Proofreading theses – a tricky job for the Irish


Proofreading Ireland

DEFINITION: Proofread literally means checking a typeset proof against a printed manuscript

As I recently discovered after doing some research, only two universities in Ireland officially allow their postgraduate students to use the services of a professional copy-editor/proofread to ‘proofread’ their master’s or PhD thesis prior to submission. The rest adhere to a strict policy of “it must be all your own original work”; students risk not passing if they are found to have used a copy-editor. This is outlined in most postgraduate welcome packs. The onus is on the student, not the copy-editor. But rumour has it that this has actually happened to one hapless student at an unnamed Irish university and he did not pass. Students are expected to know how to write good English and are not expected to need the services of a copy-editor. Most take a hard line and there are no exceptions including students whose second language is English. At the same time, some academics are unaware of the rules; in my experience some supervisors instruct their student to find a copy-editor to work on their thesis prior to submission. I have missed out on many jobs by choosing to inform my prospective client of their university’s policy on proofreading of theses.

A proofread literally means checking a typeset proof against a printed manuscript. It is a quick read through of a document that has already been copy-edited and is the last stage in the process. It involves checking a text for superficial errors e.g. correcting obvious typos, headings/table/title errors, covers, images, front/back matter, page alignment, missing/repeated paragraphs/text falling off the page. Strictly speaking, no one gets their thesis ‘proofread’; they get it copy-edited; a light copy-edit is usually sufficient. The academic supervisor already covers the academic side of things; my job is to polish up the English. PhD students are always very organised – they have finalised their text and checked their references; they think they are paying for a final spell check and correction of grammatical errors. They are…but they also get a clean up, improved language flow and a proofread thrown in. A PhD thesis runs to 120,000 words on average, so many students also look for help with formatting as well as proofreading; formatting can seem like a monumental task to those who are already exhausted and unfamiliar with the mechanics of section breaks, page numbering etc.

In other countries (e.g. the Netherlands, UK), PhD theses are usually published after graduation so using a copy-editor to get it to publishable standard before submission is standard practice. This doesn’t happen in Ireland and this might explain the reluctance to involve editors at any stage of the process.