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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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Student at risk of plagiarism 1: What to do when the student hasn’t referenced their text correctly

text with tracked changesPlagiarism is the act of passing someone else’s work off as your own. There are two kinds of plagiarism in student work: one is plagiarism done directly by a student, where they fail to reference or credit a quotation or theory and are effectively using someone else’s work without credit. The second kind of plagiarism 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.

This article is written for editors who are working with student texts, whether that’s essays, dissertations, theses or articles for publication.

Let’s have a look at the levels of risk of plagiarism and an example of good practice when working with student materials when the editor is at risk of plagiarism from the level of work they’re doing on the text.

Often when working on student essays, dissertations and theses, I will come across a small example of a risk of plagiarism. This could include

  • A statement such as “researchers have found that” before an assertion, without a reference to who has found this information
  • A reference not being included after a quotation, where most of the quotations are referenced correctly
  • What is clearly a direct quotation which has not been placed in inverted commas, even if it’s got a reference after it, but this is an anomaly in an otherwise well-referenced document
  • What is clearly a direct quotation which has not been placed in inverted commas AND it hasn’t got a reference after it, but this is an anomaly in an otherwise well-referenced document

I count these as minor infringements and I will just mark these up with a comment asking the student to provide the reference, add inverted commas or rewrite the sentences in their own words.

I should mention 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 as much as that: if it happens, it’s usually about 1%.

Red flags in referencing

Unfortunately, I do come across student texts (and this is not limited to students: have encountered web text and even books lifted from other sources without reference) where the following occurs:

  • What is clearly a direct quotation which has not been placed in inverted commas, even if it’s got a reference after it, happening multiple times
  • What is clearly a direct quotation which has not been placed in inverted commas AND it hasn’t got a reference after it, and this is happening multiple times, even pages and pages worth of direct quotations from other sources
  • A section in a different colour or font where no attempt has been made to hide this has come from elsewhere
  • A section where the client has either added a comment or put it in a particular colour and asked me to rewrite what is clearly a direct quote from elsewhere (this is thankfully rare)

How do I tell when something’s a direct quote that the student hasn’t either referenced or written themselves?

  • The standard of English changes, sometimes subtly, sometimes very obviously
  • The type of English changes (US to UK, s to z spellings, and vice versa)
  • Referencing within that section is markedly different to that within the student’s own work
  • It’s in a different colour or font

How do I check if text is not written by the student?

Google is my friend here? I take a sentence, pop it in Google and see where it came from. My suspicion that it’s someone else’s text are usually correct.

Sending feedback to the student and their supervisor

I try to be kind here. The student may be under a lot of pressure, or may not have understood how to do referencing. I will guide them to ask their supervisor or any support they have in the department or their university library.

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 2: What do you do when the editor is at risk of changing too much?

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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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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What to do when you encounter plagiarism: business content

PlagiarismThis post is for editors who suspect that they might have encountered some deliberate or accidental plagiarism when dealing with content for their business clients, particularly in regard to websites and blog content. By sharing my tips and practices, I hope that I can gather a resource of best practices for other editors / proofreaders.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the act of passing someone else’s work off as your own. In the business world, this usually involves copying someone else’s content, word for word, without linking back to the original work or acknowledging that it has come from elsewhere.

I’ve noticed that I and colleagues are fairly often confronted with content to edit that has  been pulled wholesale from another (often rival) website, used word for word without attribution. That would be stolen. It’s found most often, in my experience, in business marketing content such as websites and blogs. Note that I have written about plagiarism in student work in another article.

Plagiarism in the business world

Why is plagiarism bad? Two reasons:

  1. If you steal someone else’s content, you are liable to be found out, either by a prospective client who is looking at several different websites in one business area, or by the originator of the content, who may be alerted by a search service such as Google Alerts or plagiarism-detecting software such as Copyscape (thanks Arlene Prunkel for the heads-up; she has blogged about her own experiences using this software).
  2. Using the exact same wording in two places alerts the search engines that something is amiss. It’s never clear exactly how the algorithms work, but you run the risk of your content not being indexed and found anyway.

Why is not flagging plagiarism bad for the editor?

  1. OK, we haven’t signed a Hippocratic Oath of Editing or anything, but it’s the job of a principled and decent editor not to allow plagiarism to happen – surely?
  2. Someone finds out that a site you’ve edited has plagiarised their content. You let it pass unmentioned. The plagiariser says, “Oh, my editor didn’t flag it up”, and the finger starts to point at you.

What form does business web content plagiarism take?

As with student plagiarism, business plagiarism can be deliberate or accidental – or a mixture of the two.

