How to get the faulty english of my thesis revised for little or no money
July 5, 2007 8:35 AM   Subscribe

How can I get the english I'll write my thesis in revised, since english is my 2nd language, without spending a lot of money?

I'll be writing a master thesis in the coming months and I intend to write the thesis in english. But english is to me a second language.
I know that for native speakers most papers in english by non-native writers are an eye-sore. I think that hinders the readability and I don't want that.

The master is on the subject of IT Architecture in relation to Business Administration.

I've thought of the following ways to organize this:

- hire a professional editor. I expect that the fact that I can't spend a lot on this, let's say 100 euro, will be prohibitive for this option. Also the subject matter is pretty abstract and technical. I'm not sure the editors lack of understanding of the subject matter won't affect the quality of the editing

- Use some specialized mailing lists to find a kindred soul who happens to be a native speaker. Hopefully he'll be interested in the subject matter and won't mind using a red pencil for the most glaring errors. The main risk here is of course that he might not make the time to follow through on the editing promise and I won't have any recourse since it's all voluntarily.
posted by jouke to Science & Nature (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Just check with your university, because in some universities at 'English\ Languages Departments' they provide these kind of services for free.
posted by WizKid at 8:42 AM on July 5, 2007

Some universities also have free tutoring services.
posted by amethysts at 8:45 AM on July 5, 2007

I second that recommendation. If you are at a university it should be literally teeming with editors, or future editors.
posted by fusinski at 8:45 AM on July 5, 2007

When I got involved in doing a conversation/language exchange, one of the things I did was to help my partner proofread his papers and help him understand what things could make his writing more natural-sounding.

This might be a case where I'd try to wheedle it out of a native-speaking friend. I personally didn't mind helping proofread the papers--but it involved working through things together, with some "What do you think you mean when you say this--because I'm getting the impression of X, which doesn't seem right."
posted by that girl at 8:45 AM on July 5, 2007

On the voluntary side -

1. native speaker friends/colleagues (best to use someone local b/c you can take them to dinner and check on their progress)

2. girlfriend who is native speaker - nothing like the obligations of SO which can involve translation duty
posted by zia at 8:46 AM on July 5, 2007

I did this for a friend in college when I was an English major. So, again, if you can't find a free service somewhere on campus, perhaps you could ask an English major you're friends with.
posted by Tuwa at 8:48 AM on July 5, 2007

Another option is to use a freelance site, such as You can specify the scope of the project as well as the amount you're willing to pay, and then open it up for a bidding process. I have encountered very professional services for very reasonable prices through this process. Ifreelance is different from a lot of other sites in that they encourage you to exchange contact info and deal directly with the service providers, whereas most sites want to take a cut of the fee, and hence want to control the communication process. There may be other reasonable ones as well, a bit of googling might help.
posted by ThinkNut at 8:53 AM on July 5, 2007

Don't know what your first language is, but maybe swap the service with someone who needs proofreading in your tongue?
posted by londongeezer at 8:58 AM on July 5, 2007

I did exactly this for a friend who was doing a PhD in my department. I'd have done it for free but did accept a few beers as payment (and I've stayed at her place in Madrid on a few occasions too. With her acting as tour guide.)
In short - use a friend, preferably with a LITTLE expertise in the area of your thesis.
Failing that that_girl's conversation/language exchange suggestion is a good one.
posted by jonesor at 9:07 AM on July 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

I would only caveat that revising the language in a thesis can be a lot of work and can involve rethinking passages of text - whole paragraphs or sections, even. I undertook to work with a classmate of mine (native Chinese speaker) and found that after several long sessions we were making slow progress and that a lot of rework was required. She knew what she wanted to say, I didn't follow her logic, she wasn't saying it well and I didn't want to write the paper for her. Formula for disaster, or at least demanding on a friendship, all against a deadline.

Just fair warning that asking a friend to do this is a fairly major imposition unless you are nearly letter-perfect already and just need the odd tweak in your turn of phrase.
posted by sagwalla at 9:15 AM on July 5, 2007

Response by poster: Wow. That was quick. And good advice too.

Thanks people.

I did not think of enquiring with my university. Good idea.

thatgirl: that kind of back and forth on the intended meaning versus the expressed meaning would be wonderful. I think that's only feasible in a friendly relation.

zia: yeah. That would be great. Unfortunately I have no native speakers as friends, girlfriend or acquaintance.

I had never heard of I'll look into it.

londongeezer; I'm dutch. Maybe there are anglosaxons who want to write in dutch. Or converse. We dutch never can imagine that any anglosaxon would want to learn or write dutch. Good idea. I wonder where to find them though. Maybe craigslist? Better on a site for expats. Yeah.
posted by jouke at 9:18 AM on July 5, 2007

This recent thread is from someone looking to learn Dutch. Maybe you could swap services...
posted by rtha at 9:24 AM on July 5, 2007

Response by poster: Yeah sagwalla, I completely agree. I've done the same once coincidentally also for a chinese girl and that was more work than was appropriate.

