study Bible603.

That’s the number of footnotes in the academic paper I finished editing over the weekend.

Not just 603 simple footnotes. Footnotes with lengthy explanatory notes or a string of Scripture passages from margin to margin.

You know footnotes. Those citations acknowledging the source of the writer’s wisdom—which most of us give a passing glance.

Proofreading them is not just ascertaining that they contain no typos. It’s also insuring they are properly formatted, according to the required style guide and accurately listed in the bibliography.

It can be tedious, if not nerve wracking. In most cases, this is a student’s final, major work. It will be scrutinized by all manner of academicians.

It’s not just the student on the line. I feel my work is too.

When I ventured into freelance editing several years ago, I didn’t intend to focus on academic papers. But having spent more than twenty years working in a variety of roles in Christian higher education, the most recent at a local seminary, that’s where my contacts are; they are what generate most of my work.

Along the way, I’ve come to appreciate what students seeking an advanced degree endure to persevere to the end. Almost all the dissertations I edit are from students engaged in fulltime ministry. Many of them have been ABD (All But Dissertation) for more years than they care to admit. They would have that doctorate if it weren’t for the time that writing a thoroughly-researched, cogently argued, and well-written (and edited!) dissertation demands.

As a writer who struggles to find time to keep my blog current, I can empathize with the challenge of writing a major paper all while juggling ministry, family, and whatever else life throws at them.

An aside here. If you belong to a church that regularly gives its pastor study leave or sabbatical, please don’t grumble about the leadership giving the pastor “more vacation time.” An extended release from the daily demands of ministry to focus on bigger issues, have the time for extended reflection, or to finish that dissertation he’s been working on for years will pay dividends in a spiritually healthier pastor. If your pastor is depleted, how well do you suppose he can minister to the flock?

Editing dissertations presents its own set of challenges. Few writers can make a technical academic subject exciting. Nominalizations and passive writing are frequent problems. I do my best to adhere to Amy Einsohn’s advice in The Copyeditor’s Handbook: clarity, coherency, consistency and correction, all in service to the “Cardinal C”: communication.

I happen to find it enlightening, if not always exciting, to read and edit thought-provoking work. It often prompts me to read an author for my own understanding and development.

But the best part of completing a manuscript is getting a response like this:

Your assistance has been invaluable.
I have deeply appreciated an editor who believes the gospel and has theological astuteness.

Wow! I not only feel affirmed in my calling, but privileged to play a part however small or unseen in strengthening the local pastor in his pastorate. I am blessed.


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