Editing Help With a College Term Paper

editing-term-papersEditors assist with a wide variety of writing projects! While editors are often thought of as people who edit novels or short stories, they also have opportunities to edit a wide variety of other written materials. For example, I have been asked to edit children’s books, poetry, newspaper articles and columns, magazine articles, non-fiction books, business reports and surveys, and a variety of academic papers such as term papers, theses proposals, and so on. Today’s post has excerpts from an actual term paper edit.

Editors can help students understand their assignments. You will notice that this is an overall edit, not just a proofread. The student was having difficulty understanding the assignment, and I was able to give her a number of pointers that helped her fit the requirements of her paper, for which she ended up getting a good mark. Here are some of my comments:


Decide on a narrow focus: As I have worked through your paper. I have made quite a few suggestions, in the comments column, for you to consider. One key thing is to remember your narrow focus topic, and stick closely to it—I have commented throughout on where you need to do that more.

Understand the assignment and fulfill all the requirements: While you have covered many of the assignment’s requirements, there are a few things you might want to think more about and add to the paper and adequately cover them. Hopefully, the following hints and suggestions may help you a bit.

  • While you must narrow your research question, you must also be able to articulate how the question (and potential answer) contributes to a more general sociological concern.
  • I think what your instructor wants here is for you to make some kind of statement (probably in the concluding paragraph) about how the college’s need to provide help to students with this particular syndrome, applies more generally to students with all kinds of “disabilities” or “differences.” You could easily do this in just a sentence or two, making an “overall statement” that it is very important to the college community, and to a democratic, civilized society in general, to be aware of the needs and concerns of students with learning differences (and other kinds of differences) and to communicate with them to find ways to help them and integrate them successfully into both the college and the general community and society.
  • “From what theoretical orientation will you approach the research/research question?” I suspect this relates to different “theories/orientations” you have been learning about in your course. Which of the methods/orientations/theories you have learned about, do you think is most applicable to the situation you are discussing? Name the theory and briefly describe it—and tell why you think it is the best, most applicable approach in this case.
  • “What specific method or methods will you use?” You have touched on this by discussing who you will interview and the interview methods you will use. You may also wish to add where you will go from there—how would you collate the information you gather, and how would you present it (written report or video or audio presentation or live spoken presentation, graphs, photos, case studies, etc.)? I think you need to add this extra information. After all, the assignment is about designing a research project—so you really need to give detailed information about how you will do it. I also personally think you need to go beyond just interviewing the students with the disability; you also need to interview other students who are affected (for example, in the classroom), and instructors (for example, you may want to interview them about support that could be provided for them, such as training in how to deal with disabled students, more assistance from the Disabilities office staff, etc.).
  • Besides interviews, you could design some questionnaires or polls dealing with the research question, or do some specific case studies in which the people being interviewed give specific examples from their own experiences, both problems they have faced, and solutions they have used, and how that worked for them (rather than just general problems and solution ideas).
  • Another thing you could propose for your research project is to contact and interview other colleges and universities to discover ways they are dealing with these issues, and what methods have proved successful; and you could also propose to read and learn from other related research studies that have already been done.
  • Then you would be able to put together ideas from all these sources and come up with some really great solutions to be undertaken at your college.

Personal experience vs a research proposal: In the paper, you have listed a lot of information already that you have gained from your own personal experience. It’s fine to include some of that, but the real point of the assignment is to develop a proposal for a research project, not just present your own current experiences and understandings. And you need to make sure that you give lots of information about the “how” of your proposed project, including how you will do the research itself, how you will present that research, and even a bit on how the college (who? when? how?) could use it and work together with other institutions to develop a shared strategy.

“How do theory and method influence each other?” Remember you need to pick and discuss a particular theory (or possibly a combination of a couple theories) that you have learned about in your course, that you would use to base your research methodology on. Then you need to discuss how that theory has influenced your choice of research methods, and also how the methods you have chosen could be used to further enhance or develop the theory.

“Where and when will you conduct this research?” Who or what are the potential participants or subjects? How will data collection occur and by whom? I think you have covered this fairly well. You do need to mention a specific place (and methods) where you will do the interviews (perhaps a certain room at the Disabilities Center; or perhaps you will do it over the phone, by Skype, by email, through a form with questions which you have developed, etc. Or a combination of these.). You also need to consider “when” (during the school year? Following the end of a school year so students can look back on the year?) Perhaps you will do it at the end of two, or even three, school years or school semesters, and ask the people you’ve interviewed if they have started to use some of the ideas and how that is working out. Or the project could have four main parts over at least 2 semesters, or better yet, over 2 years. For example:

  1. Do the interviews (and questionnaires etc).
  2. Collate the information you have gathered and present the report to the appropriate people at the college.
  3. Have the staff and students put the methods into practice over the next year(s).
  4. Do the interviews again, and assess the impact/results of the project, and determine if it is worth continuing with the proposed methods and if any changes need to be made to make it work better.

Data Collection: As your proposal stands now, it sounds as if you will be doing all the interviews and research yourself. Do you consider this workable for yourself, or will you need help with the project? Who could you work together with as a team? (This could include other students with the disability; sociology students who are interested in your project and would like to assist in the study; parents of students with this disability; instructors from different courses, and especially one or two sociology professors who really understand the issues and/or staff from the Disabilities Center; and college administration.) What would each team member’s responsibility be? I think you have created an interesting project, but it would be difficult, I believe, for one person to do it alone. How would you share the work?

“Is the project feasible?” This is up to you to decide, but the questions and suggestions I have made above may help you answer this question. It is NOT a bad thing to come to the conclusion that the project is not feasible (workable), or that it would need some important changes (like a larger team, or more time, or whatever), now that you’ve thought it through carefully. In fact, your instructor will be impressed if you are willing to point out BOTH the pros and cons of the project.


Summary thoughts: Since your instructor has put all the above items in the requirements for the paper, you need to cover each of them to some degree—a paragraph or so for each should suffice, and I have given you lots of hints on how you might cover each requirement in your paper. If adding the above information (and remember, they are requirements of the assignment) makes the paper too long, you may need to trim from the paper some of the information/problems/solutions you have provided from your personal experiences. After all, the paper is about creating a project, but when you give so many personal examples of problems and solutions in the paper, it comes across as if you’ve already done the project and found these solutions; or that since you already know these problems and solutions, the project is therefore not needed.

Hope this helps. If you have any questions, feel free to email me or you can phone or meet with me to discuss what I’ve suggested. Also, once you’ve made corrections and any additions (or deletions) from your paper, feel free to email it back to me for a final proofread. I found this an interesting topic and would love to see your final project.


What do you think? Would feedback like this be helpful for term papers or other academic or non-fiction writing you produce? Remember: editors are not just proof-readers. Find an editor with a background in your subject area, and you may discover you can learn a lot. Do you have any thoughts or input? Please share in the comments. Thank you!

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