Monthly Archives: July 2019

Student at risk of plagiarism 2: What do you do when the editor risks changing too much of the text?

text with tracked changesPlagiarism involves passing someone else’s work off as your own. There are two kinds of plagiarism: there’s plagiarism done by the student when they don’t reference or credit a quotation or theory and are therefore effectively using someone else’s work without credit (which I’ve written about here). The second kind of plagiarism, which we’re talking about here, is where an editor has done so much work on a student text that they’re almost a second author, and the student is then at risk of passing the editor’s work off as their own.

I have written this series of articles for editors who are working with documents produced by students: an essay, thesis, dissertation or article, for example.

Let’s have a look at the levels of change an editor might make when working with student materials and how to tell when the editor is at risk of plagiarism from the level of work they’re doing on the text.

Usually when working on student essays, dissertations and theses, I will come across issues with the language and writing:

  • Uses capitals and hyphens inconsistently
  • Uses British and American spellings (or British s and (Oxford) z spellings) inconsistently
  • Uses inverted commas for quotations and scare quotes inconsistently
  • Uses the wrong tenses
  • Uses the wrong agreements (he have, they has)
  • Includes typos (form/from)
  • Has a sentence structure which is confused BUT I can tell they understand what they’re writing about and have made a good attempt to write that in English (English is not the first language of most of my student clients)

There’s an accompanying issue with the reference list or bibliography, so a minor issue would be:

  • Some mistakes and inconsistencies in the bibliography, where I’m not changing more than about one in ten entries in a major way (turning book titles into italics, etc.) or one in five in a minor way (full stops after initials, making spacing of initials consistent)

In these cases I will (with Track Changes turned on, of course!) and make it all consistent and amend the tense, agreement, typo or sentence.

And, if I find

  • A theory or term which is not explained
  • A sentence which can be taken in one of two ways, and it’s not clear what it means
  • A sentence or paragraph which is jumbled or confused and I can’t make it out

I will leave the sentence and add a comment explaining that the term needs to be explained, what the ambiguous sentence could mean or that I can’t understand it and the student needs to rewrite it.

And if there’s

  • A reference that’s missing publisher or place, journal volume, etc. information

I will add a note that the student needs to check and add the relevant information

It’s probably worth mentioning here that I offer to re-check up to 10% of the total word count after rewrites; this feels fair to my student clients and I’ve never had anyone ask me to re-check anything like that amount of text.

But what if it’s more major changes and the resulting risk of plagiarism?

More major issues would include

  • Confused use of terms which clearly show a lack of understanding of the subject (this sounds nebulous but jumps out in real-life examples, none of which I can obviously show you!)
  • Garbled results which don’t make sense
  • Many sentences which aren’t at all clear or, if I can guess the meaning, would need a complete rewrite to make them at all clear – and I start having to do that
  • A completely chaotic bibliography with no attempt to make it consistent or match it to the style guide which needs work on almost every entry

If any (or all) of these are present in the text, and I’m making a lot of comments on the text, plus a lot of the changes in the above sections, I will get to a certain point (usually 1,000-2,000 words in), have a look at what I’ve done, and make a judgement as to whether I’m risking changing too much.

It’s all done in Tracked Changes so surely I’m not writing it for them!

Yes, we do everything in Tracked Changes as standard, and I have standard text which asks the client to examine all changes and decide if they accept or reject them. However, there is an “Accept All Changes” button and with the best editor will in the world, some students will just press that. How much of the work then is theirs?

What do I do if I find I’m doing too much on a text?

I want to highlight here that this is often not the student’s intentional fault. This applies to referencing, too, and it’s often to do with the learning they’ve received in their home country, the pressures of having to write in their non-first language, and pressures from home around getting this UK or US degree and bringing that knowledge home. But I believe we have a duty to help the student not plagiarise. In the case of referencing, this will get caught by software used by the universities such as TurnItIn. In the case of our work, it might not be so detectable, although a supervisor presented with perfect English by a student who struggles to write in English may be suspicious. We want to help our clients and make sure they don’t get accused of something they didn’t intend to do.

Sending feedback to the student and their supervisor

It’s at this point that my articles on the two kinds of plagiarism coincide. if you’re following along with this series in real time, I’ve already written about what to feed back to the student and their supervisor and how to do it, so as to avoid making you wait for the punchline by doing it the other way round.

So to find out my good practice in contacting students and their supervisors over the risk of plagiarism, please see this article.

Related posts on this blog:

Student at risk of plagiarism 1: What do you do when a text isn’t referenced properly?

Student at risk of plagiarism 3: Sending feedback to your student client and their supervisor

Plagiarism in business texts

On plagiarism

How to quote sources without plagiarising

Referencing for academic writing

Choosing a proofreader – student edition

My terms and conditions

Why has my proofreader not edited my bibliography?

On (not) crossing the line


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Small business chat update – Amelia Wilson

Small business chat update – Amelia Wilson

Hello again to the lovely Amelia Wilson of The Editing Shop who provides copyediting, translation review and localisation services. Amelia joined the interview series in November 2014,and had our first update in January 2016, January 2017 and February 2018. When I asked her then where she wanted to be in a year’s time, she replied “Personally, I’d like to invest in professional development in the areas that are taking my interest, and find ways to blend this into my business and my services and products. I love that deep learning about my own interests can be rewarding not only to me, in terms of growing my business, but also to my clients and the community I serve. It’s the biggest privilege of self-employment.” I loved this, and I was looking forward to finding out how Amelia has got on with this.

