Guidance on proofreading of written submissions for assessment

Updated on 24 August 2021

A framework for students, academic staff, academic support staff, and proofreaders for acceptable practice regarding proofreading of written work by students for summative assessments including dissertations and doctoral theses.

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This document sets out guidance for students, academic staff, academic support staff, and proofreaders on acceptable practice regarding proofreading of written work by students for summative assessments including dissertations and doctoral theses.

The University recognises that whilst it is important for our students to develop their skills to proofread and edit their own work, students may also wish to seek additional input from a proofreader to provide technical advice on spelling, language and grammar prior to submission of the final draft for the summative assessment.

In the context of this guidance, it is important to set out the distinction between proofreading and formative feedback. Proofreading is a process that identifies recommendations for technical corrections to the text (e.g. on spelling, grammar, language, and consistency) of the final version of a piece of work that is to be submitted for summative assessment. It may be carried out by the student themselves, a peer (another student or colleague), a friend, a family member or a professional proofreader. Formative feedback (which may also include advice on spelling, grammar, referencing, clarity, and structure as well as feedback on the content) is carried out by academic staff and/or academic support staff and requires active engagement by the student in developing the work further for the summative assessment.

A student’s work must represent their own effort and understanding of the topic being assessed. It is not acceptable for proofreaders to make material changes, such as rewriting passages or correcting incorrect statements or formulae, to the student’s work.

Reasonable adjustments will be provided for disabled students where these have been identified as part of a needs assessment undertaken by Disability Services and approved by the Director of Academic and Corporate Governance. This may include the use of a proofreader who can identify and correct disability-related errors in spelling, punctuation, typing and grammar. In such cases, the proofreader may annotate the student’s work using the 'track changes' and/or 'comments' facility within Word.

Students may wish to use assistive technology that is available on the University’s network or is freely available to download to support independent proofreading. Assistive technologies for proofreading are available as part of the University’s suite of software.

Acceptable use of proofreading services

Proofreaders may check written work for errors in the text and make suggestions for corrections. They may not edit a student’s writing or suggest changes to formulae, ideas, discussion, or structure. Where proofreaders are annotating a Word document the 'comments' facility should be used rather than tracking changes. The only exception to this is described above.

Specifically, proofreaders may:

  • identify spelling, punctuation, typographical and grammatical errors
  • identify formatting errors and inconsistencies
  • identify areas of text that are poorly structured so that the meaning is unclear
  • identify minor formatting errors, such as inconsistencies or order, in the referencing
  • identify errors in the labelling of figures, diagrams, graphs or charts

Specifically, proof-readers may not:

  • rewrite content where the meaning is unclear or ambiguous
  • correct facts, calculations, equations, coding, formulae, figures, graphs and charts
  • make additions to the content or remove content
  • rearrange text or paragraphs to improve coherence
  • make changes to ideas or discussions
  • change the content to align with a word limit
  • alter a referencing system
  • relabel figures, diagrams, graphs or charts
  • make stylistic corrections
  • reformat the work
  • translate any part of the text

Students have overall responsibility for the quality of their submitted work and it is up to them to decide on whether to take a proofreader’s advice. The use of a proofreader cannot be used as a mitigation for any deficiencies in the quality of the final submission.

Where students wish to use a professional proofreading service they should provide the proofreader with a copy of this guidance and ensure that the proofreader accepts the expectations laid down by the University. It is the responsibility of the student to ensure that the service they use complies with this guidance. Students must also keep copies of the proofread work showing the suggested changes in case of any challenges brought forward by assessors who have concerns about non-compliance with the guidance.

Meeting the cost of a professional proofreading service is the responsibility of the student. Students are advised to agree on the cost and the timescale with the proofreader in advance.

Undergraduate and taught postgraduate students should only use proofreaders for summative assessments and not for formative assessments. Research students may use proofreaders for the final version of their thesis but never for submitting formative work such as draft chapters for review by the supervisors.

For certain assessments, for example, where the learning outcomes include a student’s linguistic ability, the use of a proofreader may not be permitted. Under such circumstances, this should be clearly stated in the student handbooks and assessment guidelines.

Where students have had their work proofread by another party it would be a normal courtesy for this to be acknowledged in the final written submission. This would normally be in the Acknowledgements section for a thesis or dissertation, or part of the coversheet or as a note for other submitted work depending on School/Discipline practices.

Approved by the Learning and Teaching Committee, 27 September 2016


Academic and Corporate Governance