Deliberate plagiarism

I’ve edited web text where the style and content varies so much that it’s clear that it’s come from different sources. Sometimes the client is clear about this, “Oh, I picked it up from various places, it doesn’t matter, does it?” Yes, it does.

On other occasions, I’ve been given a link to a single blog post or article, or perhaps a web page, usually by necessity published by the client’s rival, and been asked to “rewrite this so it doesn’t look like we’ve used their words”. Not ethical.

Deliberate or accidental plagiarism

Sometimes it’s not clear whether a client realises that you’re not supposed to lift text wholesale from another place. So it’s important not to pour scorn or invoke human rights and laws, but to quietly educate.

Accidental plagiarism

Very often, a client or indeed other blogger won’t realise that reposting the whole of an article or web page, with a reference or link at the bottom, will prejudice the search engines against them and lead to their content not being indexed. Here, it’s useful to drop them a line to suggest that they only post a few lines of the original with a link to where it can be found in full. Link-backs all round and happily shared content!

What to do when you encounter plagiarism in business texts

I have a sliding scale of activities depending on the level of plagiarism and overtness about the plagiarism:

Here’s what I do to avoid my clients plagiarising on their websites and blogs:

  • If I find lots of reposted blog content which is referenced, I will have a quiet word about posting teasers and links instead.
  • If I suspect content has been lifted from elsewhere, I’ll pop a few sentences into Google and see if I can find the source. Then I’ll raise the issue with the client by marking the sections or just emailing them to ask if they had permission to quote the source. I’ll then suggest that they rewrite it (or have it rewritten) using a variety of sources.
  • If a client has quoted an industry leader or other person but not referenced where they got those quotes, and it’s clearly not from a direct conversation, I will advise them that they should quote their sources in a source list or footnote or link.
  • If I am asked to rewrite one blog post or web page to make it suitable for the client, I will go back to them and either offer to research the topic myself or ask for a list of suitable resources from which to research it (which can then be referenced in the text)

I will always explain why plagiarising is a bad idea and the effects it can have on their business, reputation and search engine results. Most clients understand the issues once they’re explained: any that ask me to continue helping them to plagiarise whatever will become ex-clients. I can’t risk being associated with this kind of activity, and I don’t wish to be implicated in any scandals, plus it’s against my ethics to promote or encourage plagiarism.

I’ve talked here about strategies for dealing with plagiarism in business texts. If you have any other practices you’d like to share, please do submit a comment below!

Related posts on this blog:

What to do when you encounter plagiarism: student work

Top 10 blogging sins

My terms and conditions

 
 

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What to do when you encounter plagiarism: student work

PlagiarismThis post is for editors who suspect that they might have come across deliberate or accidental plagiarism, or are concerned that they are doing “too much” and thus causing their client to unwittingly engage in plagiarism. By sharing how I approach this, and asking for comments, I hope I can gather together a resource of best practices for other editors / proofreaders.

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is, at its most basic, the act of passing someone else’s work off as your own. It usually involves copying someone else’s work, text, content, however you want to describe it, without pointing out that  you’ve copied it or referencing it back to the original work.

In my work, plagiarism is found most often in student work and business marketing content such as websites and blogs. This post is about student work, and I discuss business content in another post.

Plagiarism in academic work

Plagiarism is, unfortunately, rife in academic work. You can kind of understand it: students are under a lot of pressure, and overseas students in particular can have a lot of financial pressure from their funders to return home with a good degree and pick up a high-level job. With courses over-subscribed and A-levels often not preparing students for the rigours of academic work, the student may not understand that they are not supposed to use other people’s work unattributed, although universities do provide them with reams of paper and things to sign which are intended to explain and prevent plagiarism.

I tend to find two kinds of plagiarism, deliberate and accidental:

Deliberate plagiarism

I’ve come across some pretty shocking examples of deliberate plagiarism in my work. This includes sections marked in a different colour, with a note in the covering email: “Can you please rewrite the sections I’ve highlighted”. More heartrending are the examples where the author says to me, “My English is not good enough to rewrite the parts from other authors, please help me to rewrite them”. But I can’t.

Deliberate or accidental plagiarism

I often come across direct quotations used as if they are the author’s own words. Unfortunately, to the experienced editor, it becomes all-too-clear when a direct quotation is being used without being referenced. Here are some markers of the unattributed block of text that I’ve found:

  • The language changes subtly: more multi-syllable words, different kinds of linking words used
  • The standard of the English becomes markedly higher, with no corrections needed to be made (even if you miss these as you go along, the island of white in a sea of coloured corrections and highlights stands out as you look at the page)
  • The language changes from American to British English or vice versa (many students are inconsistent in their spellings, but a block of the opposite type of English is a real giveaway)
  • The font, size or colour of the text, or the indentation, line spacing or justification changes – a classic case of copy and paste

Sometimes you can give the student the benefit of the doubt here. Maybe they meant to rewrite and reference and forgot. Maybe they didn’t realise that they couldn’t use blocks of text like this. But it doesn’t mean that it can go unmarked.

