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Editors Without Borders Work Across Disciplines at Drexel

July 18, 2017


This spring term, Sara Yacoubian and Karen Shollenberger, two MS students in the Department of Communication in the College of Arts and Sciences, each partnered with PhD students in Drexel’s science and engineering programs to help them revise and edit their research dissertations and proposals. Yacoubian worked with Kaitie Sniffen, a PhD student in the College of Engineering’s environmental engineering program, and David Keller in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science. Shollenberger worked with environmental engineering PhD student Scott Jeffers and Velma Weitz, a PhD student in the College of Nursing and Health Professions.

To make this cross-disciplinary collaboration possible, Lawrence Souder, PhD, a teaching professor for the Department of Communication, contacted the program directors in other departments across the University that offer PhD degrees and created partnerships that matched Souder’s graduate students in his technical and science editing course with graduate students who are working on their dissertations.

“It’s a win-win arrangement,” said Souder. “The PhD students get competent guidance in editing their writing, and my graduate students get experience in editing real documents for real clients.”

The timetables among all of the students did not always align perfectly, but the PhD students received some competent editing, and the editing students experienced some of the challenges of accommodating real-world clients.

Jeffers said of Shollenberger’s work on his dissertation: “You've been very helpful. Your comments were good and I could tell you took the time to actually try to understand everything. I think it’s a good idea to get students working with each other.”

About her experience in editing Jeffers’ dissertation, Shollenberger said, “Although I frequently edit papers for my friends, working with PhD students in a more professional way made me more confident as an editor. Scott even mentioned that if I’m looking for more editing work in the future, he would be willing to pay.”

Sara Yacoubian, left, and Karen Shollenberger, right, at graduation this year. Photo courtesy Sara Yacoubian.

In her work, Yacoubian discovered the importance of adapting to the needs and goals of a client. Sniffen, she said, “seemed confident that most of her deliverables were structurally sound but needed a final set of eyes, so her vision was having an editor polish her papers prior to committee submission.” Yacoubian was gratified to hear that Sniffen's dissertation was accepted by her committee, and she graduated from the College of Engineering with her PhD.

Yacoubian’s work for Keller was a little different.

“Live editing with Keller was easier because there were no version control roadblocks, and both client and editor could view and engage the document simultaneously,” she said. “As such, there were opportunities for live chat and corrections, especially as Keller continued adding committee feedback.”

According to Souder, collaborations of this sort are rare because science and technical editing requires very specialized competencies: few writers require such specialized editing, and few editors have such specialized skills. Successfully editing a research dissertation, for example, requires both a big-picture understanding of the various arguments needed in an IMRaD report, which is used for the structure of a scientific journal article presenting original research, and at the same time a more granular attention to the precise use of hyphens and italics.

In some cases, Souder had to caution Yacoubian and Shollenberger not to do too much for their PhD students.

“In the context of published research, journal editors understand that writers will avail themselves of professional editing services if they can afford them; however, in the context of PhD research, dissertation committee members expect to read and evaluate original writing, not someone else’s,” he said.

By the end of the term, Souder was pleased to see that students on both sides of the collaboration had learned much about each other’s work.

“I was delighted to discover that by reaching across my disciplinary walls I was able to find clients for my students in other programs at Drexel,” he said. “Now that Drexel students in communication and in the science and engineering programs know each other better, other collaborations among these disciplines might arise.”

Yacoubian and Shollenberger both graduated in June, and Souder is confident of their future success in the field of science and technical editing. His only regret over this initiative is that he could not accommodate all of the requests he received for editors. Souder hopes to offer his students’ editing services again next year when his graduate course in editing is offered.

For more information about Souder’s course in science and technical editing and other related courses in the Department of Communication, contact:

Lawrence Souder, PhD