartfelt thank you given by every author to their editors. If you have never experienced what it is to have someone edit your work, this Blog post is certainly for you.

A good editor is like a trusteed comrade in arms, the Gandalf to your Frodo, who understands that you have talent and a worthwhile idea but that you ‘may not know the way.’ In academia an editor usually comes in the form of your supervisor who you have politely requested to be your supervisor and they graciously decide to take you on as their Masters or PhD student. In practice, we often have two supervisors and this is to our advantage. The more skilled people editing our work, the better for the quality of said work as we go through the writing process which may at times, feel like going through the very fires of Mordor.

As a tutor in the School of English and in the Skills Centre, I have noticed that often undergraduate students need an introduction to the idea of someone editing their work. In academia our work passes through many drafts and edits before it would be considered a completed piece and it is an editor’s red pen or highlighted side-edits that helps to shape and guide our work. From the necessary mundanities of proofreading to advice on structural adjustments, your editor is there to bring out the best in your writing, to bring out the best in you. Your points and research are tested and probed by a reader with honed positive critical skills who have themselves been through the rigors of academia. The work is always your work, but with the help of your editors, it is your work, but the best version of it. As an undergraduate, you could ask a fellow student or postgraduate student to be your informal editor. It can be difficult to see outside of our own writing and having someone else proofread and/or edit your work can be invaluable. You can weed out any obvious mistakes with referencing for example, while reaping the benefits of implementing well advised suggestions.

This is not to say that it is always a comfortable process to give your supervisors/editors perhaps ten thousand words and for them to suggest that five thousand of them alone of this edit are worth keeping. It is important to accept a level of discomfort during the editing process and read through their comments and suggestions to engage with them to make your work all the better for the process. As you go through further rounds of edits the ‘Goods’ and ‘Interesting Points’ will be found amongst the red and believe me, this will bring a spring to your writing step and spur you on. Remember, your editors are in the trenches with you encouraging you during the hard graft of the writing process. It is you who will enjoy the glory of the degree, masters or PhD but they will have the satisfaction of seeing their student blossom knowing how hard that student has worked to complete their thesis. I know now that there is nothing to fear in having a good editor. Actually I now know that there is everything to gain in that acknowledgement page ‘thank you’ to an editor.