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Hope.for.the.best

How do I ensure confidentiality when I engage with a copy-editor?

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Hi all, 

I am glad that my copy-editor can proofread my dissertation in December, as it can be hard to find someone at the year end. One of my PhD friends (also my main advisor's student) got her dissertation proofread by this copy-editor and my main advisor is very happy with the outcome. My PhD friend's written English is way more terrible than me and her dissertation was in perfect English after editing. Her examiners were pleased with the English.

As a result, this copy-editor is very popular among PhD students in my department, but she is not hired by my school. She is just a freelance editor with employment elsewhere, but she has a business number for billing purpose. That means I will need to send over my dissertation to her for copy-editing. Obviously I will need to send her chapters by chapters, because the whole document is just too large to be sent in one go. I am quite concerned about confidentiality. My PhD work may be published in a top journal and I worry that my work will get stolen by third parties during the editing process. I don't mean to distrust her, but I do have reservations towards sending my dissertation to a complete stranger. However, I simply don't have a choice, because I don't think my written English is good enough. It is readable, but I am sure examiners will make comments on it. 

I know copy-editing companies have very strict procedures for confidentiality, e.g. all copy-editors signed a contract and agreed to keep everything confidential. How about freelance editors? Would I be very rude if I expressed concerns over confidentiality to my copy-editor? I could have sent my dissertation to an editing company, but I simply have no idea about the quality of editing. Since she did good editing to my friend's dissertation, she is the best person to turn to.

Any advice is appreciated. Thanks. 

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I think if this freelance copyeditor is a professional, they should be prepared to answer questions about confidentiality. It's part of the job. If they are insulted by the discussion, I would find someone else to work with.

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56 minutes ago, TakeruK said:

I think if this freelance copyeditor is a professional, they should be prepared to answer questions about confidentiality. It's part of the job. If they are insulted by the discussion, I would find someone else to work with.

Thanks, TakeruK! 

I am actually thinking the same, just wonder how I should phrase myself politely. Instead of asking "Will you keep my work confidential?", should I ask "Could you advise what confidentiality measures do you put in place?" It may actually be a good thing that I communicate with her via emails, so I can readily produce proofs of correspondence. 

She is a reputable professional and I trust that she keeps things confidential. At least my friend and other students who got their dissertations edited by her had no issues. My friend said she simply sent over the dissertation without a second thought, because the editor is not a researcher and the information in the dissertation is not of any use to her job. However, even if my copy-editor has good ethics, things like her computer gets hacked by others can happen. Since I have not officially submitted my dissertation, anybody can rip off my name and claim that to be their work. Strangely, my uni does not quite encourage students to get professional editing, so I can't officially record the copy-editing. I would love to do so if that is possible.

The last thing I wish is to have my hard work stolen by others! 

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Anyone's work can get hacked at any time. There's no greater risk of someone stealing and publishing your work as theirs if it's with an editor for proofreading than if it's on your own computer or your advisors'. I'm not suggesting not taking measures to minimize risk, but I do think it's wise not to spend too much time planning for extremely unlikely scenarios. Ask the editor about confidentiality, and go from there. If this is someone who comes highly recommended who does this for a living, that seems like as safe a bet as they come. If it ever comes to it, you have been working on your thesis for months and have lots of proof to back it up. Anyone who steals the work won't. You should be able to make a complaint with the research integrity office of any offender (in the extremely unlikely scenario that anything happens!). 

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17 hours ago, Hope.for.the.best said:

Any advice is appreciated. Thanks. 

The level of protection you're seeking can be laid out in a contract between you and the copy editor. That being said, the devil will be in the details, and working out these kinds of details is an iterative process that will cost the copy editor time if not also legal fees. Expect those fees to be built into the fee she charges you for her services. That is, if she simply doesn't say "Thanks, but no thanks; I have plenty of paying clients, I don't need this headache."

On another topic, in your specific case,  and based upon your previous posts, I would exercise extreme caution were I in your circumstances. I would make make absolutely sure that the services she provides to you (specifically)  will be in compliance with your department's and school's policies on plagiarism. By the letter of some policies, third-party word smithing can quickly go from her editing  your writing to her writing your words.

