What Do Proofreaders of Student Writing Do to a Master's Essay? Differing Interventions, Worrying Findings

Nigel Harwood
<span title="2018-07-19">2018</span> <i title="SAGE Publications"> <a target="_blank" rel="noopener" href="https://fatcat.wiki/container/efx7c7wqlngnjojjtta4cevr2e" style="color: black;">Written Communication</a> </i> &nbsp;
There has been much interest recently in researching the changes editors, supervisors, and other language brokers make to the writing of L2 researchers who are attempting to publish in English. However, studies focused on the pre-submission proofreading of students' university essays are rarer. In this study of student proofreading, 14 UK university proofreaders all proofread the same authentic, low quality master's essay written by an L2 speaker of English to enable a comparison of
more &raquo; ... s. Proofreaders explained their interventions by means of a talk aloud while proofreading and at a post-proofreading interview. Quantitative and qualitative analysis of the data reveals evidence of widely differing practices and beliefs, with the number of interventions ranging from 113 to 472. Some proofreaders intervened at the level of content, making lengthy suggestions to improve the writer's essay structure and argumentation, while others were reluctant to do more than focus on the language. Disturbingly, some proofreaders introduced errors into the text while leaving the writer's errors uncorrected. I conclude that the results are cause for deep concern for universities striving to formulate ethical proofreading policies. English for academic purposes adopting an intentionally broad definition of proofreading-"third-party interventions (entailing written alteration) on assessed work in progress" (p.166)-rather than a more traditional, narrower definition of proofreading (e.g., by the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (2005:4): "a process of identifying typographical, linguistic...or positional errors or omissions"), since Harwood et al.'s studies show that some proofreaders of student writing exceed the narrower remit (e.g., by commenting on argumentation). The decisions proofreaders must make about these and other potential areas of intervention are not helped by the lack of proofreading guidelines at many universities-or, where guidelines do exist, their vagueness or inconsistency as to what is permitted (Baxter 2010; Burrough-Boenisch 2014; Harwood et al. 2009; Kruger & Bevan-Dye 2010). While there has been much interest recently in researching proofreading in the context of English for publication (e.g. focusing on the proofreading of student essay writing are thinner on the ground. To set the scene for my study, I thus review four studies on the proofreading of student writing. Studies of proofreaders and proofreading of student writing A study by Lines (2016) is especially interesting given Lines' status as a former proofreader who ran her own editing company for six years and mostly worked with Australian postgraduate theses. She describes how she was frequently asked to perform inappropriate proofreading. For instance, "on many occasions" a student
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