The issue of proofreading is often discussed on various discussion lists. As far as I am concerned, proofreading is the reading of early drafts of a piece of work to correct errors. The extent to which EAP teachers and learning developers should be involved in the proofreading of student work is controversial: see, for example, Turner (2010); Harwood, Austin, & Macauley  (2010).

I do not, though, think that as EAP or ESP teachers or lecturers or learning developers we should be involved in proofreading.

I think this is also true for teachers of academic development and  study or academic skills etc. In addition, I do not think students should be encouraged to use professional proofreading services. I am not saying that dissertation or thesis supervisors should not proofread their students’ work; that is their decision. I’m not talking about journal editors or commercial publishers. I’m talking about EAP or ESP teachers in their role as ESP or EAP teachers or learning developers in their role of developing learners.

There are several reasons why I do not think we should be involved with proofreading:

1. It is probably dishonest. Students usually have to sign a declaration that the work they are submitting is their own. If the work has been proofread by another person or organisation, then it is not the student’s own work that is being submitted.

2. It is of no educational value. Our job as EAP or ESP teachers is to develop our students’ competence in the language and related practices. The purpose of learning development is to develop learners. If we simply correct their work, or involve other people in correcting their work, then they will not develop this competence. I’m not saying that we should not sit down with students and discuss their work with them, or that we should not use class time for students to discuss their work with each other. This has some educational value. Simply correcting the students’ work does not have any.

3. It does not encourage students to write accurately themselves. Writing well is difficult to develop and needs hard work and time. In order to develop their writing, students need to learn to proofread and edit their own work. If we do it for them, they will not develop this competence and will be worse off for not having developed it.

I supervised an MA student recently. When she sent me the first draft of her dissertation, I noticed that it was very poorly written, When I mentioned to her that she needed to improve it, she said it was not important as she was going to have it professionally proofread. Not the right attitude, I thought.

4. It prevents development of transferable and generic skills that all students need and are particularly important for employment (see, for example, CBI (2011)). All universities have these general aims and objectives, and all courses need to include them in their own aims and objectives. This may have a negative impact on the perceptions that employers have of institutions and therefore it may destroy an employer’s confidence in the quality of the qualification.

5. Commercial proof-reading services often claim that they will make the student sound like a native-speaker. This is not appropriate in 2015.

Therefore, as ESP or EAP teachers, we should not be involved in proofreading.


Confederation of British Industry (CBI). (2011). Building for growth: business priorities for education and skills – Education and skills survey 2011. London: CBI.

Harwood, N., Austin, L. & Macauley, R. (2010). Ethics and integrity in proofreading: Findings from an interview-based study. English for Specific Purposes, 29, 54-67.

Turner, J. (2010). Supporting academic literacy: Issues of proofreading and language proficiency. In G. Blue (Ed.), Developing academic literacy (pp. 39-51). Oxford: Peter Lang.

1 thought on “ Proofreading

  1. Thank you Andy for clarifying a moral and professional (same?) dilemma. I have in the distant past proof-read for money, though never students of an institution where I am teaching. I found that sometimes the student wanted something that went further than tidying up and polishing English language. I have been handed source material with the intention that I should paraphrase it. This raises the question of whether the foreign student could even understand their reading and that this kind of help from a native speaker, whether a teacher or not, is helping them obtain a grade or qualification that they might not otherwise have achieved. This is, I believe, illegal and comes under ‘using a false instrument’ which is an aspect of law against fraud.

    I am currently reviewing course work that I consider to have been helped along by the intervention of native speaker friends of students, and there is a serious debate as to whether this EAP work, which is credited, should be reported and dealt with under the full weight of examination regulations.

    One of these cases may have been purchased, and while investigating this we found that proof-readers were advertising on the local iPhone tech which enables people to locate each other in a certain area i.e. around the university.

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