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Essay mills are to become illegal in the UK

The BBC has reported that “essay mills”, where companies sell pre-written complete essays to students, are to be outlawed as part of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill. I welcome this, and hope it will drive this practice away from higher education. However, this does need to be accompanied by better essay-writing and pastoral care support for students, who are often tempted to cheat, not out of laziness, but because of high social and academic pressures.

What is an essay mill?

An essay mill is a company that exists to make money from providing pre-written essays and even dissertations on topics which students purchase and try to pass of as their own.

In my (of course entirely legitimate and very careful) dealings with student clients, I come across so many examples of organisations who prey on them and abuse them while extracting money from them. More times than I can count, a student has come to me having already had their essay “edited”, which has, at best, involved running a simple spell check over it. Particularly for students whose English is an additional language to the one or more languages they are already fluent in, this can be woefully insufficient for them. They pay money, often a lot of it, and are left with something not fit for purpose that needs re-editing. When I worked on a university campus, I would see stickers on lamp-posts offering editing or proofreading services for students, or, indeed, advertising essay mills.

Why are students tempted to use essay mills?

I firmly believe this is not all out of laziness and trying to buy your way through university. Of course, some examples may be that, but in my decade and more of dealing with students, especially overseas students who are not fluent writers in English, I have seen the huge pressure to perform that can sometimes overwhelm. Overseas students in particular pay huge fees to attend British universities, even higher than national students, and this money has been paid by families or sponsors. I am not sure that English language support is even across institutes of higher education and I have come across many students who clearly understand their topic but lack the skills to present it in English that is deemed acceptable by their authorities.

I need to emphasise here that I have huge respect for anyone pursuing higher education in their second, third, fourth, whatever language. My French is decent and my Spanish is getting there, my Icelandic can raise a wan smile and I can speak Italian only when in Italy: I would not wish to write a university-level essay in any of these languages. Also, it’s not only overseas students who use essay mills.

So you’re pressured to make good use of the money that’s been spent on you, you know your English skills are not brilliant, and you see an ad where you can buy an essay. What are you going to do?

What happens if a student submits an essay they’ve bought from an essay mill?

Universities and colleges are of course wise to the use of essay mills and the purchase of pre-written essays. Of course these essays aren’t individually written for each student, so they will crop up regularly. Plagiarism software will pick them up easily, and the tutor may also realise that the language used is very different from the student’s usual level of English.

I would hope that the university would offer support in English language skills and essay writing rather than simply censuring the student. I hope there’s more understanding for the people they have brought over and charged highly for this British education.

Dealing with plagiarism carefully

Of course this is all about plagiarism: passing someone else’s work off as your own. Legitimate and careful editors/proofreaders who work with students, like me, are very careful about plagiarism. I have a line I won’t cross in terms of how many corrections and suggestions I’ll make to a student’s work, and I have turned down work several times where it’s clear that too much help is needed from me, and advised the student to approach their tutor for support. I have some resources about plagiarism below.

If you’re a student looking for help and support with essays, I suggest you do the following:

  • Ask your tutor or the library support staff if there are any courses or classes available
  • If you need a proofreader for your essays, ask your tutor or classmates if they can recommend someone
  • If you need to find a proofreader for your essays or dissertation yourself, look for a service provider who has a statement about plagiarism and terms and conditions on their website. Ask them how they do the work, and check that they leave Tracked Changes turned on so you can see and assess their changes and decide yourself if you want to accept them.

This article was triggered by the announcement that essay farms are going to be made illegal in the UK. I have explained what they are and why students might used them, pleaded for understanding and discussed how else students can find support, with a mention of how they might choose that support. There are some resources below on plagiarism which you might also find useful.

Other resources on this website

For students

Choosing a proofreader – student edition

My terms and conditions

Why has my proofreader not edited my bibliography?

Referencing – how to keep track and how to refer to your reference materials

How to quote sources without plagiarising – rewording and quoting appropriately

Essay tips for new students – handy for undergraduates

Top tips for dissertations and theses – from people who’ve been there

Top tips for writing up your PhD

Appropriate language in academic writing

For editors

On (not) crossing the line

Plagiarism – what it is and how a proofreader should work with student material (and my terms and conditions)

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

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2021 in Copyediting, Ethics, proofreading, Students, Writing

 

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A lovely review for my book on starting a business!

Business books by Liz BroomfieldI get quite a few enquiries via email and my contact form asking for advice about becoming a proofreader, editor or transcriber. Often, the person hasn’t looked at the information available on this blog and I direct them to a few starter posts. However, when Katie Baker, newly setting up a proofreading and transcription business, got in touch with me, she had already had a look through this website and picked up a lot of information she needed, and she had some specific questions she wanted to ask that I really didn’t mind answering at all. I also sent her an e-book copy of my first business book “How I Survived my First Year of Self-Employment“, something else I’m happy to do, as helping someone directly means so much more to me than getting an extra book sale.

