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Ask Dr. Editor

If and when to hire an editor

Studies have shown that articles and manuscripts reviewed by a professional editor end up being better received by peer reviewers.



I’m privileged to have a sabbatical this year, and I’m spending time taking apart my old dissertation chapters and reworking them into new chapters for my first book. I know that you’d probably recommend an editor to support me, but this process is already taking a long time, and I’m concerned that working with an editor will slow down my work. How do I know if and when it is worthwhile for me to connect with an editor?

– Anonymous, Art History


I’d be surprised if working with a professional editor were to slow down your work. Editors make suggestions for changes directly in the text of your document, providing you with structures that improve the effective communication of your ideas, and options for new phrasing that ensures the points you want to emphasize are placed in the most strategically high-impact parts of your paragraphs and sentences. While it’s common for scholars to provide marginal comments on one another’s writing – including suggestions that particular changes be made – an editor will intervene and make those changes for you. Editors do the heavy lifting.

If the idea of putting your work into another person’s hands feels intimidating, you might consider using the Editors Canada Professional Editorial Standards to define the scope and limits of the kinds of interventions you want your editor to make. If you want your editor to focus only on the quality of expression and not change the structure of your piece – or if you want your editor to only polish your piece and not request any new words – those are valid constraints you can place on your editor’s work.

And if you’ve worked previously with an editor who did create more work for you – by, for instance, making inappropriate “corrections” that changed the meaning of your words, or by imposing changes that you felt were inappropriate – that doesn’t mean that all editors will do an equally frustrating job. I suggest looking for Editors Canada members when hiring, because you’ll be more likely to be working with a trained, experienced and highly qualified professional when you go through our national association.

I’ve written previously about how to hire an editor, so in this piece, let me focus on your “if and when” questions, dear letter-writer.

You should hire an editor if …

… you have a small pool of funds to do so. These might be start-up funds from your tenure-track appointment, or professional development funds that renew annually and that you can use at your discretion.

“To expect individual faculty members to pay out of pocket for editing is a downloading of the costs of the work,” says Justin Leifso, a political scientist at the University of Victoria. Dr. Leifso knows that academic editing is useful: having worked with an editor on a recent grant application, he says, “I was surprised that the editing I received wasn’t merely technical. My editor provided fundamental, strategic advice about the nature of my proposal. But expecting faculty members to pay for help with their work out of their own pockets – that’s not right. I don’t support that.”

I agree with Dr. Leifso, and would love to see more institutions – from individual universities to Tri-Councils – support scholarly advancement by providing funding to hire an editor, perhaps in line with the Canada Council for the Arts’ Application Assistance Program.

I’d also suggest hiring an editor if you’re starting work on an especially important document – your first book, yes, but potentially also an important grant application, or an article that you’re hoping to place in a prestigious journal. I make this suggestion because recent research from New Zealand has shown that working with a professional editor can help you get your work past academic gatekeepers. In a study published in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, Jan Feld found that peer reviewers assessed professionally edited economics papers more strongly than those that hadn’t been professionally edited. It wasn’t just that the edited papers were better written – but that they were better, full stop. Reviewers were 4.1 percentage points more likely to say that an edited paper could be published in a good economics journal, and 8.4 percentage points more likely to accept the paper for a conference.

For high-stakes documents, then, it seems worthwhile to invest in editing. I would assume that your first monograph is a high-stakes document, and so I suggest that you seriously consider bringing on an editor to support you with your revisions before you submit your book to your UP of choice. And I think that now is a good time to bring in that editor.

You should hire an editor when …

… you’re so stuck that you end up emailing an advice columnist. Or when you’re so stuck that your progress feels glacial. Or when you’ve lost the spark that used to catalyze your work.

There are two ways to think about when to hire an editor: at a particular point in your manuscript, or at a particular point in your process.

I think it’s worthwhile to hire an editor once you have a first – even a sketchy first – draft, since, as Dr. Leifso notes, the support an editor can provide is often more fundamental than academics realize. Academic editing “is sometimes misunderstood as a picayune exercise unrelated to the content of the manuscript, but it actually reaches into the substance of what the author wants to argue or share, and the good [academic] editor can function almost like a co-thinker with the authors,” says award-winning author and essayist Pamela Haag. “Style issues are rarely only about style,” (2024).

Many skilled professional editors have their schedules mapped out full months in advance, so connecting with them early is the best way to secure a spot in their calendar. If you know you want to submit your first manuscript in eight months, then I suggest contacting an editor now, and expecting that it may be August or September before they have availability to begin working with you.

If the “first draft” is one point in the manuscript when you can hire an editor, then the “third draft” point is also a good one – that is, once you have a functional structure, but want a boost to the persuasiveness and clarity of your work, or perhaps to reduce your word count. If you send your editor your manuscript at this point, when the structure is already working well, then your editor can focus on stylistic editing, which encompasses word choice, sentence flow, paragraph coherence, clarity, tone and voice.

But those are manuscript points. What about process points? If you’re finding the dissertation-to-book revision a challenge (and, really, who wouldn’t?), then I’d also suggest that it would be worthwhile for you to contact an editor now, rather than continuing to hit your head against a wall.

I spoke with Ozlem Cankaya, an early childhood education researcher at MacEwan University. Dr. Cankaya recounted once working with an editor who sent her an email the day before submission that began, “Ozlem, I was thinking about your grant application title in the shower, I think you should go with the longer version. Here are my reasons…” She realized, “somebody’s as invested as I am in my success and the process! It made my day.”

When you’re in the thick of a thorny revision, an editor can provide this emotional boost while also charting a path forward for your manuscript, as they suggest functional structures and provide cues for specific sections, paragraphs, sentences, or even half-sentences that need rewriting. They should both make your work easier and also improve the quality of the writing that you submit to your publisher.

In short: if you can’t afford to hire an editor, consider petitioning your institution, scholarly association or Member of Parliament. It may be that a single individual request might go unheeded, but that the collective efforts of many could bring about change. If you are in the lucky position of having some funding that you can use to hire an editor, then I encourage you to do so early, so that they can hold time in their calendar for you when you are able to send them a first draft, a third draft or even some scrappy text that you’re struggling to make coherent.

In last month’s column, I advertised that I’d be attending this year’s Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at McGill University. However, because of the ongoing student-led protests and the law faculty strike, I have decided not to attend Congress this year. I care deeply about Congress and have not made this decision lightly. To make up for the conversations I’d hoped to have with Congress attendees, I’m offering 20 free office-hour-style 30-minute meetings this week and next:
Office hour time slots are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Please bring a writing sample and your concerns about it for discussion.

Letitia Henville
Ask Dr. Editor is a monthly column by Letitia Henville, a freelance academic editor at She earned her PhD in English literature from the University of Toronto. Have a question about academic writing or editing? Send it to her at
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