My formal english training in highschool is a while back. So I'll search for a practical english writing course.
posted by jouke at 9:28 AM on July 5, 2007

I did this for a friend of mine's Slovenian girlfriend - she wrote a paper for her archaology degree, and I edited it for her.

I'll stick my hand up and volunteer if you like - email's in profile. I'm an English graduate, did a couple of years in the business side of IT consultancy and work in corporate comms now, so I may be able to help.

Price is a beer if you ever pass through London and/or if I ever get to the Netherlands (warning, I will take you up on it).
posted by Happy Dave at 9:39 AM on July 5, 2007

Just want to second trading your knowledge / familiarity with the Netherlands for an english speaker to read your thesis. You could also offer to teach / speak dutch with someone who is trying to learn. One of the big frustrations for non-dutch speakers who are trying to learn to speak Dutch is to find people who are willing to have very simple conversations. Perhaps you do could do a trade?
posted by zia at 9:45 AM on July 5, 2007

On preview, just saw your comments. I DON'T have IT background but would be willing to trade for someone to speak dutch with. Email in profile.
posted by zia at 9:46 AM on July 5, 2007

I really think you should find someone in your area of expertise or who has at least a working knowledge as a subject. My fiance and I are both native English speakers, and I still can barely understand any of his IT books, but he has no problem reading them because that's his career field.

I don't think it will be as time-consuming to edit a Dutch speaker's version of English than a Chinese native's version. Chinese and English are worlds apart, not even sharing the same alphabet. I don't know Dutch, but it seems a LOT closer to English. The English you use in your posts just reads like someone who isn't paying careful attention to grammar, not like someone who doesn't speak the language. (For example, this would be a clearer way to phrase your first sentence: "I'm writing my thesis in English, which is my second language. What is the best way to find an English-speaking editor?" However, the way you did phrase it was obviously readable, since all the responses were on topic.)
posted by desjardins at 9:49 AM on July 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Of course, I just made a blunder in MY first sentence - that should be "has at least a working knowledge of your subject."

I will blame that on lack of coffee.
posted by desjardins at 9:51 AM on July 5, 2007

We dutch never can imagine that any anglosaxon would want to learn or write dutch. Good idea. I wonder where to find them though. Maybe craigslist? Better on a site for expats.

Or just contact you university's international student office, they should be able to get you in contact with students in your field who have English as a first language and who would like to improve their Dutch.
As a foreign student in the Netherlands, I would love to do something like this, almost everyone switches to English as soon as they notice my Dutch isn't that great which makes it really hard to actually learn to speak the language.
(I won't be of any help though, background in IT but not a native speaker of English.)
posted by snownoid at 10:37 AM on July 5, 2007

Response by poster: Hey people very good trade offers.

Sure Dave. I take you up on that one. I'll show you around Amsterdam if you want to.

And Zia I'll email you.

Snownoid; maybe we can speak dutch anyway. Feel free to email me.

Haha desjardins. I was a bit self-conscious about making this post: having my command of english judged by anglosaxon mefites. A lot of them professional editors. I'm glad you made a mistake too.
I think you meant "[...] as time-consuming to edit a Dutch speaker's version of English as a Chinese native's version[...]". Interestingly this mistake of switching 'as' and 'than' is made often by native speakers in german, dutch and english!
posted by jouke at 10:59 AM on July 5, 2007

Hey jouke,

I will be in Amsterdam for a few days next week, and am an experienced ESL teacher. If you buy me beers I would be willing to do an initial overview / consultation session face to face with you - email in profile.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:30 AM on July 5, 2007

I think you meant "[...] as time-consuming to edit a Dutch speaker's version of English as a Chinese native's version[...]". Interestingly this mistake of switching 'as' and 'than' is made often by native speakers in german, dutch and english!

Yikes. Honestly, grammar is not my strong suit, which is one reason I didn't volunteer to edit for you. (The other reasons being that I have only a cursory knowledge of IT, and that I'm more interested in brushing up my French skills than learning Dutch.)
posted by desjardins at 4:38 PM on July 5, 2007

If you do decide to go the freelance route, you might try (Disclaimer: I do freelance editing partially through that site. However, I wouldn't be bidding on your thesis as it's not an area I'm familiar with, so I'm not attempting to drum up business for myself.) I see postings like this regularly there, and there are always at least a few providers willing to give quite cheap bids, especially if you're willing to trade off some turnaround speed for a lower price.
posted by Stacey at 6:47 PM on July 5, 2007

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