On (not) crossing the line

05 Jul

I had another learning experience last week. I offer a proofreading and copyediting service to students, but obviously I have to be really careful about authorship and plagiarism. Plagiarism is not just “copying”; it also encompasses “passing off someone else’s work as your own”. Now, I’m sure none of my clients would intend to do this. Usually, I’m tweaking spellings, word usage, the occasional sentence re-write – I do everything in “track changes” in Word so the client can see what I suggest and make their own decision about what to change and whether to change it or not. That means they retain their own authorship. People in the know with whom I’ve discussed it are fine with this approach and it just gently helps the meaning come through.

But just sometimes, there’s a piece of work where I feel uncomfortable with the amount I’m suggesting and working on. For “working on”, read “re-writing”. I did always wonder where the line was drawn; well, it turns out that with this one, I *should* go for gut reaction (unlike in my previous post, where I thought I couldn’t do the work, but it turned out I could). If my gut reaction says that I’m crossing the line where your work is concerned, I will – politely – turn it down and return your work to you without corrections. There are probably people who wouldn’t act like that, but I very firmly believe in doing what is right, above doing what is profitable. Work on which someone is given a grade should be their own work.

Of course, if you’re not a student and you want me to re-write your mangled metaphors, your tortured text, your slippery sentences, then bring it on!


Posted by on July 5, 2010 in Ethics, proofreading, Students, Writing


Tags: , , ,

14 responses to “On (not) crossing the line

  1. christine robins

    June 23, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Exactly, it’s different if you’re light editing a writer but not when it’s all meant to be an original work or dissertation. Well done.


    • Liz at Libro

      June 23, 2011 at 1:56 pm

      Thanks Christine – I appreciate you saying that!


  2. notjustlaura

    June 23, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    I think you’re completely correct to go with that gut instinct, Liz. Making money should not come before integrity. And being able to sleep at night.


    • Liz at Libro

      June 23, 2011 at 4:17 pm

      Thanks Laura – and my student clients do appreciate my concern to maintain their authorship – some of their references mention this!


  3. Tacitus

    July 30, 2013 at 9:41 am

    Late to this thread but an excellent post and I agree entirely. I’ve sometimes been asked to go over students work with a view to improving their presentation and like you I confine it to spelling, punctuation and so on, with the occasional suggestion for a sentence rewrite.

    Plagiarism can be a major problem, particularly with foreign students. One submission I received was obviously a copy of an essay, possibly in Mandarin, and run through Google translate with little obvious human intervention.

    Needless to say I turned it down. I suspect that this problem will only increase as Universities become more dependent on foreign students to pay the bills. Even the long established and prestigious ones (cough, cough) are unlikely to be immune.


    • Liz at Libro

      July 30, 2013 at 9:55 am

      Thank you for your interesting response to this post – and I’m glad you enjoyed the post, too. I have found some universities becoming more careful and asking me to sign a third-party editing declaration, which I personally welcome, and I used these guidelines to inform the more plagiarism-prone students who attempt to become my clients. It’s useful to be able to tell deliberate from accidental plagiarism, too – if I can’t tell from the text, I can tell from the student’s response!


  4. Tonya

    March 14, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    Awesome remark. Could not agree with you more.



    August 14, 2014 at 1:50 am

    This website was… how do you say it? Relevant!!
    Finally I have found something that helped me. Thanks!



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