Proofreading: What’s the Big Deal?

Whatever your degree subject, third-party proofreading can be a tantalising short-cut. Advertised on campus, these services vary from ad-hoc individual offers to promotions from international online companies. Is the use of these services really legitimate? And, more importantly, do they break university policy? Our team at Roar has done some digging.

A major promoter on campus, London Proofreaders, boasts free online quotes and ‘100% confidentiality’. Charging £10 per 1,000 words for native English speakers (and more for those who are not), it claims to have ‘worked with hundreds of KCL students over the years’, and that it is our ‘leading choice’. It reminds its customers that ‘you would definitely want to ensure that you are producing cutting-edge research papers to meet the university’s standards’.

A second major promoter, ProofreadMyEssay, boasts a team of one hundred ‘professional editors’, a twenty-four-hour turnaround and even has a team of student ‘Brand Ambassadors’ on King’s campus. It reminds students that they ‘always adhere to university guidelines’, that its service does not condone cheating or plagiarism, and that they will not ‘write your essay for you’. During our investigation, Roar uploaded two previously-submitted, student-written essays to ProofreadMyEssay’s service. These essays varied in length, subject and style. Returned quickly, one was described as ‘well written and very interesting’, having undergone all ‘necessary’ changes to grammar, punctuation, word forms and sentence structure. The other underwent heavier changes to phraseology, word choice, tense, citation and capitalisation. These essays were returned to their authors and were, as Roar believes, proofread legitimately.

Digging further, Roar submitted a Freedom of Information request to King’s, asking if it had a policy on its students’ use of external proofreading services. In November 2017, the university responded via their Information Compliance Officer. The response maintained that King’s ‘does not have a university wide specific policy on the use of proofreading services by students. However, if a third party writes or suggests changes to the wording then it moves the submission away from being in the students own words as required by the College Academic Honesty and Integrity Policy’.

Whilst this might seem straightforward enough, King’s lack of official policy is very much an exception. In fact, our research can reveal that the University of Essex offers a ‘Policy and Guidance on Proofreading’ to its students, maintaining that they are keen to facilitate ‘a shared understanding of what proofreading work should entail and the acceptable boundaries to any intervention on a student text.’ The University of Manchester also offers its students ‘Guidance on Proofreading Your Thesis’, discussing time constraints, rates of different services, how to find a proofreader and what to do if something goes wrong. The University of Leeds provides an agreed definition of proofreading, including explanations of ‘inappropriate use’ and consequences. The University of Warwick details acceptable practices and exceptions, conceding that ‘in the course of producing a high-quality piece of work for assessment, students may wish to receive input from a third party prior to submission.’

Interestingly, Roar can also reveal that KCLSU has recently disputed with one of the major promoting companies over King’s lack of policy. In November 2017, the company’s day-long promotional stall that had been booked via KCLSU was unexpectedly cancelled. The cancellation was implemented by KCLSU Event Coordination after they were approached by the Union’s Advice Team. It was explained to the company that they ‘don’t actually allow proofreading services to advertise to students’, because ‘if an essay that has been proofread by an external company is submitted, and the reformatting / references breach protocols the student can be accused of plagiarism, or similar.’ Despite the company founder requesting evidence of official policy guidelines, nothing specific was identified.

Our investigation can clearly reveal that whilst other universities have established uniform policies about the use of these third-party services, King’s is lagging severely behind. Proofreading services are becoming increasingly legitimate and appealing to students on campus, and due to this, there is now a need for Kings to establish a policy that is implemented through all official channels.

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