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  1. #1

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    Seeking the opinions of a few professor-types

    I know there are a few professor and academic types on here, so I figured I might ask their opinion.

    I often help out my brother and sister with their essays, and one friend of mine in particular who doesn't have the greatest command of written English. I help her with structure, phrasing and wording, and of course spelling and grammar - all things I've been told I'm very good at.

    She made a suggestion the other day that caught my fancy, but I've no idea how I would go about it. Her suggestion was that I could offer an essay proofing/editing service to university students, and charge a small fee for helping them with their work. A little side business to my regular work and my writing work.

    I wouldn't know where to start with such a thing, though. I have a few moral questions about it, as well as the practical, and I was hoping that you guys might be able to help me out.

    - I don't want to get anyone in trouble or cause any perception that they were paying me to write their essay. I would always absolutely refuse if someone came to me with a request like that. But where does a proofing/editing service come in on that moral compass, in your opinion?

    - How would I even get started? Should I approach the universities in my city about it or should I leave those alone and go for the flyer/Gumtree option? (Gumtree is the Australian version of Craigslist.)

    - What guidelines do you advise me to set? I've been thinking about stuff like "won't accept essays less than three days out from due" or something. And I would still refer anyone with a major writing problem to the Academic Skills Centre at the university.

    I have a bachelor's degree that essentially boils down to a major in journalism and a minor in sport. I write for a small local newspaper with greater ambitions. So that's my background, and I know it doesn't look like much. (And I don't think anyone will especially care about my high school English grades.)

    The idea has very much caught my attention, but I'd much appreciate any advice anyone has for me.

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    I'm not a professor, but I work as a Testing Proctor at a college. We have a Study Skills Coach and also a Literacy and Basic Skills professor, both of whom offer one on one as well as group workshops for essay writing. We also have peer tutoring available. These are all free to our students, but they are only available on a limited basis.
    You certainly could advertise your services, but I would think most colleges would already have similar programs in place. It never hurts to look in to it, of course!
    Good luck!
    Last edited by quartz; 08-17-2013 at 03:00 AM.

  3. #3

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    Misskarne, I know people offering those services, and tutoring, in your city, they all found work advertising with the unis. Some also work with high school or college students. It's pretty good money. I think they call it editing and polishing, or something like that.

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    There are a couple of people here who have worked as tutor/editors, so they may be able to give you some more detailed advice. From the moral end of it, I don't think there's anything wrong with proofing or editing an essay. Personally I think it is more helpful to the essay's author to review a draft of the essay with them and make suggestions as to what they could change, and to point out consistent problems - the idea being to give them the skills to eventually edit on their own. But in the real world there are students who just want to hand the draft over and get a polished version back. So ultimately it's up to you as to what approach you feel comfortable taking.

    I also think it's very important to be clear up front with clients what you will and won't do. If you won't write the essay for them, say that. If you don't do overnight work (which IME a lot of essay-writing services do, for people who just remembered that the essay is due tomorrow), say that. I also wouldn't guarantee any kind of improvement in their grade or that they'll pass the course, just that you will help them make the essay better.

    Also, IME some people who use essay writing services are doing so because their composition and language skills are so horrendous that they probably shouldn't even be in post-secondary education. You might also think about some guidelines about the stage of development you would only work on an essay on (e.g. helping with the first draft, polishing the near-to-final version), because even a first draft could be really awful.
    You should never write words with numbers. Unless you're seven. Or your name is Prince. - "Weird Al" Yankovic, "Word Crimes"

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    I worked as a technical writer and editor for my entire career, and the first 5 years of my career I worked at a major university teaching part-time in the Technical Journalism department. Many graduate students sought editing help from the faculty and staff, and many of us provided free-lance editing services to graduates working on master's theses and PhD dissertations. It is perfectly fine to help these students polish their work, but it is not OK to write the material for them. There is an ethical line one must draw regarding creating the ideas within the paper vs. simply stating the ideas more clearly and succinctly. I usually interviewed the student to discuss the concepts within the research project, and I clarified the basic methods/data collected/conclusions before even starting an edit. Then I edited the paper in red using standard editing marks (as shown in any dictionary) and allowed the student to apply the changes as they saw fit. I did not do the changes for them. Since I have a technical degree myself, I understood the material pretty well and I understand a fair amount of statistics. Many of the students I worked for were associated with professors I knew, and I heard post-edit that the advisors were thrilled with the results. Often the students referred to me had English as a second language, and therefore needed a lot of help with their writing. There is nothing wrong with helping these students improve their papers. Only once did I have a PhD student in Sociology (who was working on his degree for almost 10 years!!!) have such fuzzy convoluted thinking and writing (e.g. 10-line long sentences) that I could not make heads or tails out of it. I tried to state his ideas clearly, but in the end, I felt like I was creating the research ideas for him. This bothered me immensely and I wish I had never taken that job.

