Editing vs rewriting:where do you draw the line?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about editing clients’ expectations of the editor, specifically in terms of some people thinking that we editors will wave a magic wand and transform their documents into the tone and style that is expected. Editing dissertations and theses is a case in point.

As you know,  I am in the process of completing my LLB. With regards to one of the assignments that I recently had to submit, I had to attach a plagiarism declaration which – among others – required me to declare that I had not copied the work from another and that I did not intend to let others copy my work. So what is the difference between that and a supervisor telling you – as an editor – that you have to rewrite a candidate’s thesis in “academic English” when said candidate doesn’t know the first thing about writing in an academic style  – that colloquial language is totally verboten? (I apologise for my potentially horrific spelling.) Isn’t this the same as the candidate copying another’s work? In other words the intellectual property that the editor is so freely giving away because he/she is acting under orders and is too scared to say anything for fear of losing the work? And what about the candidate’s total lack of computer skills, who assumes that the editor will format the 150-page-odd document? Isn’t it the university’s responsibility to ensure that a candidate has the advanced computer skills require to put together  a dissertation?

It seems to me that the ethics are severely skewed: if a candidate graduates cum laude because of how the editor has edited his or her work – and if the editor had no laid a finger on it – the candidate would have barely passed, who should the degree be given to: the candidate or the editor?

All I’m saying is that if a candidate does need help with his or her language a language expert should be brought in sooner – not 3 days before the submission date – to assist. Supervisors shouldn’t make pronouncements on the language capability of the editor and so put doubt in the mind of the candidate. Supervisors should realise that the editor will edit the candidate’s work in line with how it’s been written and not according to the supervisor’s expectations and change content – content issues are between the candidate and the supervisor.

Just my two cents…