The thesis is done.
Not mine … but that of a truly delightful client (aren’t they all?) who commissioned me to proofread and edit her 72,000-word submission for her PhD.
For one whose editing work is predominantly concerned with fiction in all its genres (well, most of them) and a broad spectrum of non-fiction, this could definitely be described as a learning experience. Academia is a remote and foreign land. Almost impenetrable to outsiders. They do things differently there. They speak a language known only to themselves, created it seems to baffle and confuse and form another barrier against would-be intruders.
By using an arcane academic vocabulary and dense phrasing they weave sentences that make the simple complex; that wilfully use several words where fewer would suffice. To one who thrives on a daily diet of cryptic crosswords, the assignment represented a massive puzzle, a brain-teaser that at times seemed to have no end.
But, like the best cryptics, the pleasure was in the solving; in making sense of the seemingly incomprehensible as together we clarified the arguments surrounding the varying mind-sets governing organisational change. The solution seemed to be in delving deep into each sentence, determining what the writer really meant and conveying it in terms slightly simpler and more direct than what had been written.
It was, in effect, a word game. Or a game with words. Of unravelling, reducing, shuffling the order and reshaping. And soon it became obvious that the subject of the thesis (of which nothing was known at the start and not much more at the finish) was a secondary consideration. It was the words that mattered; how they were used and whether they could be better ordered or even replaced.
Editing was ever thus.