Katie has very kindly posted a review of my book on her own blog. I don’t think people always realise how important reviews are to, especially independent, authors – in this case, Katie found she was unable to post the review on Amazon as I’d sent her the copy and it only wanted validated Amazon purchases to be reviewed, so she did this instead, for which I’m equally grateful. Reviews from peers and colleagues are always hugely welcome and appreciated.

As somebody in the early days of my business, I found Liz’s guide to be genuinely useful, insightful, and above all, enjoyable to read.

Read Katie’s full review here.

And details of all of my books and where you can find them are here.

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2020 in Business, Ebooks, Writing

 

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Using a transcription app rather than a human transcriber – advantages and disadvantages

Have you considered using an app to transcribe interview tapes or dictations, rather than doing it yourself or hiring a transcriber? Today I have a guest post from my friend Mary Ellen about her experience using a transcription app. When she told me about how she’d used one to transcribe the interviews she conducted for a magazine article, I was very interested and asked her to write me something about how it all went.

I’m not saying don’t use apps – but if you have the funds and you want an accurate and quick transcription, it’s worth learning from what she found out.


Recently, I was commissioned to write an article about visually impaired runners. Being inexperienced, I blithely accepted the challenge to interview five runners without realising the effort that is needed in getting all of their interesting stories into text.

Aware of the fact that there are people who transcribe interviews for a living (like my lovely friend Liz), the fact was that my fee was a free copy of the periodical and so the budget did not cover the expense of paying a transcriber. The instructor for the writing course I was taking recommended the transcription app Otter so I put it on iPad and used it while interviewing.

It had occurred to me to transcribe it myself, but as I was also working full-time as a teacher time was at a premium. So, with a deadline looming, I cracked on with the interviews which I loved doing. However, after each one I was soon to realise that the app was not ideal for getting their words into print accurately. Oh the errors! The software, to be fair was able to differentiate between the person I was interviewing and me. Aside from this, the text it transcribed was disjointed and while some words fit, most of the sentences made little sense. After each interview, 
I had to correct the errors in the transcription.

Luckily I had written notes so I knew roughly the quotes I wanted and could then listen to the sections I wanted to quote from. However, this was labour-intensive as I then had to hand write the correct words and then re-type the corrected quotes. Worse still, I was writing the article on the iPad I had recorded the interviews on and so had to hand write the correct words before I typed them. This was frustrating, since I knew if the app had transcribed the words correctly this was a step I could have avoided.

So my first adventure in interviewing for an article was great since I loved talking to interesting runners but really, I could have done without having to retype the faulty automatic transcriptions. It makes me tired just thinking about it now. I am determined to continue pitching ideas to periodicals and hopefully get a paid assignment soon. I would definitely pay for a transcription by a trained professional for an article I was being paid for since it would make better business sense. Not only would it save me time, it would also allow me to take on more work, since I wouldn’t have to spend precious hours transcribing. Given that it took me about about an hour and a half per interview to type out my quotes, that is about 7 and a half hours.

In the end, I think the transcribing app, though free, was a false economy that made the article much more labour-intensive than it had to be. Live and learn!

Mary Ellen Flynn writes about special educational needs and disabilities and running. You can find her at @mareflynn on Twitter.

Other relevant articles on this website

Why you need to be human to produce a good transcription

How to get into transcribing as a job

The technology transcribers use

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2020 in Skillset, Transcription

 

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A real-life example of beta reading #amwriting @edprice7 @steev8

I often encourage the writers I work with, especially those who are publishing independently, to get a beta reader or two to read their text before they get it edited, so they have a reader’s point of view and can make the necessary changes before going through the first or maybe a subsequent stage of editing. You can read my article about beta readers here. But what is is like to be a beta reader?

I came across this article by Ed Price through the writer Steve Chilton mentioning it in a reading runners’ group I’m in. I don’t often share articles on here but this one explains exactly what it’s like to be someone’s beta reader and is hugely valuable for that. Here’s just the start of it all – Ed goes into lots of fascinating detail which will be useful for any writer or person who has asked to be their beta reader, I’m sure …

Steve asked me to be his ‘critical friend’ after he had finished the first draft of the manuscript. While I have a good deal of experience putting coursebooks together, I’d never before been involved in the editing process of a biography. So what could I bring to the role of critical friend?