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    Re: editing my own kids' work in high school, I did help them with editing and proofing, but only after they had completely composed an assignment themselves. I gave them suggestions, posed questions about what they were trying to say, helped them shorten sentences and use active voice rather than passive voice, and corrected grammatical errors. I always tried to teach them through my editing to improve their own papers themselves the next time. I NEVER did the corrections for them - they had to get on the computer and input them or rewrite material, which reinforced the concepts I was trying to teach. Probably the most important tool I forced them to use was outlining. This made them organize their thoughts in a logical manner before they even started to write. If you are going to provide editing services for a fee, you might stipulate that you will work on something over a week or two weeks, but not overnight. The writer needs to be engaged in doing outlines, drafts, and corrections in order to learn to write better and to be invested in the whole process.

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    I have no idea how things work in Australia, so bear that in mind.

    For undergraduate students--do you want to edit or tutor? Because if you proofread in the sense of marking errors and allowing students to correct their own work, fine. If you tutor the students through the process of proofreading or editing their own work, also fine. But at my school, if anyone revises so much as one word of a paper, it is considered crossing the ethical line. The tutors who work in the school Writing Center are not allowed to alter a paper or even mark on it for that reason. This was not always the case, but in the last few years, the local colleges have all cracked down quite a bit on what they consider acceptable and unacceptable help with writing. Students who hire outside help do so secretly. There are usually reasons for this.

    Graduate students have more leeway, but if they get any revision help, they are required to say so. Most of them don't. If they get caught, they have to prove that any editing and revisions were superficial and that the substance of the work was their own.
    "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."-- Albert Einstein.

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    - How would I even get started? Should I approach the universities in my city about it or should I leave those alone and go for the flyer/Gumtree option? (Gumtree is the Australian version of Craigslist.)
    Since I am self-employed, I will focus on the business side of things. Do Everything you can think of!!!!! I'm thinking for your situation, I would look for bulletin boards of some kind - especially in student housing. I would approach not only the universities but the individual departments. Flyers - yes. Gumtree - yes. Never underestimate the power of physically showing up and asking for business. It's an ongoing process. For a while you will think nothing is working and then, suddenly you will be overloaded. In the future you will be surprised to hear from someone who has had your flyer for 3 years and only now decided to call.

    There may even be government programs you could register for. I have a friend to tutors math - everything from elementary to university level. She is registered with some government organizations and gets many tutoring jobs through them. It was a pain to register, but it's one of her best sources of business.

    Good luck.

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    I recommend joining a professional group like the Society for Technical Communication. They have job postings and you can list your services there. I also recommend posting your business card (yes, you need one) on a board at your local university Journalism and English departments. Third, if there is a graduate student office on your campus, meet with someone there to find out what the university rules are regarding graduate students getting editing and typing assistance with theses and dissertations. The university has a guidebook for graduate students that lists the specific page layout specifications and style guides that students may use - they will probably recommend that a student follow a journal style in their field. You yourself should be familiar with the major style guides. In the United States, many non-journalistic professional compositions follow The Chicago Manual of Style.[ Scholarly writing often follows the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing. A classic style guide for the general public is The Elements of Style.
    Journalism generally follows the Associated Press Stylebook. For graduate papers, you may need to follow the style of a journal in that field. Here is a pretty good list of the major style guides that are available worldwide: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Style_guide.

