Category Archives: Errors

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

text with tracked changesWhat do you do when you detect a risk of plagiarism in a student text and you need to give feedback to the student and possibly their supervisor? How do you stop a student feeling accused? How do you get confirmation from the supervisor that what you’re doing is acceptable by their institution?

In this post for editors working with student texts, I share the good practice I’ve developed over my ten years in operation when dealing with the two kinds of plagiarism I encounter in student work:

  • Plagiarism conducted directly by a student who does not reference or credit quotations, results and theories (therefore passing other people’s work off as their own)
  • Plagiarism that arises when you as the editor are doing far too many corrections and effectively risking co-writing the text (therefore risking the student passing your work off as their own)

I will write about these two risks of plagiarism in two further articles which I will link to here when they’re published. I’m publishing this one first to avoid leaving readers who are reading along dangling, as this article covers both types of plagiarism and is referenced at the ends of both articles as the end point of their processes.

What do I do if I encounter or risk enabling plagiarism?

Once I’ve realised a text is at risk of plagiarism (and in my experience, both kinds often come together in a text), I will follow these levels of action/escalation:

  1. Stop working on the text*
  2. Contact the student client immediately
    1. Explain what the problem is
    2. Offer solutions the client can use (go through the text, find where you’re missing references or need to show direct quotes/reference and insert those, etc.)
  3. The student client will get back to me with one of two answers
    1. “I will amend the text and send it back to you”. If that happens, great, and if they’ve done it correctly, I carry on working on the text
    2. “It’s OK, just rewrite the direct quotes”/”Just make the changes to my sentences, my tutor says it’s OK”. If that happens, I go to step 4
  4. It’s time to stop the work or ask for contact from the supervisor:
    1. If 3. i has occurred, I reiterate that the student must write direct quotes in their own words and I can’t do that for them. If an impasse is reached, I state I cannot work on the text any more and invoice the student client.**
    2. If 3. ii has occurred, I ask the student to provide me with evidence that their supervisor has approved the level of work I need to do on the text
      1. I send the student the text that I have amended so far, asking them to present that to their supervisor (I might in an extreme case save this as a PDF to prevent them accepting all changes and then just going and using someone else for the next part)
      2. I ask for either a letter from the tutor on headed paper OR a direct email from the supervisor instructing me to do this work. I leave this up to the student to do. This helps them not feel I’m reporting on them (as I say in Part 2, this is often down to stress, pressure or lack of understanding rather than explicit wrongdoing) and it saves me having to try to contact the supervisor myself.
  5. Depending on what I hear from the supervisor, conclude the work relationship or continue working:
    1. If I hear back from the supervisor in the negative, I stop work, invoice the client and keep the letter from the supervisor for a period of time
    2. If I hear back that I can continue, I continue with the work, present it to the client and save the tutor’s letter with the work files

* I have a statement in my terms and conditions that I will invoice for any work done before I detect plagiarism. I charge by the word, so I check the word count and invoice based on that.

** I will always suggest to the student that they contact their student support services, often attached to their department or library, who can give help with language issues and referencing procedures. I see my role as helping, not blaming or punishing the student for their mistake.

This article has outlined what I do to provide feedback to the student client and their supervisor when I encounter plagiarism in student work. My resources this website about plagiarism are listed below. Do comment if you use another good method or have used this one with success.

Related posts on this blog:

Student at risk of plagiarism 1: When the referencing is missing

Student at risk of plagiarism 2: When the editor is at risk of doing too much

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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Words I have looked up – conspectus

No one knows ALL the words, not editors, not professors of English, not writers. But I do pride myself on having a wide vocabulary, as befits an editor and wide reader with an honours degree in English language and literature.

As an aside, English vocabulary, with its pairs of words for so many things (bloom/flower, beef/cow, food/comestibles) makes learning other languages form the same broad family much easier. Learning Dutch, German or Icelandic? Reach for those Germanic terms to help find pairs of friends. Learning Spanish, as I am at the moment, and find Yo como means “I eat”? Aha – comestibles!

All this is working towards saying that I don’t hugely often encounter a word I don’t know, aside from technical terms I come across in texts I’m editing. When I meet on in my everyday reading, I’ve been noting it down, looking it up (of course) and then putting it aside to share.

On holiday recently, I was reading Alan Hollinghurst’s rather excellent “The Sparsholt Affair” (my review of it on my book review blog is here), which is a work of literary fiction about people studying and knowing about things, but is in the main clearly written without jargon, and I came across the following passage (the narrator is visiting the “facilities” at the back of an Oxford pub):

the foul-smelling gutter at the back, with its one light bulb and conspectus of venerable graffiti.

… and obviously the word I didn’t know there was “conspectus”.

So, what is a conspectus? Well, actually it’s an overview or summary of a topic, an overall view, an outline or a synopsis so I’m not sure that he had completely and exactly the right word here. What could he have meant? Palimpsest (layers of text, etc., overwritten again and again) seems a good bet. I’d have queried it were I his editor.

But anyway, I learned a new word and now maybe you have, too.

(Sources: OED Concise, Merriam-Webster online, Collins)

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Posted by on April 10, 2019 in Errors, Language use



How to customise your contents page in Word

It’s Word Tips time again and today we’re going to talk about customising your contents page.

Why do people customise their contents page?

Sometimes you have lots and lots of sub-headings in a document but you only want to show the main or main and sub-headings on the contents page, not every tiny sub-sub-heading.

