Is academic proofreading cheating? It’s a question that raises its head regularly. In this article, we take a look at what the universities have to say.
Academic proofreading and essay editing are often (falsely) associated with cheating.
Yes, there can be a fine line between being helpful and doing someone else’s work on their behalf. However, the best editors know how to refrain from crossing that line to ensure your work is ethical, faithful, and something you can be proud to call your own.
When you start a university or college course, you’ll likely be asked to sign up to a set of rules about plagiarism, cheating, and false representation. That’s perfectly normal and to be expected.
But does essay proofreading break these rules?
It is not uncommon for academic editors to be accused of helping students to cheat. Ethical professional editors will be highly offended by this accusation.
Proofreading is no different from most jobs: It has an ethical aspect that needs to be respected. For instance, it is considered highly unethical for professors to tell students the answers to exam papers. The majority of professors wouldn’t dream of doing so; however, some do. Does that mean all professors are guilty of helping students to cheat?
Absolutely not. The majority of professors adhere to the ethical expectations associated with their profession. The same is true of professional editors.
So why is academic editing so closely associated with cheating?
One of the problems is that online services, such as Vappingo’s essay editing service, are relatively new. In the past, people were not able to access academic proofreading assistance with such ease.
What did they do instead?
They turned to friends and family members to ask them to proofread and edit their papers for them. Again, the odd student may have benefited from over-zealous editorial assistance from a well-meaning family member. However, the majority of students accessed what we would now perceive to be ethical editing assistance (i.e., help to find errors and recognize issues).
Here at Vappingo, we focus on helping students (and anyone else who orders our services) present their work in the best possible light. In many regards, it is helping to level the playing field.
We encounter many students who have performed fantastic studies in their area of expertise. However, their writing skills are letting them down. This can particularly be the case with speakers of English as a second language.
Professional editors can help these individuals to ensure that their written papers don’t hold them back.
When is essay proofreading cheating?
Essay editing or proofreading can be considered cheating if the editor does any of the following:
- Performs any type of research on behalf of the student
- Rewrites sections of text because they are factually incorrect
- Answers the essay prompt on the student’s behalf
- Significantly alters the content or meaning of the text
- Changes the main ideas or arguments
- Adds citations and references
- Composes analysis for the student
- Significantly restructures the whole essay
What does ethical essay proofreading involve?
- Highlighting areas of the discussion that may require fact checking
- Commenting on any arguments that do not make sense in the context of the rest of the paper
- Correcting spelling, grammatical, and punctuation errors
- Pointing out any material/language that isn’t appropriate; for instance, use of slang terms or derogatory descriptions of the work of others
- Identifying areas where the writing isn’t clear
- Highlighting citation errors or lack of appropriate citation
- Helping to ensure the paper is formatted in a professional and polished manner
- Pointing out problems… but not solving them
The differences between ethical essay proofreading and cheating
Is essay proofreading cheating? What the universities have to say
So, what do the universities have to say?
The majority of universities actively encourage students to ensure their papers are edited and proofread. Here’s what the universities have to say:
“Third-party proofreaders are not expected to actively amend existing, or create new, content in draft work; instead, they should support the student by identifying errors and/or making suggestions relating to – but not creating – content. The University considers the role of the proofreader is more akin to that of a mentor rather than a content producer or editor of the work.” – University of Warwick
“A third party can be used to offer advice on: 3.1 spelling and punctuation; 3.2 formatting and sorting footnotes and endnotes for consistency and order; 3.3 ensuring the work follows the conventions of grammar and syntax in written English; 3.4 shortening long sentences and editing long paragraphs; 3.5 changing passives and impersonal usages into actives; 3.6 improving the position of tables and illustrations and the clarity, grammar, spelling, and punctuation of any text in or under tables and illustrations; and 3.7 ensuring consistency of page numbers, headers, and footers” (London School of Economics)
“Checking your writing before submitting it is an important part of the process. It can be challenging to proofread your own writing, and some people prefer to work with a proofreader. However, to avoid collusion, it is your responsibility to ensure that it is still your own work. Your responsibilities If you choose to work with a proofreader (either a professional or a friend), you will need to ensure that their suggestions don’t change your work so much that it’s no longer yours.” (Newcastle University)
“It is acknowledged that certain types of student texts are quite often submitted for proofreading to a third party, and that such assistance is at times actively recommended by supervisors. This is particularly the case for doctoral dissertations, which typically aim for publication standard in their presentation.” (Lancaster University)
In fact, the London School of Economics has gone as far as to set up its own proofreading company (Additional services).
Your professors are probably using academic proofreading services themselves
Here is something many students don’t know:
Your professors will use editorial services. No journal articles are ever published in reputable manuscripts without first being edited and proofread by professional editors. In fact, in most cases, it is a mandatory requirement for all submissions to be accompanied by a certificate of editing.
Around 70% of the orders for academic proofreading services we receive here at Vappingo are from PhD candidates and professors. There’s proof that academic proofreading is not cheating if ever you needed it.
How to avoid crossing the line between getting proofreading assistance and cheating
- Make sure you read your university’s editing and proofreading policy in depth. Every university applies a different set of rules. Share these rules with your editor and ensure you operate within the realms of these laws at all times.
- Include the name of the company that edited your paper in the acknowledgments section of any dissertation or thesis. Better still, request a certificate of editing. If the providing company refuses to provide documentation of this nature, it’s likely something’s amiss.
- Ensure any proofreading or editing company you choose has significant experience with academic texts. General editors may not be aware of the ethics associated with academic editing.
- Inform your supervisors that you intend to have your essay proofread. They will be likely to offer you good advice on what you can and can’t do.
- Retain responsibility for your own work at all times. After your work has been edited by a professional, read through it yourself one final time to ensure there are no loitering errors or areas of misunderstanding.
Can I just ask a friend to help edit or proofread my essay?
Absolutely. If you have a friend or family member on hand who possesses a good working knowledge of written English and academic editing, it can be useful to elicit his or her help. However, you should bear in mind the following:
- Some academic documents can be particularly lengthy, especially dissertations, manuscripts, and theses. Asking friends to proofread an extensive file places a significant burden on them.
- You should avoid asking a student who is on the same course to proofread your essay. This could lead to misappropriation claims or version control issues that can potentially lead to academic misconduct.
A final word…
Academic editing and proofreading are not cheating, providing the editor adheres to basic ethical requirements. You are ultimately responsible for ensuring that the proofreader is aware of the standards expected by the university and adheres to them at all times and for revising your own essay.
You own the essay or academic paper. It needs to be your work. As such, you need to check each correction—however minor—and ensure it reflects your voice, intended meaning, and own research.