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    I've been a tutor for the last ten years or so. I also write professionally. There are people out there who make a living editing (and writing) school papers, and they charge either by the hour or by the page. They say it's best to look at the entire paper or project before quoting your fees. Students can send you a sample of a few good pages, leading you to think light editing is all that's necessary, while everything else is a mess. Fees are also based on how fast the turnaround is. Look around the Internet and you'll see what editors/writers have to offer.

    The ethics involved is another matter. Personally, I think light editing and a read through are okay. It's certainly better than "peer editing" from other students. But if it comes to constructing sentences and suggesting creative ideas, I'd sooner write my own material and sell it with my name on it.
    Last edited by Oreo; 08-18-2013 at 12:35 AM.

  11. #11

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    I have a writing and editing business and some of the work I do is with students. I advertise at the universities/colleges and on Craig's List, and get a lot of referrals. Over the past 12 years that I've had this business I've become far more selective about the undergraduate students I do editing for - my preference is to work with graduate students and professional academic/business clients.

    There is a large non-native speaking student population here. Those from China often find English particularly challenging because there are so few commonalities between Chinese and English, but there are plenty of students from elsewhere who have poor writing skills, including some native speakers. I have edited a lot of papers that are truly horrible and largely incomprehensible. They are so bad that large portions need to be rewritten, which is challenging when the text doesn't make sense and the student is unable to clarify points due to poor English skills. It is really exhausting and frustrating, so I now do less of that type of work. I don't mind working with business students and do lots of resumes/cover letters/personal statements and such, but am extremely reluctant to take on a philosophy, English, or social science paper for an ESL student with poor English skills.

    If you do this work, you inevitably face the ethical issue of where to draw the line. University essay editing is very common and a lot of students get friends or family members to edit their papers, even if they don't pay a professional. I will do a lot as an editor and my requirement is that students give their best effort. I do not write papers. Aside from the fact that it is academic dishonesty and hence extremely unprofessional, it is a lot of hard work (I saw a news report on one of the essay mills and a paper written by one of the company's writers was graded C-). But to be honest, if my English was as bad as some of these students, and I was getting a degree only because my parents insisted upon it, I would consider hiring a ghost-writing service myself.

    But even though I don't actually write the papers, very often I end up adding or clarifying content anyway. It's unavoidable, especially given that grade improvement is the goal.

    I've done editing for professors/instructors and graduate students who teach and they have told me that they want their students to get their papers edited so they don't have to read all that horrible English. However, there are some who take Prancer's POV. You should check whether the universities/colleges the students you will work with attend have a specific policy on editing. The ones I deal with do not prohibit it and so far as I know, business teachers pretty much expect their students to get their work edited.

    I'll add that tutoring doesn't really help students with very bad English skills who don't understand even half of their reading materials. These students need to go back to the beginning and do grammar drills and there is no way that they will improve as university students because they are way out of their element. If you want to tutor I'd recommend you set boundaries with respect to how much writing you do for your students, as it is very easy to just end up sitting together with them as you write their papers for them.

    Also, IME some people who use essay writing services are doing so because their composition and language skills are so horrendous that they probably shouldn't even be in post-secondary education.
    This.

    I have to wonder how instructors who teach classrooms full of students who don't understand them manage to stay focused and energized. A lot of students don't listen anyway, and if you add to that a language barrier, it must at times feel very pointless.
    Last edited by Japanfan; 08-18-2013 at 12:00 AM.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Japanfan View Post
    However, there are some who take Prancer's POV.
    That is not my point of view. That is the policy of every college I know of.

    I would pay no attention whatsoever to what individual professors say. What matters is a college's honor code and plagiarism policy. If you revise work for students at a university where unacknowledged revision by another party is acceptable, then I would like a link to the school's honor code and plagiarism policies so I can see them for myself.

    In the end, the only person who matters here is the student--because it is the student who suffer the consequences of being caught. But I can't think of anywhere in academia in the West (Asian schools often have different policies) where it is considered acceptable for students to have work revised, clarified or in any way rewritten by another party. If I am mistaken in that, then I would like some kind of official evidence that that is the case.
    "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."-- Albert Einstein.

