Recently I’ve become fascinated by what appears to be a rapidly growing industry operating alongside the Contract Cheating industry on the outskirts of formal education - “Editors-for-Hire”. The Editors-for-Hire industry serves undergraduate and graduate students who decide to outsource the work of editing their term papers, honors theses, masters theses and doctoral dissertations.

I’m not a writing expert (if you are and would like to write on this topic, please let me know!), but my educational experience has led me to believe that editing my own writing was critical in the process of learning how to write, continually improving my writing, and also clarifying my thoughts/ideas. As the Harvard College Writing Center states:

learning, as Yeats says, to "cast a cold eye" on your prose isn't just a matter of arranging the finishing touches on your essay. It's about making your essay better from the inside (clarifying and deepening your ideas and insights) and from the outside (expressing those ideas in powerful, lucid, graceful prose).

For those who think that such advice for learning to edit (or write) is only directed to humanities majors or future professional writers, I offer this supporting quote from a Harvard Business Review article written for the manager audience:

More particularly, rewriting is the key to improved thinking. It demands a real openmindedness and objectivity. It demands a willingness to cull verbiage so that ideas stand out clearly. And it demands a willingness to meet logical contradictions head on and trace them to the premises that have created them. In short, it forces a writer to get up [their] courage and expose [their] thinking process to [their] own intelligence. Obviously, revising is hard work. It demands that you put yourself through the wringer, intellectually and emotionally, to squeeze out the best you can offer. Is it worth the effort? Yes, it is—if you believe you have a responsibility to think and communicate effectively. Obviously, revising is hard work. It demands that you put yourself through the wringer, intellectually and emotionally, to squeeze out the best you can offer. Is it worth the effort? Yes, it is—if you believe you have a responsibility to think and communicate effectively.

It does seem self-evident that all higher education graduates, no matter their future profession, are responsible for thinking and communicating effectively. This is not just an expectation that society has for higher education, but it is an expectation that employers have for new college hires, so much so that an inability to communicate clearly in writing is one of the top 10 reasons why new college hires are disciplined or fired.

This is why I am fascinated by the growth of an industry that seems to undermine the development of such critical and desirable skills. Perhaps even more so, I am fascinated by universities that appear to be either implicitly accepting or explicitly endorsing that their students outsource this task. For example, the Writing Center at University of North Carolina  refers students to several freelance editors and UT Austin provides students with advice on “how to hire a freelance copyeditor”. While the UT Austin center tells students that they should first speak with their advisor before proceeding, the very act of referral conveys that the UT Austin Writing Center thinks it is appropriate (aka “ethical”) for students to outsource the editing part of the writing process.

To be sure, many students have always had the social and cultural capital to sidestep the editing task and the development of its corresponding skills. Moms, dads, siblings, friends, and others in one’s social circle could provide these editing tasks for certain students. And so, one might argue that the Editors-for-Hire industry ushers in a sort of equality by making such editing services non-contingent on such social and cultural capital. However, the move from editing-by-relationship to editing-for-hire certainly normalizes the practice by making it widely accessible. 

When I google “hire an editor for my dissertation”, I am rewarded with almost 6 million hits; at the top of the list are four different providers who paid Google Ad rates for the privilege. When I google the phrase “I need an editor for my paper”, I am rewarded with 1+ billion hits; 10 different providers appear on the the first page alone (one of which is the contract cheating provider who is infamous after paying paying YouTube stars to advertise their cheating services to their young fans). So, it seems pretty easy to access these services- especially if your University refers you to them. 

Yet, despite accessibility, the Editors-for-Hire practice may not yet be affordable. One provider states that they charge between $10-$25 per page (at the low end for a lower division undergraduate paper and at the high end for a Ph.D. dissertation) with a 2 week turnaround time. This means that for a 10 page undergraduate research paper, it may cost $100 for editing services but for a 250 page dissertation, the cost may be over $6000. For dissertation editing specifically, there seems to be differential costs depending on the type of services you need from copy editing to stylistic editing to content editing (and if you want 1:1 coaching, that is $110/hour). So, there are several variables that impact cost, potentially making the practice of Editors-for-Hire too expensive for most students.

Despite the expense of it, the existence of the industry itself certainly reinforces the perception that the goal of education is to produce a product, rather than engage in the process or the learning. But yet, we are not even talking about this trend, let alone the impact it could have on the way in which we teach and assess writing, thinking and communicating, or on our view of what it means to write with integrity.

I suspect that if you surveyed 100 people, most would not even realize that the Editors-for-Hire industry even exists. Once they know it exists, I suspect you would get a wide range of opinions on whether the practice should exist and whether the practice should be supported/endorsed by universities or faculties. I also suspect that in those universities or faculties where this practice is being endorsed or encouraged, there lacks a shared agreement about the ethicality of the practice or explicit ethical principles to guide the practice.

Considering the imperative of upholding academic integrity and educational quality, we can no longer afford to ignore or be indifferent to this “editor-for-hire” practice. We must talk about it and either decide to fight it as unethical (as we're doing with contract cheating) or adopt it with good ethical and practice guidelines in place.