Academic ethics

I would do anything for the love of correcting your grammar, but I won’t do that…

I provide proofreading and proof-editing services of different document categories for a variety of client types. For some of my corporate clients, I have re-written sections to ensure that they fit the context of the rest of the document, or to reduce or increase the overall number of words.

But for students it is essential that the work is your own, so there are limitations on what I will do. Particularly in the light of recent news reports of the increasing use of essay mills by students, I want to clarify what a professional and ethical proofreader can and cannot do with assignments, dissertations and theses that count towards students’ marks.

With the agreement of your institution, I will make corrections, comments and suggestions to improve grammar, spelling, consistency, completeness, formatting and overall appearance. If your department has a style guide, I will ensure that your document follows it. I will treat your documentation with respect and will not share it with anyone.

But here are some of the common requests that I have struggled with:

Paraphrasing or rephrasing

If you want ensure that the English is correct as you are concerned the original is too long-winded, I can make some suggestions on how to avoid repetition or use the language more efficiently. If you want me to re-write something that has been copied and pasted from the net, part of another student’s essay or taken directly from a text book, then that is beyond my remit. If there is no better way to say something, then use quotations from that material and credit them.

Help me avoid plagiarism

This ties into the previous section. If you have written the words yourself, then you are unlikely to fall foul of anti-plagiarism measures that your department has. If you are concerned, write something fresh.

Make more academic

If you want to ensure that something reads well, or that the passive voice is used rather than the active consistently when describing research activity, I can help with that. If you want me to dredge up more sophisticated words or write up from your notes, then that goes over the ethical line and I will not be able to do it.

Just make the changes without making comments

I know that you are in a hurry and need to get your work submitted, but I can’t always make the changes for you. If I spot a reference that is incomplete, I will make a comment rather than go into Google Scholar to work out which one of the author’s papers you read. If I notice an acronym or piece of jargon that hasn’t been defined, I will make a comment rather than research the definition for you. If you have inconsistently spelled an unusual word, especially a name, I will make a comment rather than try to find which spelling is correct.

Add in references

Unless that was part of the original contract, this is not something I can throw in as a freebie at the end. It is a specialism in its own right, and part of the student’s job is to keep on top of their references as they progress.

Tell me if this section is good enough

I can tell you if it’s written well enough, but I cannot comment on the validity of any academic argument, even if it’s something within my ‘comfort zone’ of atomic and molecular physics. I won’t have the full list of criteria you were given, haven’t been on your course and wouldn’t want to provide any false assurance. If you have concerns, speak to your tutor or supervisor.

Guarantee me a good mark

I will do everything I can to make the English and presentation up to scratch, but the intellectual power is in your head. To get a good mark, check you are answering the right question. You may have written an excellent draft about symbiosis, and I have polished out any dents in the grammar, but if the question was actually about parasitism, you probably won’t get a good mark!

Make it perfect

I will do what I can with the material I have been given, but no proofreader guarantees perfection no matter how hard we try. This is particularly true if there is specific jargon that I am not familiar with; if a name is spelled incorrectly but consistently throughout, I will not have any reason to question it. It is not unusual for the occasional error to slip through the net; we are all human, after all.

It’s Friday – proofread my thesis by Monday morning, and for £10

Be realistic about how long it will take to proofread an assignment and therefore how much it will cost. If something is written in good English, an experienced proofreader may work at 4,000 words per hour, so would take a total of 20 hours to proofread an 80,000 word thesis. To do the job well, the proofreader will need to be fresh and so will need to take breaks, and the overall duration for the job will reflect this. They are real people and will have other professional and personal commitments.

Then consider the actual time it might take if the original material is not so well written. If there are lots of sentences that are 246 words long, then the work rate may be closer to 2,000 words per hour, and the timescales and price will reflect that. This is why we usually ask for a sample before providing a quote for a student we have not previously worked with.

Students have a lot of competing priorities such with revision, coursework, part-time jobs and personal commitments. For a freelancer, picking up work at short notice and outside of office hours goes with the territory, so there are times when we are double-booked with other pieces of work or are scheduled to be away. To avoid disappointment or unnecessary stress, giving a proofreader a bit of notice of when you expect to require their services and sticking to those timelines offer you the best chance of getting the service you want, when you want it.

Good luck with your studies!

I love what I do and every time I proofread a student’s work, I want to find out more about their subject. If you’d like to offer me the exciting opportunity to learn about your subject by proofreading your dissertation, I would love to hear from you.

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