Accidental plagiarism

I would count accidental plagiarism as a case where a student who has clearly rewritten ideas taken from other texts and referenced direct quotations and such ideas misses off a reference after a piece of text that is clearly from someone else. Of course, the cases above may be accidental, too, but they do still need to be addressed, as does the odd missed reference.

Plagiarism by the editor

There’s another form of plagiarism which the editor must resist themselves: rewriting so much of the text that it’s the editor who has in effect written the text, and not the student. I talk about how I avoid that below.

What to do when you encounter plagiarism in student work

It’s our duty as decent and principled editors to flag up plagiarism when we find it and help our student customers to realise how they should be referencing and when they’ve made a mistake. It is not our job to rewrite text or make so many corrections and suggestions that we have in effect written the essay ourselves. There are plenty of dodgy proofreading companies out there that will do that (and essay writing companies that will sell students ready-written essays), but as a decent editor, you should not be involved in those sorts of practices.

If you don’t flag up these problems, it is likely that the essay will be run through the university’s plagiarism software and that will flag them up to serious effect (many students know this, and that’s why they might ask us to rewrite sections for them). If you’re concerned about returning work to a student with plagiarism noted and discussed, remember that you’re saving them from possible penalties or even expulsion from their course if they continue to plagiarise and attempt to pass others’ work off as their own, even if you’re not concerned about helping people to obtain qualifications fraudulently.

Here’s what I do to avoid helping the student to commit plagiarism by passing off my own words as their own:

  • I always work with Track Changes turned on and instruct the student to check each change and accept or reject it themselves. Yes, I know they can press “Accept all changes”, but I send them instructions on how to work with Track Changes that don’t include this option.
  • I will delete, add and rearrange only if either the words are all correct but the order is incorrect, or the order is correct but the tenses are incorrect. You soon get a feel for the light touch needed to bring writing up to a clear output without rewriting.
  • If a sentence is obviously wrong in terms of content, I will insert a comment and advise the student to check the correctness of the content.
  • If a sentence is so garbled as to not make sense, I will insert a comment and ask the student to rewrite it.
  • If a sentence could mean one of two things, I will insert a comment to suggest the two opposite meanings and ask which they mean.
  • I am clear in my terms and conditions on this website and in my initial text to the student that this is how I operate.
  • When dealing with a bibliography, I will make small amendments to isolated errors in punctuation or order, usually up to about 10% of entries. If more than 10% of entries are not formatted according to the rules the student has sent me, or are completely chaotic, I stop editing the bibliography and insert a comment to remind the student that the bibliography is supposed to demonstrate their skill and knowledge, so they must work on it themselves.

Here’s what I do to stop the student plagiarising:

  • If I find the odd missed reference for a direct quotation, I will highlight the offending quotation and insert a comment reading “Reference required”.
  • If I find the odd obvious copy and paste which has not been referenced, I will highlight the offending sentences and insert a comment reading “Reference required”.
  • If I find an isolated substantial section which has clearly or even possibly been lifted from another source, I usually copy a few sentences and pop it in a Google search to see whether I can find the original. Then I will highlight the section and insert a comment along the lines of “This appears to come from another source without being referenced. Mark as a direct quotation and reference, or rewrite in your own words and reference”.
  • If I find several substantial sections like the above, I will stop editing and write to the student advising that much of the text has been lifted from other sources without being referenced, this is plagiarism and they need to address the issues.
  • If I find anything more than the odd missed reference to a direct quotation, I will mention the referencing issue in my covering email when returning the work, to ensure that the student is reminded to reference all direct and indirect quotations (thanks to Liam for his comment below reminding me that I do this).

What if the student says it’s OK to rewrite their work?

Sometimes when I return work to a student advising that it’s risking plagiarism to have me continue working on their text (usually because of the level of changes I’m having to make to the text rather than lifting work from other writers), they will come back to me to say that their supervisor / tutor says that it’s OK to do this amount of rewriting.

If they do this, I request that their tutor writes to me telling me it is OK to engage in this level of correction. I require this letter to be on headed paper, signed by the supervisor and scanned in and emailed to me. This hasn’t happened very often; when it has, I have contacted the supervisor to check, and continued with the work. I have saved the scanned letter alongside my copy of the student’s work in case of any comeback.

