Why has my proofreader not edited my bibliography?

03 Apr

editsWhen you hire a proofreader to work on your thesis or dissertation, you can expect them to make suggestions on changes to layout, consistency in headings, capitalisation and titles, grammar, spelling, word forms and sentence structures, up to a point (past that point being considered plagiarism). But in a few cases, you will find that your proofreader has not worked on your bibliography.

I’ve written this article to explain why I might not have worked on your bibliography. Different proofreaders / editors will go to different extents to work on your content. I tend to have a light touch, because I want to protect myself – and you – from any whisper of a hint of possible wrong-doing. Passing someone else’s work off as your own is the basic definition of plagiarism (whether that’s not referencing a quotation from a source or asking someone to rewrite your text considerably), and unfortunately, some bibliographies need an amount of work which, if done by your proofreader, would constitute them doing work that you should be demonstrating you can do.

PhD theses and Master’s dissertations are not just assessed on their content and novelty. One of the things the student needs to demonstrate is that they are able to create references and a bibliography which has the requisite amount of detail and is consistent in its presentation of that detail. So, if I change too much in your bibliography, it will appear that you understand and have applied knowledge that you actually haven’t done.

We all know that bibliographies are a bit of a pain to get right. But you need to demonstrate that you can get it right, and if I get too much of it right for you, it’s not you that’s done the work at the end of the day.

It can be hard to understand the rules of creating and laying out a bibliography. Of course, it’s the last thing you want to mess about learning at the end of however many years of study and writing up. That’s why I don’t leave my clients stranded – I will tidy up 1-5 pages of the bibliography and provide guidelines on how to make the rest of it consistent, so that it’s your work that shines, and not mine.

I want to protect my clients and myself from any accusation of plagiarism, so if I find I have a very inconsistent set of entries in front of me, and I’m going to need to change something in more than about 1 in 5 entries, I will send the bibliography back to you unedited, with notes explaining why and what you need to do (and now, linking to this article). I don’t do this because I’m running out of time, or I’m lazy, but to make sure that you’re showing your abilities to your examiners in the best light possible, to make sure you get the result at the end of your postgraduate course that you deserve.

Related posts on the Libro blog: On plagiarism, Referencing, Referencing for academic writing, Resources for students


12 responses to “Why has my proofreader not edited my bibliography?

  1. Wendy Monaghan

    April 4, 2013 at 8:37 am

    I find this approach to editing a bibliography unusual. However, this may be due to me being an Australia-based editor. In Australia, editors and proofreaders are fortunate in that they have clearly defined guidelines as to their role in editing academic theses. If you are interested in these guidelines, see the IPEd website (

    Unless the client stipulates otherwise, when I edit a thesis, I always edit the bibliography; however, my edits are restricted to style. By “style”, I mean such things as punctuation, capitalisation, organisation and consistency according to whichever method of citation the client has used. When I encounter an incomplete reference, I query it using the MS Word comment feature. For example, I may comment, “This reference is incomplete. You need to include the date of publication, and the pages in the journal”.

    I’m interested to know from other editors whether my approach is unusual.


    • Liz at Libro

      April 4, 2013 at 8:42 am

      Thank you for your comment, Wendy – I’m interested to know whether my approach is, too! Would you really edit every item to conform with the chosen citation method, even if every single line was completely inconsistent with the previous one and had several different errors, too? I don’t ever complete a reference either, although if one in the whole thing is missing its pagination I might just pop and check it for them.

      Most universities don’t have guidelines – when I know the university, I do go and look, but it’s very piecemeal. For some I have to sign an editor’s form now, to say I have only changed style and not content (in effect) which is something I like, actually!


  2. Nadia Abdullah

    March 24, 2017 at 6:46 am

    Hi, Liz.

    In Malaysia, the scenario is different. In general, I do not edit references since students typically use reference management software such as EndNote to format the references of their research articles and theses. However, I have formatted students’ research articles before to conform to the stylistic requirements of the journal that the students intend to submit their work to.

    However, even though I am aware on the boundaries between editorship and authorship, most of the time, my editing work is very intense – it even involves rewriting significant portions of the research article or thesis because the English is beyond comprehensible. It is not possible for em to do a light edit. The difference is that the student’s research supervisor liaised with me personally regarding this since the supervisor is unable to understand what he/she reads. The situation is indeed different compared to UK.

    I enjoy reading your blog since I learn a lot about confusing words, work ethics, as well as the freelancing business itself.

    Initially, I wanted to put my website under my name, but I am afraid that I will come off as rude – as though I am diverting your readers to my language-editing service. However, I would love to connect with you and build a network of professional colleagues.


    • Liz Dexter

      March 26, 2017 at 9:03 am

      That’s really interesting, thank you for sharing your experiences. As long as the tutors are OK with it, then it’s OK – if I have something I think I need to do a lot of work on, I ask for a letter from the supervisor saying they agree. I find that references done with software can still have parts missing or miss-spelled or inconsistent, but again, lines are drawn in different places.

      Oh, and I don’t mind people putting their website URLs on comments when they have a genuine bit of information to share!



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