The bottom line is that if someone really wants to screw with you, that person will be able to point at the improved writing in your dissertation compared to other writing you have done and ask the question "Did @Hope.for.the.best actually write this dissertation?" (And then steal your ideas.)

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4 hours ago, Sigaba said:

On another topic, in your specific case,  and based upon your previous posts, I would exercise extreme caution were I in your circumstances. I would make make absolutely sure that the services she provides to you (specifically)  will be in compliance with your department's and school's policies on plagiarism. By the letter of some policies, third-party word smithing can quickly go from her editing  your writing to her writing your words.

Thanks, Sigaba! I definitely won't work out a contract with the copy-editor. As long as she confirms in email that she will keep things confidential, I will be okay. Email will be sufficient as a proof. I am sure her service does not breach any school policies. She only fixes grammatical errors and makes sure that the writing style is consistent. At least my friend got her dissertation edited by her and had no problem. My advisor and the school approved her dissertation. I know there are other students who turned to her for copy-editing and so far nothing bad happens. 

Edited by Hope.for.the.best

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18 hours ago, Hope.for.the.best said:

I definitely won't work out a contract with the copy-editor. As long as she confirms in email that she will keep things confidential, I will be okay. Email will be sufficient as a proof.

I'm confused. Why wouldn't you work out a contract with the copyeditor? Ideally, the contract would describe the type of work to be done, say something about the financial obligations (e.g., how much you'll pay and when), have deadlines by which you'll receive edited work, and possibly offer some insight into what's to be done if you don't agree witht he edits or if you deem them unacceptable. In addition to all of that, you could have something in there about maintaining confidentiality in regards to your work and not using her work with you as an example/sample for her portfolio without your explicit written approval.

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4 hours ago, rising_star said:

I'm confused. Why wouldn't you work out a contract with the copyeditor? Ideally, the contract would describe the type of work to be done, say something about the financial obligations (e.g., how much you'll pay and when), have deadlines by which you'll receive edited work, and possibly offer some insight into what's to be done if you don't agree witht he edits or if you deem them unacceptable. In addition to all of that, you could have something in there about maintaining confidentiality in regards to your work and not using her work with you as an example/sample for her portfolio without your explicit written approval.

What I meant is I am not going to work out a long legal contract with my copy-editor, which makes everyone's life difficult. Of course, I will still request that she writes a formal email confirming the nature of the editing (grammar only), turnaround time, price and confidentiality. That would be sufficient for my purposes. I would not worry about the quality of edit, because my PhD friend had her dissertation edited by this copy-editor, and my main advisor (also her main advisor) and her examiners were pleased with the English.  

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7 hours ago, Hope.for.the.best said:

I would not worry about the quality of edit, because my PhD friend had her dissertation edited by this copy-editor, and my main advisor (also her main advisor) and her examiners were pleased with the English.  

Do you know for sure that those edits they were pleased with came during the first round of editing? If not, then you're putting yourself at risk of having to pay for multiple rounds of copyediting...

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4 hours ago, rising_star said:

Do you know for sure that those edits they were pleased with came during the first round of editing? If not, then you're putting yourself at risk of having to pay for multiple rounds of copyediting...

Thank you for your kind reminder.

My friend is very weak in English writing and my advisor always struggled to understand her writing. Although my advisor kindly fixed some grammatical mistakes and clarified some sentences, her dissertation was still difficult to read. The copy-editor did only one edit to my friend's dissertation, and my friend passed with minor revisions (unrelated to grammar)! My writing is not that bad and generally well-understood by others, but obviously not in perfect grammar. I heard that examiners will start to be critical when they spot grammatical mistakes in a dissertation, so I'd better get my friend's copy-editor for some polishing.

