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  • Writer's pictureCatie Phares

This needs to stop

Though it’s mercifully rare, every few years or so, some unhappy individual takes it upon themselves to tell me that my life’s work is, in fact, unethical. (!) It’s cheating, they gravely inform me, to change a single word of a scholarly work unless you’re its author. 

I’m happy to say that these self-appointed guardians of academic sanctity are firmly in the minority. Most people I edit with and for are overwhelmingly positive about what I do, delighted to pass on my name to colleagues and describe my help in supportive testimonials (I am forever grateful for my wonderful clients!).

But it infuriates me to know that some of them (especially my ESL clients) might still feel uncomfortable or embarrassed about using an editor thanks to gatekeepers like the ones mentioned above—like they need to hide their editor in case someone they work with has the same flawed beliefs about how “unethical” it is to get my help.


So, let’s set the record straight. 

Using an editor of any kind is not cheating.

Indeed, using an academic editor should be as normal and openly discussed as using any other type of professional assistance. 

Here are the 9 main reasons why. (Tight on time? Skip straight to number 9—everyone needs to hear this one!)

1) Academia is incredibly, demonstrably biased in favor of English. So, if you concede that great ideas and great research don’t occur exclusively within the brains of native English speakers, you concede that these non-native speakers need and deserve help translating their ideas into the language currently dominating the conversation.

2) Academia is also biased in a bunch of other ways, including against those who do have stellar ideas and writing abilities in English but who also have caregiving duties, additional academic duties, disabilities, less time in their day due to the invisible labor expected of them, and so on. The current system is set up to reward those with ample time in their week available for the vital work of writing and self-editing.

3) Academics all over the world have reported a significant increase in their workloads over the past several years. It stands to reason there is less time than ever for writing at all, let alone polishing your writing to a rigorous standard.

4) Relatedly, the pool of submissions for top journals has expanded exponentially. Thus, in order to stand out, an article's language must be that much clearer, stronger, and more concise even to reach the review process. 

5) So why not just make your writing clearer, stronger, and more concise on your own? Because chances are you've received little if any training on how to do that. For reasons I can’t begin to fathom, business schools, in particular, seem to assume that great writing is just one of those things you magically know or don’t—despite its critical role in academia. 

6) Continuing to gatekeep English and access to opportunities that rely on effective writing in English are some of the last bastions of "acceptable" discrimination—legitimized by calling it "English language concerns." Please stop giving these toads a crevice to hide in. Do they want to see everything written in “perfect” academic English? Give your writing to an expert in “perfect” academic English and let them efficiently tidy it up for submission. Problem solved. 

7) Writers of all demographics and all skill levels benefit from an editor, gaining a fresh perspective and an experienced pair of eagle eyes on their work. Using an academic editor is far more common than you think and has been for decades. Know that so many of your peers are already doing this—and they might even be the ones vocally supporting this stigma! 

8) Outsourcing labor to an expert when you can afford to do so is always the wisest and most effective strategy. Is it cheating to drive my car after paying a mechanic to fix it? Is it wrong to collect my tax refund after paying an accountant to file my taxes? Is it unethical to use a caterer for a special event? You see where I’m going with this. Not only is using an editor not cheating, but it’s actually the only sensible option for busy academics whose entire careers essentially rest on the success of their writing. 

9) Finally, if you’re still struggling to shake the discomfort, take it from me (an editor of nearly 14 years who has helped my clients secure top-tier publications, greater public visibility, awards and promotions, millions in funding, and more): the best editor in the world cannot get you an opportunity you don't truly deserve. 

Let me say that louder for those in the back:

The best editor in the world cannot get you an opportunity you don't deserve.

We're not liars, hypnotists, or wizards (not as a rule, anyway!). We simply do not have the power to "fool" someone into publishing shoddy research, hiring an undeserving applicant, or funding terrible ideas.

So, given that we don't have that power, how do we effectively help you land those life-changing opportunities? By using our talents and expertise to better communicate your talents and expertise. That's it. That’s all.

Hoping this list gives you plenty to feel confident about (or at least a thorough response to send to any haters) the next time you use an editor!

-Catie Phares

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