There has been considerable debate in professional editing circles regarding the limits and boundaries of the editor’s role. According to Lozano (2014: 363), ‘correction or editing services [is] a practice that is openly endorsed by many journals and scientific institutions’, particularly where the student or author is a non-native English speaker. However, the extent of such editing is open to question.

It should be noted that the text is being submitted for diploma or degree purposes and the qualification that will be achieved by the student confirms they have expert academic research and writing skills at a certain level. Because of this, the editing intervention must meet the highest possible ethical standards. In this regard, there are limits to what the editor can be expected to do. PEG sets the following ethical limits for editors.

What an editor MAY NOT do

  1. With light/micro editing, the editor may not:
    • substantially change the text
    • rewrite the text.
  1. With copy-editing, the editor may not:
    • format the text, such as imposing a hierarchical heading style (if the text does not follow a heading style, including numbering, that aspect may only be highlighted in a comment)
    • format or reformat the text, but problems may be noted in comments
    • create any of the preliminary matter required by the relevant institution, such as a table of contents, the title page or declaration.
  1. In terms of referencing, the editor may not:
    • look up references, including cited page numbers
    • supply missing references.
  1. With regard to plagiarism, the editor may not:
    • rewrite or paraphrase any part of the text
    • be asked to use a software program to identify plagiarism and may not be requested to rewrite parts of the text to improve the outcome of such a software program.


It’s a bit like stepping on a hornet’s nest because ethics is such a personal choice. However, my motto is ‘When in doubt, don’t’. It usually turns out to be the right decision.



Lozano, GA 2014 Ethics of using language editing services in an era of digital communication and heavily multi-authored papers. Science and Engineering Ethics, 20(2): 363–377. DOI: 10.1007/s11948-013-9451-6 (Accessed: 19 August 2022).

Professional Editors’ Guild. 2020. Copy-editing academic texts: Guidelines for students and authors. Johannesburg.

Photo credits: Image by on Freepik

The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of PEG.

About Jacqui Baumgardt

Jacqui Baumgardt has a PhD in Education Management from UNISA and a Certificate in Copy-Editing from the University of Cape Town. Formerly a teacher of English and an academic manager of a professional body, she has years of experience in the editing of academic assignments, proposals, theses and dissertations, more especially in the fields of business (eg MBA) and education. She is a Full Member of PEG.

About PEG

The Professional Editors’ Guild (PEG) is a non-profit company (NPC) in South Africa. Since moving to online activities in March 2020, PEG has been able to offer members across South Africa, and internationally, access to an extensive online webinar programme. Continuing professional development remains a key offering and the first PEG Accreditation Test was administered in August 2020 to benchmark excellence in the field of editing.