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I am not sure where you are but in Canada and the USA, it's very very common to have a contract drawn up for pretty much any agreement for services in exchange for money. Not all contracts need to involve lawyers and complicated legal language unless you are doing something very specific (which you're not). Instead, what most commonly happens is that once you have agreed on a rate and talked a bit about the project, the provider of services will give you a contract to sign. It will likely be routine as the provider probably has templates of these contracts they have used with their other clients, making tweaks (timelines, rate, etc.) as necessary. The contract will likely contain all of the things @rising_star said above. If you are okay with all of the terms, then you should sign it. If you're not happy with it, then you could request a change. Note that it's not typical for there to be a back-and-forth on the contract negotiation unless 1) you're doing a specialized custom project or 2) you or the provider had a different understanding of the earlier agreement (e.g. rate, timing of payment, delivery of services etc.).

Without a contract, you have nothing to ensure you get the services you want. I think confidentiality isn't even the biggest concern, it's the timing of the services. You don't want this to drag on forever after you already paid a deposit to the provider. With a contract, if they fall behind, you can eventually take them to court to get your money back and cancel the remaining payments. Meanwhile, this allows you to hire another copyeditor knowing that you'll eventually get your initial deposit back (instead of fearing that you will end up having to pay both copyeditors).

Again, maybe you are in a different part of the world where the culture is different, but in Canada/USA, it's a very foolish thing to hire a professional without any formal written and signed agreement/contract. Sometimes emails can be enough in court to prove a commitment, especially if no contract was signed but the other side really has no case if you have a contract and they violated it.

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13 hours ago, TakeruK said:

Again, maybe you are in a different part of the world where the culture is different, but in Canada/USA, it's a very foolish thing to hire a professional without any formal written and signed agreement/contract. Sometimes emails can be enough in court to prove a commitment, especially if no contract was signed but the other side really has no case if you have a contract and they violated it.

Thanks rising_star and TakeruK for your kind reminders. I am not in Canada or the USA, but a country that commonly uses English. (Sorry I have to keep it secret as I use this forum to seek advice on advisor troubles.) It is uncommon to have a contract drawn up for situations like these in my country, unless I am engaging with a copy-editing company to review a series of books. However, as I said in my previous post, I would request her to formally write to me on the nature of editing, turnaround time, price and confidentiality, before I proceed to the editing. Email correspondence is sufficient for situations like these in my country. Of course, that is based upon her good records, i.e. she did good edits to many PhD dissertations in my department within a reasonable timeframe and price. Otherwise, my advisors and I would not consider her in the first place. 

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Actually, the solution to ensure confidentially is obviously simple. I don't know why I can only think of it now! All I need to do is to delete all figures and tables in my result chapters when I send to her for copy-editing! After all, she cares about the grammar only and she does not need the figures and tables. No one can steal and claim my work with only the text and figure legends. It is also good to shrink the file size so I can send the whole dissertation in one document. 

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For what it's worth... I'm a copy editor and a grad student working on her own thesis and I can tell you - our work is often over-inflated in our own minds. I highly doubt  any copy editor is likely to even have the inclination to steal your work. Even if they did, to do so would be to risk their credibility and income. If this person is recommended by your university you can probably trust them.

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Although I have not had experience with a freelance editor but I have used online copy editing service. In my first semester, I was not confident about my document security. Still, I have to believe someone in order to get my work done on time. So I approached a service called papertrue  Their online chat assured me about my document security. So I did some research and read their privacy policy. When it comes to a service like this be sure to see their confidentiality condition as mentioned. If not I would suggest to look for some other service. 

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On 11/16/2017 at 2:04 PM, Hope.for.the.best said:

Actually, the solution to ensure confidentially is obviously simple. I don't know why I can only think of it now! All I need to do is to delete all figures and tables in my result chapters when I send to her for copy-editing! After all, she cares about the grammar only and she does not need the figures and tables. No one can steal and claim my work with only the text and figure legends. It is also good to shrink the file size so I can send the whole dissertation in one document. 

Thanks for all your replies. I have completed the copy-editing process, and my dissertation is now being examined. As I said previously, I deleted all sensitive data before sending off for editing, so there is no way for the copy-editor to steal my data. She did a very good job; I am impressed that she patiently explained the changes she suggested. Turned out, the use of punctuation can be tricky, even for native English speakers. I have improved a lot on my written English. 

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