Speaking to Steve, it was clear that he wanted a sounding board: someone to read the manuscript and see what worked; what might need more clarification, and whether there were any areas that could be tidied up or even cut. Having spent months buried in research and drafts and edits, it made sense that a ‘friendly’ pair of eyes with a certain degree of critical acumen could be beneficial to him. The longer you spend in researching and writing, the harder it can become to see the wood for the trees; to read a text the way a paying customer would.

Read the whole article here (shared with Ed’s permission).

Other useful articles on this blog

The different kinds of editing and proofreading

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2020 in Reading, Writing

 

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What are the stages involved in writing my book?

a hand writing in a bookWhat are the stages involved in writing a book? Where do editing, proofreading and beta reading fit in?

Authors often get confused about the different stages and people involved in getting a book published. It’s not as simple as “Write a book – get it published!” but nor should it be so complicated that only the professionals understand it.

I work with a lot of people who are indie-publishing or self-publishing their book, however these stages will be roughly the same whether you’re publishing in the traditional route with a publisher, or going it alone. When the publisher gets involved can also vary.

What are the processes my book needs to go through?

Here are the basic stages for your book.

  1. Plan
  2. First draft
  3. Second draft
  4. Beta readers
  5. Third draft
  6. Edit (usually in Word)
  7. Fourth draft and preparation for publishing (layout artist, cover art, blurb)
  8. Proofread (usually in PDF or another file format from which the book will actually be produced)
  9. Publish

Note: You might have a substantive edit before or just after the beta readers; if you have one after that stage, it’s an idea to add another beta read in afterwards, which would give you this:

  1. Plan
  2. First draft
  3. Second draft
  4. Beta readers
  5. Third draft
  6. Substantive edit (usually in Word)
  7. Fourth draft
  8. More beta readers or the same ones again
  9. Fifth draft
  10. Edit (usually in Word)
  11. Sixth draft and preparation for publishing (layout artist, cover art, blurb)
  12. Proofread (usually in PDF or another file format from which the book will actually be produced)
  13. Publish

One last point: it’s better to have your edit and proofread done by different people: just as it’s hard to edit your own work, it’s hard not to miss things if you’re proofreading something you edited. See the link below for how to handle the style sheet you will need.

Other useful articles

The different kinds of editing and proofreading (it’s biased towards fiction but also works for non-fiction):

All about beta readers and what to ask them

Style sheets to pass from editor to proofreader

How to request a quotation from an editor

Negotiating and booking in your project

I hope you’ve found this very quick guide to the process of editing and proofreading useful. If you have, please share this article using the buttons below, or leave me a comment. Thank you!
 
 

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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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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

 

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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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What is the process once I’ve accepted your quotation?

We’ve looked in previous posts about the process of requesting a quotation from an editor in Working with an editor 1: requesting a quotation and going through the negotiation process in Working with an editor 2: negotiating and booking in. Now it’s time to look at the last part of the process – what happens once the job is confirmed and live.

All the details should have been covered off now …

  • We have agreed the price per 1,000 words or project price.
  • We have agreed the turnaround and/or deadline (if you don’t have the full project ready, I will give you a turnaround quotation, so I will complete the work within 14 days of receipt, etc. We have usually agreed a vague delivery date if not a fixed one by now.
  • If you wanted a sample edit done, I’ve done that and you’ve agreed that’s how you want to work.
  • You’ve read and accepted my terms and conditions.

What happens next?

1. You let me know about when you’ll have the full text ready for me and I’ll book you a slot. There are no obligations even then, although I do hope you will let me know if there’s any delay or you need to cancel. Lots of people have difficulty with their time scales, whether students, independent writers or journalists, so I understand and be flexible up to a point.

3. When it’s time, send me your manuscript and have a rest from it while I work on it (but be around in case I need to ask any questions).

4. I will do your edit and return the text and a style sheet detailing decisions I’ve made on anything that has different options (e.g. hyphenation, capitalisation, etc.) (see more on style sheets: What is a style sheet?)

5. You will confirm receipt and look through my changes, address those and any comments I’ve given. If you have questions or rewrites, I accept one batch of queries and 10% of the total word count in rewrites as part of the service with no additional charge.

6. I will send you my invoice and you will pay it within 30 days.

And that’s it! It all looks simple but I’m aware that if you’ve not used an editor before, this is an unknown process, and I hope I’ve made it easier for you.

Other useful articles on this website

Working with an editor 1: How do I request a quote?

Working with an editor 2: negotiating and booking in

Do I need editing or proofreading?

Working with Tracked Changes

What is a style sheet?

On completion of your edit, will my manuscript be ready for publication?

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2019 in Copyediting

 

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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.

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

 

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