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    I guess it depends on how "revised, clarified or in any way rewritten" is defined. Of course, actual hands-on uncredited rewriting (especially for $$$) is forbidden everywhere. But what about taking an assignment to a college or university's in-house writing center for feedback? That often involves a discussion that includes verbal clarification, and maybe suggestions as to how the assignment would read better if it was structured differently. I don't think that type of assistance is banned, especially if it is the institution itself providing the service.
    You should never write words with numbers. Unless you're seven. Or your name is Prince. - "Weird Al" Yankovic, "Word Crimes"

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    Quote Originally Posted by overedge View Post
    I guess it depends on how "revised, clarified or in any way rewritten" is defined. Of course, actual hands-on uncredited rewriting (especially for $$$) is forbidden everywhere. But what about taking an assignment to a college or university's in-house writing center for feedback? That often involves a discussion that includes verbal clarification, and maybe suggestions as to how the assignment would read better if it was structured differently. I don't think that type of assistance is banned, especially if it is the institution itself providing the service.
    As I said earlier:

    Quote Originally Posted by Prancer View Post
    For undergraduate students--do you want to edit or tutor? Because if you proofread in the sense of marking errors and allowing students to correct their own work, fine. If you tutor the students through the process of proofreading or editing their own work, also fine. But at my school, if anyone revises so much as one word of a paper, it is considered crossing the ethical line. The tutors who work in the school Writing Center are not allowed to alter a paper or even mark on it for that reason.
    And then Japanfan said:

    Quote Originally Posted by Japanfan View Post
    But even though I don't actually write the papers, very often I end up adding or clarifying content anyway. It's unavoidable, especially given that grade improvement is the goal.

    I've done editing for professors/instructors and graduate students who teach and they have told me that they want their students to get their papers edited so they don't have to read all that horrible English. However, there are some who take Prancer's POV.
    I took that to mean that Japanfan is actually working on the text--as opposed to what I said, since she specified my POV as one that seems to be at odds.

    And if she is working on the text to add and clarify content, that would be considered actual hands-on uncredited re-writing, would it not?

    ETA some links to show examples of policies from different colleges:

    Professional Editing is Plagiarism
    Did you know that allowing someone else to simply edit or "fix" your writing can be considered plagiarism?
    It is scholastically dishonest for students to employ tutors to correct, edit, or modify essays in any substantive way. The same reservations and restrictions apply, within reason, to any outside assistance you may receive from a parent, friend, roommate, or academic tutor. Any changes, deletions, rearrangements, additions, or corrections made in your essays should represent your own work.
    Plagiarism is the most common and most misunderstood form of violation...Some examples include…Using another person to write, re-write, or edit your work

    And one from English Club, a well-known British site for ESL students: Examples of plagiarism..having a teacher, native speaker, or higher level student edit your paper to perfection

    It should be noted that it is is no way illegal to edit papers for students; whether it is unethical for the editor is, I suppose, up to the editor's conscience. But for students? Risky at best.
    "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."-- Albert Einstein.

  15. #15

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    And if she is working on the text to add and clarify content, that would be considered actual hands-on uncredited re-writing, would it not?
    Japanfan herself can explain what her work involves and how that relates to what you said.

    I have worked at my school's writing center, and it has the same policy about not altering or marking on papers. However, the consultations usually involve discussing problematic parts of the essay (e.g. "what are you trying to say in this section" or "how does this relate to what is being asked for in the assignment") and giving general suggestions as to what clarifications or changes might improve the paper. That could be considered "outside assistance" or "clarifying content" but AFAIK that has never been interpreted as being in conflict with the institutional plagiarism policy.
    Last edited by overedge; 08-18-2013 at 07:14 AM.
    You should never write words with numbers. Unless you're seven. Or your name is Prince. - "Weird Al" Yankovic, "Word Crimes"

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    Quote Originally Posted by overedge View Post
    Japanfan herself can explain what her work involves and how that relates to what you said.
    Why, yes, she can, if she feels the need.

