Posts tagged academic proofreading
Shit, tits and bastards

abstract
adj.
Dealing with ideas rather than events.
v.
Extract (something).
n.
A summary.

Last month, the NHS published an explainer about its adoption of simple – some might say childish – words to describe bodily functions. Pee, poo and sick now take the place of urine, faeces or stool and vomit in their web copy, in what some will argue is a race to the bottom (formerly rectum) in medical vernacular. It’s tempting to agree with them: hospitals are serious places, doctors are scientists and we shouldn’t trivialise illness or infantilise patients.

But this shift in language wasn’t taken lightly. Content designers reviewed common search terminology and survey data and weighed it against the comparatively small number of complaints they’ve received for similar changes in the past. Ultimately, the need to communicate clearly and effectively with as many people as possible (including those with learning difficulties and non-native speakers) won the day. Indeed, the squeamishness, pedantry and pomposity of the few shouldn’t be a barrier to anyone’s health and well-being.

Also, it turns out that doctors actually aren’t scientists, they’re jazz musicians – or so says the British Medical Journal. In any case, they’ll definitely treat you for Whiplash.


Another British institution became more inclusive this week, with a raft of updates to the Oxford English Dictionary. Heavily featured in the 650-word entry instalment are a range of Scottish words and phrases and gender-related terms that will be unfamiliar to many or most English speakers.

Among the Scottish entries (a lot of which just happen to be insults), highlights include:

  • roaster (n.) an obnoxious, annoying, or otherwise objectionable person; an idiot

  • sprag (n.) a person with an arrogant, swaggering manner; a boaster, a braggart

  • tube (n.) also in form choob a stupid or contemptible person; an idiot. Frequently as a disparaging form of address

Gender-neutral, gender inclusive and ungendered terms have been added, most notably the pronouns hir and zir, alongside Latin@, a term adopted by the Latin American trans community as an alternative to Latina, Latino, and Latinx. Where the latter refers to the community without referring to gender, Latin@ encapsulates those who identify as third gender, genderless and a combination of genders. Laypeople (and all of peoplekind, also added) may want/need to read more.

Less confusingly, the concept of misgendering (i.e. to mistake or misstate a person’s gender, or to refer to someone using language that ascribes a gender to which they don’t identify – often maliciously) has officially entered the lexicon.

Perhaps less pleasing is the knowledge that the first known use of the term comes courtesy of Vladimir Nabokov back in 1959 – an author whose prejudice against female writers was both well-known and self-declared. The inclusion of the Scots term tittie, meaning “a young woman, a girl, a lass”, will likely provide little consolation.


Finally, Damian Hinds, the government’s education secretary, has called on students to report users of so-called essay mills to their institutions’ academic malpractice boards. He also suggested universities should ask students to sign “honour codes” declaring that they will not cheat in their assignments and examinations.

Students who use essay-writing services pay enormous sums of money to unscrupulous companies who will write bespoke essays for them, evading plagiarism-detection software because the material, while authored by a third party, is ostensibly original.

As an academic proofreader, this issue is of great concern. Sometimes people mistake third-party proofreading for cheating (when in fact most universities now explicitly permit it), believing such assistance to be a nefarious attempt to get ahead of the curve. The reality is very different, however, and academic proofreaders are bound by institutional regulations that stipulate the type, level and frequency of intervention permitted.

Essay mills should be banned (as they are in many countries) and more should be done to prevent those operating outside of UK jurisdiction. Users of such services should be punished, but encouraging students to inform on one another like a particularly boring Stasi could further stigmatise the use of academic proofreaders, whose clients often speak English as an additional language or have language-based learning difficulties.

Calls for pledges are similarly tone deaf: students are already bound by terms that forbid all forms of plagiarism, and are warned against them regularly throughout their academic careers. The education secretary’s concerns are legitimate, but his response unfairly vilifies students – most of whom are of course honest and hardworking.

5 thesis hacks from an academic proofreader

It’s no surprise that I recommend students preparing to submit a major piece of written work use a proofreading service. You might be putting together your longest and most complex piece of writing yet, and the stakes are likely high.

That said, hiring a proofreader can be prohibitively expensive and, as with so much else in life, you tend to get what you pay for. As a result, many candidates turn to friends and family for a last read-through before submission. That’s a great idea! But there’s a lot you can do for yourself at every stage of the drafting process, long before you enlist your nearest and dearest.

Here’s five tips to help improve your writing, sharpen your style and (gently) manage your loved ones as they check your final draft:

Watch your tone

Do assume we know the basics, and briefly summarise anything else. Don’t be afraid to tell us when an opinion is personal – consider this your written permission to do so in the first person. Remember: you can write in academic register without being elitist, just like you can write with clarity without dumbing down.

Read academic writing

Your lit review isn’t just a way to demonstrate knowledge of your subject; it’s an opportunity to see how published professionals in your field communicate their ideas. This doesn’t mean copying a particular author’s style; rather, it means recognising what is and isn’t effective about a given text. Like an article? Write down five reasons why, then use the list to influence your own work.

Consistency = clarity

A typical thesis features aims, objectives and research questions that are restated throughout the document. If you know a section of text is going to be repeated, keep it in a separate file. Make any changes to this ‘master’ version and paste it wherever you need at the end of the drafting stage. You can even store multiple items on Word’s clipboard, so the latest versions are always at your fingertips.

Heads up

Headings and subheadings help you to organise your thoughts, structure your argument and make the workload more manageable. Microsoft Word users should set aside some time to learn how to use Word Styles – these can help with presentation, but they’ll also help readers navigate your work. Use them properly and you’ll be able to auto-compile a table of contents, and even lists of figures, tables and other visuals. Best of all, these lists are interactive, meaning readers can use them to navigate your thesis with one click – even when you convert the file to PDF.

Use a (bunch of) proofreader(s)

Good writing isn’t done in a vacuum, so be prepared to share. Full-time proofreaders scan texts looking for one or two issues at a time, so take a look at this checklist and assign the items on it to different family members. Oh, and change the font for anyone doubling up: it tricks the brain into thinking you’re reading something new – reinvigorating that all-important hawk-eye.