Guidelines for academic editors

Mar 30, 2021

DissertationsZA academic editors are required to follow a set of structured guidelines when conducting an edit. The purpose of the guidelines is firstly to achieve a consistent standard across editing assignments.  Secondly, it also serves as a quality assurance yardstick which is used to assess the editing task for completeness.


During the ordering process, the writer specifies the editing level required for the manuscript by selecting either standard or advanced editing.  In an academic editing context, standard editing involves checking a manuscript for adherence to:
the correct use of Academic English or other language as specified,
the inclusion of all citations in the References section,
the standards found in the specified citation style guide, and
other the formatting standards specific to the assignment.

Advanced editing is also sometimes referred to as substantive or developmental editing. While it includes standard editing, it takes it a step further by checking the content for effective, cohesive and understandable arguments.


Confidentiality: Editors are under no circumstances allowed to share any information pertaining to the assignment with any 3rd party.  This includes personal information about the writer and information related to the content of the manuscript.
Document format: Documents are made available to editors as Microsoft Word documents (.doc or .docx). Editors use MS Word's review functionality to edit the manuscript.
Standard level editing: Simple edits (standard editing level) is done directly in the manuscript text with the "Track Changes" function switched on.  Each edit must be labled using the "Comment" functionality. Labels should simply state what the correction is about - for example "Spelling","Capitalisation", "Subject-Verb Agreement" etc.
Advance level editing: Complex suggestions or alerts about incoherent content, missing content, paragraph break-up or joining may be made using the "Comment" feature in Word.


Step 1: Language errors

  • Please note that for standard editing the structure and not the content of the manuscript is edited.
  • British English spelling conventions and date formats are used for most South African institutions and journals.
  • Any obvious spelling errors should be corrected in-text. If there is a question about whether to use one work or another, please leave a comment.
  • Check for common grammar mistakes including punctuation, capitalisation of pronouns, subject-verb-agreement, collective nouns and subject-verb-agreement, contactions (it's, he'd, she's),quantifiers (many vs much), possesive nouns etc.
  • Check for punctuation in numbered and unordered lists.
  • Check for numbering of sections, paragraphs, tables and figures.

Step 2: Checking Citations and References

  • Editors should check that all citations in the text are found in the References section. One way to do this is by printing out the Reference section and marking each citation while reading the text, making sure that every reference actually appears in the text.
  • A second way to do this is to search (Ctrl+F) for each reference from the References list. By searching onlyfor the name  of the  first author of each  reference, you  can  make  sure that  references with  three or  more authors use “et al.” in subsequent citations. By changing the color of each citation in the manuscript, so you can see if there are extra or missing references on a second read-though.
  • If there is a reference missing from the References list or if a reference does not have an in-text citation, please add a comment explaining which is missing.
  • Once all of the references have been confirmed, you will needto go through and check each reference for the correct information and styling. Guidelines and styling conventions for references depend on the citation style specified by the writer during the ordering process.

Step 3: Style Guide Compliance

The editor will rely on the prescipts of the specified citation style when checking for compliance.  The writer selects the applicable citation style from a list provided during the ordering process.  Alternatively, the writer might supply a custom style guide which is prescribed by the institution or journal. Depending on whether it is listed in the style guide, the editor will check the following for compliance:

  • Document naming conventions and titles;
  • Ordering of sections;
  • Fonts and font size (typeface and fontsize);
  • Tables and figures;
  • Citations;
  • Quotations;
  • Bulleted lists;
  • Numbering or seriation;
  • Spelling;
  • Other styling concerns such as:
  • hyphens;
  • Any underlined text should be reformatted to italics.
  • Use of quotation marks (“curly quotes” or "straight quotes").
  • Hyperlinks;
  • Statistical and mathematical symbols and special characters;

Quality Assurance

Editors are required to complete a short survey after completing the edit.   The survey consists of simple checkbox questions relating to each step in the process.  The survey also serves as a report of what has been done during the edit.