The Ethics of Proofreading for Students

Should you do your own essay proofreading or should you allow a proofreading service to do it for you? There are numerous factors to consider when you think of proofreading and the ethics behind it.

The Ethics of Proofreading for Students

There are proofreading and editing services that are happy to do it for you, and there are plenty of friends and relatives nearby that may also take a stab at what you are working on and improve it. Here are some of your questions answered when it comes to ethics and proofreading.

If I did not proofread my essay then would it still score the same?

No, you would not. At least, you wouldn’t in a great many subject. Here is a grey area that takes some explaining. It depends on the subject, the school, the curriculum and the teacher. Here is each point expanded to help you understand:

  • Subject: There are some subjects where poor written English will cost you dearly, such as with most of the social sciences, many of the actual sciences, and obviously English. It may not count against you as much in Drama and theatre studies. It may also count for little with subjects that have smaller written sections to their coursework, such as with programming and math.
  • School: All colleges and Universities have to put mark people for the higher use of English in their essays. However, some Universities and colleges will go a little easier on students for the poor use of English. As off-key as it sounds, it is often colleges with a high ratio of students with a second language that will not put as much emphasis on the higher use of English (therefore marking more with a positive bias).
  • Curriculum: It is possible, though unlikely, that the next curriculum may spawn marking guides that do not emphasis the higher use of English as much as previous years. This may sound impossible, but consider the apostrophe purge that is going on in the US at the moment and ask yourself if people will be submitting essays in txt-type in a few years.
  • Professor: The mood, attitude, proficiency and moral of a professor may influence how harsh he or she is when applying the rules of written English. Marking guides leave space for a fair amount of subjectivity.
If I proofread my essay badly, then will I still be marked down?

You will not be marked down, but you will not pass a certain barrier that allows you to get the top marks. It works in two ways in that either you must have good written English in order to pass a certain milestone on the marking guide at which point you may score higher. Or, the use of correct written English and the use of higher English will both win you points that help you get a higher grade. With the latter example, it is still possible to get marks in the top tier, but with the former example, you cannot reach the top tier.

Is it fair that I am asked for perfect written English when I’m not doing an English degree?

Yes, it is because you are being asked to communicate what you know so that you may be tested. If you cannot correctly communicate your knowledge in an exam or on coursework then how are you going to do it in the real world? It may seem unfair that you are asked to produce high quality written text but that is the way it has to be until the world changes and your communication skills are no longer a priority in the working world.

Is it ethically okay to have another person check your work?

This is where it starts to get difficult. This is made even more difficult by the fact that most colleges and Universities will allow a student to show their work to the professor twice before handing it in. Most will allow the submission of a first draft, of which the professor returns with notes, a second draft, of which the professor returns and specific (and fewer) notes, and then the submission of the final draft when must be done by a deadline on pain of point docking.

Technically this means that your professor is doing some of your proofreading, although most notes should be on the content over the written question, so is it so bad if a friend, fellow student or paid professional checks your work? The answer is unclear, though it seems fair to say that if a person pays a professional to check the work that it is considered cheating. But, how close is it to cheating if you had an A* student from your class check the work? It’s such a blurry issue, especially since many qualifications in college and University do not demand that you have good grades in English.

How come it seems more ethically unsound to pay someone to check your work?

If a friend or teacher proofreads your work then it is seen as less morally wrong than if you have a paid professional do it, and yet the outcome may be the same. If it were a straightforward choice between people doing their own proofreading and paying a professional to do it, then many people would consider this a black and white issue. Is it the inclusion of money that makes it more morally wrong? For example, if you paid the A* student to check your work, then is that cheating more than if the A* student doing it for free?

When does outside editing become an unfair advantage?

An advantage is only present when compared with the rest of your peers. Though, let’s face the fact that the world is not fair. The students at the Ivy League schools already have an advantage, even if they use no form of outside help at all. You have an advantage if you pay for outside proofreading and none of your classmates do, but it is not an advantage if most/all of your classmates pay for an outside proofreader. So, is help from outside an advantage? If all was fair in the world then it would be, but life is not fair, and there is a chance the many of your classmates are using professional proofreaders, which means that if you do not you are putting yourself at a disadvantage.

Couldn’t I just write garbage and have a professional fix it up for a better grade?

If you pushed the idea to its limit, you could say that outside proofreading services give you an unfair advantage because you can write terrible stuff and still get a good grade. In reality, this is probably not the case. In reality if you were to write garbage then the proofreader would simply make it dramatically correct garbage. It is true that proofreaders can help you get a higher grade, but they are not able to fix an essay to the point where it is able to pass where it would have failed.

Should all the checking and editing be done by me the student?

If you remove the ethical consideration and just consider the pragmatic side, you should check your work yourself. You know the point you are trying to get across, which means you are the best equipped for checking your work. You know which words are typos and which are meant to be there. You know the content of your work and how it should fit together, which means you are ideally suited for checking your written work. Your best bet may be to check your work a few times for the contextual, flow and typical essay errors, and then have a proofreader check your work for things such as sentence syntax, word misuse and other such things. You can have the proofreader check the higher-level stuff after you have done your bit.

Isn’t using a spelling and grammar checker also cheating too?

If you push the principle all the way to its logical conclusion, then to say that getting outside help is cheating is also to say that using a spelling and grammar checker is cheating too. It may also offer an advantage to the students that can afford the very best ones. What if there is a piece of spelling and grammar checking software out there that is so sophisticated that it is as good as hiring a professional proofreader? Wouldn’t the use of that software give a student an advantage over the ones using the less advanced versions?

If another proofreads but I do the editing, then isn’t that okay?

Again, if spelling and grammar checking software is okay, then is it okay if someone else proofreads and you do the actual editing? After all, that is what happens when you use most spelling and grammar checkers. Only a minority of them will change your work for you–most of them will offer suggestions. How is using a proofreader any different than applying the suggestions of a high quality spelling and grammar checker?

Would colleges and Universities care if I told them a professional checked my work?

As a general rule, most colleges and Universities are going to object to you using a professional paid proofreader. Though their stance is not as severe as if you were to plagiarize or use an essay writing service. If you were silly enough to tell your college or University that you used a professional proofreader, then they would consider expelling you but you would probably win back your position if you were to appeal. If you were accused of using a proofreader then they would probably not take it any further, especially since it is very difficult to tell if you actually did use a proofreader. It is not like using an essay writing service where a professional writer’s writing may be clearly different from the student’s writing, ergo it is difficult to tell if the student proofread the piece or not.

Does the use of proofreading services give richer students an unfair advantage?

Yes it does. If a student is too poor to be able to purchase professional proofreading services then there is an advantage to using a proofreading service. As mentioned earlier, something is only an advantage if it offers one group a benefit that is unavailable to others. The richer students are not gaining an insurmountable advantage, such as the one given by attending an Ivy League college, because there is nothing stopping a poor student from learning all the rules of written English and proofreading his or her work him or her self.

If everybody else is using proofreading services then I am at a disadvantage if I don’t?

Yes you are. The same argument exists within the realms of using essay-writing services. So many students use essay-writing services these days that the students that do not use them are at a disadvantage. It is clearly obvious that students use professional proofreading services. There may only be a minority of students using proofreading services, or there may be thousands upon thousands of students using them every year. The fact that other students use proofreading services means that the ones that do not are at a disadvantage. The only way that this may be incorrect is if there are so many poor quality proofreading services out there that they make essays and coursework poorer quality, but this situation seems highly unlikely.

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