    Quote Originally Posted by overedge View Post
    I have worked at my school's writing center, and it has the same policy about not altering or marking on papers. However, the consultations usually involve discussing problematic parts of the essay (e.g. "what are you trying to say in this section" or "how does this relate to what is being asked for in the assignment") and giving general suggestions as to what clarifications or changes might improve the paper. That could be considered "outside assistance" or "clarifying content" but AFAIK that has never been interpreted as being in conflict with the institutional plagiarism policy.
    And again, I think I clarified this exact difference in my first post, although I will be happy to post it for the third time:

    Quote Originally Posted by Prancer View Post
    For undergraduate students--do you want to edit or tutor? Because if you proofread in the sense of marking errors and allowing students to correct their own work, fine. If you tutor the students through the process of proofreading or editing their own work, also fine. But at my school, if anyone revises so much as one word of a paper, it is considered crossing the ethical line. The tutors who work in the school Writing Center are not allowed to alter a paper or even mark on it for that reason.
    I never said that students weren't allowed to consult with someone about their papers or get outside assistance. I never said that they weren't allowed to get tutoring. I think it's clear that I said they can do those things. What I also said was that it is unethical for students to have anyone else to edit or revise their text for them. If I didn't say clearly enough before, I hope that will suffice.
    "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."-- Albert Einstein.

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    There are editing tasks that do not involve re-writing someone's work, such as formatting text to fit university specifications (e.g. margins, font sizes, table formats), correcting grammatical mistakes and typos, making sure citations and references follow the appropriate style guide, and creating indices. IMO these services do NOT constitute plagiarism. Is changing the wording of a sentence from passive voice to active voice plagiarism ... I hardly think so! How about enforcing rules of parallel construction? The definition of plagiarism is: "The practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own." Let's distinguish between professional editing services, which all textbook and journal publishers provide, and professional writing services, which go beyond editing to actually rework the written material. No matter what level of help a student might get, he or she should mention the service provider in an acknowledgments section. Re: foreign students attending US universities, I believe it is appropriate for those students to get help proofing and correcting grammar and spelling. They want to turn out a quality product, and it is not reasonable to expect them to be masters of the English language.

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    You may find this document from The University of Newcastle, Australia quite helpful: The Editing of Research Theses by Professional Editors Policy http://www.newcastle.edu.au/policy/000802.html. In addition, there are clear guidelines regarding academic editing in the Australian Standards for Editing Practice http://iped-editors.org/Editing_theses. There is also a link to find professional editors - you might want to consider joining a Society of Editors in your own region.
    Last edited by madm; 08-18-2013 at 10:02 PM. Reason: typo

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    Quote Originally Posted by madm View Post
    You may find this document from The University of Newcastle, Australia quite helpful: The Editing of Research Theses by Professional Editors Policy http://www.newcastle.edu.au/policy/000802.html.
    I have edited a lot of theses/dissertations extensively (substantive/structural editing as well as copy editing) and the students' committees have never been strict in terms of overseeing the process.

    I would pay no attention whatsoever to what individual professors say. What matters is a college's honor code and plagiarism policy. If you revise work for students at a university where unacknowledged revision by another party is acceptable, then I would like a link to the school's honor code and plagiarism policies so I can see them for myself.
    Here is the plagiarism policy of one of our local universities: http://www.lib.sfu.ca/help/writing/plagiarism. No mention is made of editing and to the best of my knowledge, there is no policy on it. One of the local college English departments does not allow students to get papers edited. It lays that rule out in the course materials and tutors who advertise at the college are specifically instructed not to mention 'editing' in their notices. I don't think the college as a body has a policy on editing (again, so far as I know).

    As mentioned, I work with TAs and profs. Some of those I've worked with since they began their studies as an undergraduate. They can hardly demand that their students don't get their papers edited, given that they did so, themselves.

    In the 12 years that I have done this work I have encountered a few instructors who were specifically opposed to essay editing and made this clear in their course guidelines/requirements. Only a handful, though. In my experience, instructors are far more concerned about essay mills and ghostwriters.

    Individual instructors' position on editing does count in the absence of a school-wide policy. If editing is expected, a poor writer who doesn't get his/her work editing could get a lower grade or fail (I see this happen with Business Communications students). If editing is prohibited, the opposite will occur.
    Last edited by Japanfan; 08-19-2013 at 12:34 AM.

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    I can't imagine that any professor would want an "editor" making "substantive" edits or "adding or clarifying content" in their students' papers. That seems like that would violate most colleges' academic integrity policies. I certainly wouldn't accept it for my students, undergrad or grad.
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