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Ask Dr. Editor

How to hire an editor

Three steps to make sure you get the help you need.



I’ve decided that I’d like to hire a grant editor to help me with my SSHRC Insight Grant application this fall, but I don’t really know what a grant editor can do, or how to find a good one, or when to loop them in on my work. How do people hire editors?

– Sociology

Dr. Editor’s response:

Editors are wordsmiths – like blacksmiths, we have a range of tools that we wield, and we’re skilled at removing the dross from the draft and hammering rough objects into sharp and shiny states. Our work is craft: neither blacksmithing nor wordsmithing is taught at most universities, but these professional practitioners are skilled workers who tend to be very good at what they do.

In my own editorial practice, I’ve developed expertise in cutting too-long word counts, making a text clear and efficient, as well as improving style so that emphasis lands in appropriate places within sentences and paragraphs. But other editors bring other strengths: some are structural editors who rearrange sections within documents and paragraphs within sections to ease the reader’s progress through the text; others are skilled line or copy editors who identify and correct inconsistencies and errors; still, others can provide big-picture feedback or advise on culturally safe and appropriate language.

If you’re thinking of hiring an editor, it helps for you to know what kind of help you want. Do you need a shepherd to confidently lead you through the process? Or is this just about refining and polishing words? Here’s the three-step research process that I recommend for finding the editor who is best for you:

1. Review the standards

Editors Canada, our professional association, has Professional Editorial Standards (PES) that delineate categories and subcategories of work. For instance, if you were working on a monograph, you might ask your editor to identify and flag possible instances of copyright infringement (PES A9.1), but not worry about checking historical details, timelines or quotations for accuracy (PES D5).

When I edit a grant application, I usually apply most of the structural standards for organization and content; the stylistic standards for clarity, language and coherence and flow; and the copyediting standards for correctness, accuracy and completeness – but when it comes to the copyediting standards associated with consistency, I’ll focus only on watching for inconsistent terminology (D11) and checking figures and tables (D12), leaving the list of works cited (D10) to my client or their graduate research assistant, as double-checking DOIs isn’t the best use of my time.

You can ask an editor which standards they’d advise for a particular document or you can look into the standards and use them to set the boundaries for the scope of work you’d like performed. Do you want your editor to focus on the commas and the semicolons, or would you rather they work to finesse your coherence, cohesion, structure and flow? The PES provides you with the scope of options available to you as an author and enable you to specify, “this, this and this, but no more.”

2. Investigate the ODE

The Online Directory of Editors houses the profiles and contact information of freelance editors across the country. Over 200 of these folks attest to having over 100 hours of experience editing “academic materials, general,” with close to another 100 identifying expertise in “grant applications and fundraising.” If you use your discipline – in this instance, sociology – as a keyword, you can further narrow the number of qualified candidates and usually get the list down to 20 or fewer qualified editors.

Once you’ve identified the subset of editors with experience in your field, check out their ODE profiles and their websites. Look for someone you can respect and trust, and remember that not all academic editors have a PhD – many come to academic editing with a background in journalism or communications, and some will have left PhD programs at the ABD stage. If you’re interested in hiring an editor with lived experience of belonging to an equity-deserving group – for instance, a BIPOC, LGBTQ+ or disabled editor – you might consider posting your job to the Indigenous Editors Association Job Newsletter or contacting Editors Canada’s equity, diversity and inclusion adviser. (You’re also welcome to contact me to ask for suggestions of names, as I’m happy to recommend my colleagues.)

You can find a good editor by looking at the proxies of credibility that they share on their website. Do they share testimonials from previous clients? Have they trained other editors? Have they created any resources for clients – and, if so, are those resources any good?

3. Send some emails

Now’s a great time to contact an academic editor and ask them about their availability for the fall. Many freelance editors book clients months in advance, and with your Insight Grant application due on October 1 – minus a few days for institutional review – you risk losing your place in an editor’s schedule if you wait until July or August to ask them about their availability in September.

You can ask about their hourly rate or project fee for support on a SSHRC grant, and whether they agree that the PES that you’ve identified are important for your grant. Some editors will provide a sample edit of a few pages of text so you can get a sense of their style and approach.

Using the tools and resources available through Editors Canada should help you to identify a wordsmith with the background, experience and expertise necessary to support your SSHRC application. As long as you can articulate what you need – and the PES should help you with that – there should be qualified professional editors available to help you craft a strong application.

Editor’s note: Did you know that Letitia will be speaking at Career Corner at the 2021 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences? Her free webinar, “Ask Dr. Editor: How can I become a better editor of my own work?,” is scheduled for 11 a.m. MT on May 31, 2021.

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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  1. Cecilia Jenkins / 26 mai 2021 à 14:26

    I agree: preparing a grant proposal is not the same animal as preparing a monograph.

    This researcher may not need an ‘editor’. She/He may require someone who knows how to first read fully and understand the requirements and evaluation criteria set out by the funding agency. Next, that skilled person reads the researcher’s draft and points out what is completely missing and-or needs to be strengthened, as well as what is not clear at all. Bringing clarity to the delivery of the proposal is added along the way by this skilled reader and writer. Several iterations are possibly required. Ideally – but it is often not the case, this person works early on with the researcher in their endeavor to prepare a grant proposal.

    • Letitia Henville / 27 mai 2021 à 13:01

      Hi Cecilia – the process that you’ve just described is the norm for many editors who specialize in research grants. Many call it « developmental editing. » You’re right that there’s no description of that process in Editors Canada’s Professional Editorial Standards, but it is a common service for editors to provide, and something that researchers look for in the Online Directory of Editors.

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