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The University of Southampton
Centre for Linguistics, Language Education and Acquisition Research

The views of lecturers, English language tutors, and students on the ethics of proofreading: preliminary results Seminar

17:00 - 18:30
31 March 2021

Event details

Before submitting writing for assessment, university students may seek help from a ‘proofreader’. However, articles about proofreading in publications such as Times Higher Education often question its ethics, linking it with plagiarism and cheating, and the boundaries of acceptable proofreading are contested (Harwood, 2019; Harwood et al., 2010; Lines, 2016; McNally & Kooyman, 2017). Harwood has researched proofreaders’ practices, but there has been little work on other parties’ views towards proofreading, and there is a need to solicit these views to inform universities’ proofreading policies. Salter-Dvorak’s (2019) case studies of two master’s students suggest that some departments adopt less permissive attitudes to proofreading than others, while Turner (2018) cites evidence that many EAP tutors are resistant to proofreading and that some content lecturers would like EAP tutors to proofread students’ work. Continuing these lines of enquiry, this research project sheds light on the views of UK university lecturers, language tutors, and students on proofreading and its ethics on a larger scale, accomplished using questionnaires and follow-up interviews with most of the participants who completed the questionnaire. The questionnaire consisted of 20 authentic proofreader interventions on an L2 graduate writer’s text, typifying the various types of changes proofreaders could make from the taxonomies by Harwood (2018) and Kruger & Bevan-Dye (2010). The interventions run the range from minor edits (e.g., correcting an apostrophe) to major rewriting (e.g., extensive reformulation of faulty, unclear text; suggestions by the proofreader to enhance the writer’s arguments). Participants were asked to what extent they agreed each of the proofreader’s interventions were ethically acceptable in the questionnaire. At interview, they were shown their questionnaire responses and asked to elaborate on their answers. In total, 125 questionnaires were collected, and 25 interviews with lecturers, 31 interviews with English language tutors, and 39 interviews with students were conducted. Although there were a few lecturers and EAP tutors who were in favour of proscribing all proofreading, the broad consensus was that proofreading within certain limits should be permitted by UK universities. However, within each party, there was disagreement as to how far it was ethically acceptable for proofreading to go. Furthermore, there was little awareness among participants of their universities’ proofreading policies and it is evident that UK universities need to disseminate policies much more effectively, as argued by Conrad (2020). I end the presentation by discussing the implications of the findings, and how university policy makers could best respond. References Conrad, N.L. (2020) Proofreading revisited: interrogating assumptions about postsecondary student users of proofreading. Journal of English for Academic Purposes 46: 100871. Harwood, N. (2018). What do proofreaders of student writing do to a master’s essay? Differing interventions, worrying findings. Written Communication 35: 474-530. Harwood, N. (2019). ‘I have to hold myself back from getting into all that’: investigating ethical issues in the proofreading of student writing. Journal of Academic Ethics 17: 17-49. Harwood, N., Austin, L., & Macaulay, R. (2010). Ethics and integrity in proofreading: findings from an interview-based study. English for Specific Purposes 29: 54-67. Kruger, H. and Bevan-Dye, A. (2010) Guidelines for the editing of dissertations and theses: a survey of editors’ perceptions. South African Linguistics and Applied Language Studies 28: 153-169. Lines, L. (2016) Substantive editing as a form of plagiarism among postgraduate students in Australia. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 41: 368-383. McNally, D. & Kooyman, B. (2017) Drawing the line: views from academic staff and skills advisors on acceptable proofreading with low proficiency writers. Journal of Academic Language & Learning 11: A-145-158. Salter-Dvorak, H. (2019) Proofreading: How de facto language policies create social inequality for L2 master’s students in UK universities. Journal of English for Academic Purposes 39: 119-131. Turner, J. (2018) On Writtenness: The Cultural Politics of Academic Writing. London: Bloomsbury.

Speaker information

Professor Nigel Harwood, University of Sheffield. .

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