This article has outlined what I do when I encounter plagiarism in student work. I have resources on this website about plagiarism (listed below) which I am happy for you to reference if you need to (but not copy!). If you have other ways of overcoming this issue, please do submit a comment!

Related posts on this blog:

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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When should I say no?

Say noWhen you work for yourself, especially when you’re starting out, it’s all too easy to say “Yes, please!” to every job that comes your way. But it’s a good idea to start saying “No, thank you” early on – not to everything, but to certain kinds of job. What you say no to depends on where you are in your career and what your schedule’s looking like, but here are my top jobs to turn down …

Note, with all of these, it’s often OK to say “yes” to one of the kind of job, just to see. But you’ll probably find yourself saying no later on!

What to say no to early in your career

  • Working for free. Caveat. If someone asks you to work for free AND they are an influencer who is likely to recommend you on AND they agree to give you a reference AND you’ve got time to do it without turning down paid work, then go for it.
  • Doing something you feel uncomfortable about. It’s good to push yourself into new areas. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about content farms or writing essays for students, if you’re an editor (see this article for more on this kind of thing), or anything on the wrong side of your ethical line. Just because you’re just starting out and you’re a bit desperate for work doesn’t mean you should go against your own morals.
  • Doing something way outside your normal line of work. I think it’s a good idea to consolidate your reputation in one area and then branch out from there. By all means try something out, but if you don’t like doing it or it doesn’t fit, say no next time.
  • Working again with rude, pushy or unreliable clients. If someone’s rude to you on the first job you do for them, or they don’t pay when they say they will, it’s OK to say no next time. You are worth more than that, and a difficult client now will always be a difficult client. Demanding, fine; rude and pushy,  not fine. Don’t let your self-worth get undermined before you get started.

What to say no to at the mature stage of your business

  • Anything that will  overload you. If you find yourself saying, “Well, I could fit this in if I don’t sleep on Thursday night” or “Well, if person x doesn’t send me their chapter on time I could do this”, it’s probably time to say no and recommend someone else.
  • Small jobs that don’t look like they’ll turn into regular customers. Cruel but true – the smaller the job, the more noise to signal (admin to work) there will be. Pass the little ones on to your newer colleagues who need to build up their portfolio.
  • Discounts. You should be experienced enough to stand by your pricing. You will have discounts worked out for various sectors (I give them to students and individuals) but at this stage, you shouldn’t be in the business of buying work, and that’s what this is doing. If your prices are fair, don’t offer discounts except in exceptional circumstances.
  • Regular clients who don’t match your needs. Maybe they don’t pay well / on time or are difficult to deal with or have time scales that don’t match your own – sometimes it’s time to say goodbye and pass them on to another recommended practitioner.

What to say no to throughout your career

  • Any job with “danger” flags. To me, the main one here is “We’ve been through a lot of people and haven’t found the right partner yet” or “I’ve had problems with my previous editor / roofer / plumber”. By all means, check what the problem was. There are bad examples of every job out there, and you can be the one to fix the problem. However, if there’s an on-going pattern of problems, or they can’t be specific about what went wrong last time, my advice is to avoid.
  • Any job where you need to spend a lot of time learning a new system or skill UNLESS you really do have the time to do that and it’s going to be useful for lots of work in the future. I have had to turn down jobs that involve learning a new kind of translation software recently – I knew I had time to do the work, but not to learn the software. Best to tell the client up front!
  • Any job that goes against your moral code – however much of a dip or a bad patch you’re going through, however much it comes from a current client, if you feel uncomfortable doing it, don’t do it. (I had that situation a little while ago – I said no, I said why, they were fine with it and are still working with me.)
  • A client with unrealistic expectations. If someone expects me to write their book from their notes in a small space of time but call it (and charge for) proofreading services, or think you can transcribe 10 hours of tape in 12 hours, they are likely to be turned down. Setting and managing expectations is a whole nother post, of course …

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It’s great to say yes and it’s great to be busy – but it’s also vital to be able to say no and to be able to keep your busyness to a decent level. If you’re going through a dip in your mature business, go back to those early stage nos, and keep firm about them!

Oh, and although I do say no fairly regularly, I do almost always refer the prospect on to a recommended colleague who might have the time / capacity / skills to help them better. Which makes it a win-win-win – the client will come away with a great impression of you, your colleague will have a new prospect, and you will feel reassured that you’ve done the right thing and not left them without any support.

What do you say no to in your line of work? Have I missed any? What has been your experience of saying no to customers?

Related posts from Libro

Careers index

How do I decide who to work with?

What’s the best mix of customers?

How to make more money in your freelance business

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in Business, Copyediting, Ethics, Jobs, Organisation

 

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On (not) crossing the line

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!

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

 

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