Students

Paid editors improve your work

Top grade for a tenner


Is your English not up to scratch? Do you have difficulties structuring an essay? Professional editors are more than happy to help you. But is employing a proofreader a shortcut to academic success or a set-up for future failure?
By Candela Martínez / Illustration by Kalle Wolters

‘Hi Rosie, I have seen your post concerning proofreading and I was wondering if you still have the time to help out a student in need?’

‘Hey Rosie, I forgot to tell you, but I got an 8 for my assignment, which made me very happy!’

For ten euros an hour, Rosie Taekema will polish your essay or dissertation until it shines. The pre-master student of arts, policy and cultural entrepreneurship has a side gig as a proofreader, helping RUG students with their writing.

She’s not the only one: native English speakers offer their services on Facebook or on flyers pinned to faculty notice boards. Some are students, like Rosie, hoping to make an extra buck. Others are professionals. They promise academic success by ‘coaching’ students through their essay-writing process, which can range from correcting grammar and spelling mistakes to heavy editing of the content. All it takes to elevate your essay from average to excellent – or even have it written for you – is a quick internet search and an open wallet.

Students will contact me a day before their deadline and I’ll have to stay up all night

Taekema only focuses on the quality of the writing, so she keeps her fee low – though she may raise her prices ‘now that I have had so much positive feedback from people’. For Dan Rawle, who lives in Leiden but has customers at the RUG, the pricing depends on how many words he has to correct and when the deadline is. A thousand words delivered within a week is fifteen euros, but two thousand in a day is forty euros. ‘Students will contact me a day before their deadline and I’ll have to stay up all night, so then I charge more.’

Charlie Robinson-Jones, a linguistics master student and co-founder of editing company ThinkDippy, offers a proofreading service for 9.90 per thousand words. Copy editing costs 13.90 and ‘substantive editing’ goes for 17.90. The latter includes improving the paragraph construction, presentation, and checking for technical accuracy. His clients are mainly PhD students.

Students struggle with English

Unsurprisingly, students don’t go around telling everyone they use a proofreader. But they’re not ashamed of needing one, either. ‘It’s just a service, after all’, says one of Robinson-Jones’ PhD student customers.

A medical sciences student who wants to remain anonymous says that as an international who isn’t a native English speaker, ‘it’s of great benefit to me to reach out to someone that can correct my grammar. It means my research papers are of better quality.’

Not only did her grades go up, but she also improved her own writing skills. She tracks the changes that were made in her writing and learns from them. ‘You really notice the most common mistakes you make in your work, so you can avoid them in the future’, she explains.

As long as the ideas are yours, I don’t see a problem in seeking help with grammar

Proofreader Rawle agrees with her. ‘Students deserve a grade based on how much they’ve studied, not on their foreign language skills.’ He says international relations students reach out to him most frequently. ‘Mainly because there are so many internationals studying it, and because the workload requires never-ending written assignments.’

He doesn’t think it’s unfair for a student to pay someone to go over their assignment. Some strive for excellence, he says, ‘but others just don’t want to ask a friend to spend six hours checking your essay for free’.

‘As long as the ideas and the line of reasoning are yours, I don’t see a problem in seeking help with grammar or spelling mistakes’, the medical sciences student says. But to Paula González, media creation and innovation master student, it’s ‘clearly cheating’. She only improved her writing by applying herself and getting practice.

Excellence becomes a money matter

It’s not uncommon for students to pay for services that help them with their studies. For instance, student associations offer summaries of every course imaginable for the low, low price of yearly membership. Hiring someone to help prepare you for exams isn’t frowned upon. But all of this means that academic excellence becomes a money matter, says international relations professor Christoph Humrich. If you can afford it, the knowledge will come to you pre-chewed and ready to be spewed onto paper.

Humrich thinks that paying to have your work improved is fraud, but he also worries that students are selling themselves short. They no longer attempt to actually learn something or share their work with classmates for peer assessment so they can benefit from each other. ‘They won’t know if they’re able to deliver good papers on their own. And employers don’t want employees who can’t deliver quality written material’, he says.

Employers don’t want employees who can’t deliver quality written material

However, although it may be unethical, having your work checked by an editor is not technically illegal. And even if you were to hire someone to write your essay for you, chances are you’d get away with it. It’s not plagiarism, so it’s not easy to detect. Ephorus or other plagiarism tools won’t flag it.

Proofreading versus editing

So where is the line between proofreading an article and actually writing the content? The latter is a step too far for Robson-Jones of ThinkDippy. He does get requests to do that, but he declines those, he says. ‘We give comments, feedback, but we don’t change the content.’

Even proofreading or light editing requires some familiarity with the topic, though. What if you have to check an assignment on biomolecular chemistry and you have no idea of what an atom even is? ‘Then we do some background research and come to terms with the topic’, Robson-Jones says. Likewise, Taekema asks her customers for extra information and additional reading to better understand the context.

‘I’ve edited some crazy theses’, says Rawle. ‘My favourite was about witchcraft and wicca culture, it was insane.’ Another time, he edited an essay about archaeological findings. But he feels he doesn’t need to know the ins and outs of a specific discipline. ‘It’s not my duty to know the topic; my job is to fix the English.’

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