In addition, you might want to change the style of your contents page or its individual font and layout. Here’s how to do it, with a worked example of changing the levels that are shown.

Reminder: how do I insert a contents page?

Here’s our document, with headings at H1, H2 and H3 level. I’ve marked these up with their heading levels already (see here for how to assign heading levels).

If we just follow the usual process for inserting a table of contents, we will create a blank page before this one, then go to the References tab and choose Table of Contents, then click on one of the automatic options that come up.

This is the result: a table of contents that includes all the headings in our original text:

How do I select which heading levels appear in my Table of Contents?

If you want to ignore all headings below level 2 (1.1, 1.2) then you need to customise the table of contents.

As before, select the References tab and the Table of Contents button. However, now click on Custom Table of Contents

This will give you this dialogue box:

There are lots of different things you can do here. For example, you can choose to show or not show the page numbers in the table of contents, and whether or not to align them. The preview panes at the top will show you the results before you click OK.

Options allows you to choose the style for the table of contents from a set of heading styles, and Modify then Modify again allows you to completely customise the appearance of the table of contents text permanently, with underlining, different fonts, etc.

At the moment, we’re concerned with eliminating the level 3 headings from the table of contents.Click on the arrows by Show levels to adjust how many levels are displayed:

And click OK. Here we have changed the number of levels to 2, and the result is this:

Even though the text still has the same headings and levels it had before, the table of contents now just includes those headings down to Level 2

This is part of my series on how to avoid time-consuming “short cuts” and use Word in the right way to maximise your time and improve the look of your documents. Find all the short cuts here … Please note that these tips are for Word 2010 and later for Microsoft. I can’t guarantee or check they will work in Mac versions of Word.

Do let me know if this has helped you – and do share with the buttons at the bottom of this article.

Related articles on this website

How to use headings styles – make your headings clear and consistent

How to set up numbered headings – ones that automatically update themselves!

How to create a Table of Contents – read the posts on Headings first

Table of Figures and Table of Tables – how to create these tricky ones

How do I add or remove auto-captions?

Two-line caption, one-line entry in the Table of Figures: how?

How to update Tables of Contents, Figures and Tables

Tables of Contents for editors – helping the editing process run smoothly


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Words I have looked up – deuteragonist

Even editors (especially editors, who need to know what they don’t know more than most people) need to look things up sometimes. It could be a spelling you can never remember or the way a word is hyphenated in x style guide. Sometimes you just come across a word you don’t know at all, and this happened to me while working on a literary article.

So, what is a deuteragonist in a plot or play?

We know what a protagonist is – the main, central character. And an antagonist is the one who is against them. But the deuteragonist is the second most important person in a narrative – second to the protagonist. This could be the antagonist, but is more likely to be a secondary character, a sidekick, a faithful friend.


Posted by on March 6, 2019 in Errors, Language use



Mandolin or Mandoline?

Thank you to my husband Matthew for suggesting this one (he’s quite the fount of troublesome pairs, so watch out for more of his ones as we go through this new set of them), after he discovered himself that these two are in fact two different things.

So what’s the difference between a mandolin and a mandoline?

A mandolin is a musical instrument which is like a lute, with pairs of metal strings that are played using a plectrum.

A mandoline (which can also be spelled mandolin, hooray!) is that vegetable slicer thing (a flat body with adjustable slicing blades) that always looks like it will take your finger off.

“She was playing the mandolin, being careful not to hurt her fingers on the metal strings, while he cut vegetables using the mandoline, bring careful not to slice his fingers on the metal blades.”

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


Posted by on February 20, 2019 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


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Constantly or consistently?

What’s the difference between constantly and consistently? Find out below …

Constant means remaining the same but its primary meaning is happening continuously, and it also has a metaphorical meaning of dependable and faithful. So to do something constantly means to do it all the time, as well as remaining constant or the same (and also doing it dependably).

Consistent means done in the same way over a long period of time, including an attribute of fairness and accuracy. It also means being compatible with (as in x was consistent with y). So doing something consistently means doing it in the same way over a long period of time, which does echo the secondary sense of constantly, but constantly also includes a sense of doing it continuously, which consistently doesn’t.

For example, I am constantly taking photos that I put up on social media, every day if not more; I consistently post a books of the year round-up on the first of January every year.

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


Posted by on January 9, 2019 in Errors, Language use, Troublesome pairs, Writing


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Instant or instantaneous?

What’s the difference between instant and instantaneous? Is there in fact a difference?

There are lots of pairs of words that mean the same thing, but one has a precise meaning and the other has a range of meanings. Now, if there are two words with subtly different meanings, I’m all for keeping both of them and retaining the richness of our wonderful language, etc. But when one just covers a subset of the other’s meanings, I’m not, to be honest, quite sure. At least here there seems to be a technical term lurking around which will keep the smaller (yet longer!) word going.

So, instantaneous, to cover the smaller meaning first, means being done or happening instantly. It does have a specific meaning in physics around being measured or existing at a particular time.

Instant means occurring immediately, as you would expect, as well as a precise moment in time or a very short time. It also means something that’s processed to allow it to be prepared quickly, in the case of food, mainly, Also, and I dimly remember this from when I learned to type in the Dark Ages, it means “of the current month” (your letter of the 16th instant) although surely no one uses that now?

Both of them come from the same original source, from Latin for “be at hand” (instare), but instantaneous came through medieval Latin, which added -aneus to the original instant (thank you, Oxford English Dictionary for that information). I would advise using instant unless you’re a physicist, just to save complication and make it easier to read.

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


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