In a year’s time, hopefully I’ll have had the opportunity to dig deep, expand my knowledge, and find ways to reflect my growing skillset in my business.

Hello again, Amelia, and it’s lovely to have you back (the delay is entirely down to me!) Are you where you thought you’d be when you looked forward a year ago?

Yes and no! It’s been a really interesting year for me, I’ve had lots of opportunities to work alongside some brilliant people in hugely different industries to mine. I joined a small group based in California and took on the role of remote content manager for a team focused on technical consulting. I got to travel lots, met some incredible people, attended some fascinating conferences, felt very out my depth at some of them (!) and learned a lot about an industry that was never on my radar before.

To answer your question, I’ve definitely developed my interests and learned a whole lot which was my goal last year, but not in the areas I necessarily planned to!

What has changed and what has stayed the same?

It’s been a big change for me working as part of a group, and having colleagues again. I love the social aspect; freelancing can be a lonely business and I’ve met some lovely and very inspirational people that it was a privilege to work alongside. Some of my workload has diversified – I’ve taken on more of a managerial role, helping the team develop content, rather than just editing after the fact. My skills have grown as well as my confidence. What’s stayed the same is my own client work: I still provide editorial and localisation services to my regular clients, just from lots of different time zones!

What have you learned? What do you wish you’d known a year ago?

That even when you’re busy, you have to plan for your business growth. It’s a much repeated lesson, but (for me anyway) wisdom has to come from experience, and from failing and planning to do better because of it. Giving attention to your business, marketing, products, plans, etc. can be really hard when you’re distracted with new opportunities, clients, projects, and work. On a busy schedule, it’s difficult to find the time to devote to that type of planning, and without the urgency of financial stress (ever the strong motivator!) I definitely let it slip.

I don’t regret where I spent my time and the amazing opportunities I am able to pursue, but I do feel like I’ve invested a lot in a different type of work this year, and that I’ve fallen behind a little in focusing on what I really love about my own business. I’m getting back to basics: figuring out how to blend together all the things I’ve learned and enjoy and to design the business services, products, and lifestyle I want. That’s what it’s all about!

Any more hints and tips for people?

I’ve learned that it’s a really fine balance between being open to opportunity and willing to adapt, and knowing yourself, your business and your goals and being firm in their pursuit. If you can get that perfect balance, the ability to dive headfirst into the unknown, while anchored in your own truth and business vision, I think you’re well on your way to achieving anything. And I’d like to hear how you managed it! I’m still getting there.

And … where do you see yourself and your business in a(nother) year’s time?

I love being part of a team, so I’m hoping to continue working with the colleagues and friends I’ve made this year. It accelerates my learning, which I really enjoy. I’m hoping to put some of the skills I’ve gained to use within my own business, in ways I can’t put my finger on just yet! As my confidence has grown, I’ve learned to almost enjoy networking, so I’d like to join some UK-based groups and attend more conferences and business events.

Contact details

My website doesn’t exist anymore (yet another overhaul, trying to figure out want I want to achieve with it, because clients don’t come from there for me so it needs a solid reason for existing), but I am on Twitter at @editingshop and LinkedIn.

The last one was a bit of a shock: I constantly get enquiries via my website and use it to keep my SEO up and position myself as an expert, so I’d like to learn more about why people decide not to have websites in a considered way. Better update my links page, too! I love how Amelia struck out in this whole new direction: very brave and inspiring as it’s easy to sink into the comfort of the known!

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please see more small business chat, the index to all the interviewees, and information on how you can have your business featured. If you’re considering setting up a new business or have recently done so, why not take a look at my books, all available now, in print and e-book formats, from a variety of sources. 

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Posted by on July 6, 2019 in Business, Small Business Chat


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Prone or supine?

I have found these words being mixed up in all sorts of contexts, from instructions to posters, and in all sorts of texts. I’ve also needed to look up which is which when following exercise or yoga instructions! Do you know the difference between prone and supine and do you use them appropriately? Or are they in fact different in the end at all?

Here’s another in my series of Troublesome Pairs to help you (and remember: if you have one for me, check the index then do send it over!).

Prone and supine both mean lying flat. But which way up, that’s the question.

Prone means lying flat, especially face downwards (Oxford Dictionaries). Collins online goes straight to the face-down aspect. Merriam-Webster have it as lying prostrate (adjective) or flat, and a second definition of lying front-downwards. According to all three of them, prostrate means lying flat with the face downwards (you prostrate yourself in front of an emperor, an altar, etc., so that makes sense, and Merriam-Webster, which is bigger than my one-volume Oxford, adds the air of worship to its definition, while Collins adds it to a definition of “prostrating yourself”).

Supine is unequivocably defined as lying flat, face upwards.

So prone can mean lying flat OR lying flat, face downards, prostrate adds an air of worship or respect and supine only means lying flat, face upwards.

You can find more troublesome pairs here and the index to them all so far is here.


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