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Reviewing other people's writing

If you’re asked to review someone else’s writing, it’s helpful to know exactly what the author expects and any limits on the review. The author may use proofread and edit interchangeably, but the terms refer to different tasks. Typically, proofreaders check work for errors or problems and identify those errors without modifying the text, but editors identify the problems, and depending on the type of edit, suggest and/or make corrections. Editors can have varying degrees of involvement; for example, a publishing editor will have significant input on a book or journal manuscript, and the editor and author will usually collaborate on changes to the text. In business writing, copy editors often “clean up” text by correcting any errors without consulting authors.

Reviewing academic writing

Academic authors are responsible for ensuring their documents adhere to academic integrity policies regarding authorship and plagiarism. According to Royal Roads University’s (RRU, 2014) “Academic Integrity and Misconduct Policy for Students”:

Authorship of all published work must be limited to those who have materially contributed to, and share responsibility for, the contents of the publication. Publications must also acknowledge the work of editors, including their roles in the process of publication. (“Misconduct”, para. 5)

In addition, “plagiarism is the act of presenting the ideas or works of another as one's own” (“Misconduct”, para. 1). If a reviewer has significant influence on a document, such as suggesting changes to wording or rewriting text, the reviewer may be considered a co-author in the work. If the student submits the work and claims sole authorship, the student may have violated RRU’s policy on authorship. Similarly, if an academic author accepts substantive changes from a reviewer and claims that work as his or her own, the author may have violated RRU’s policy on plagiarism.

If you’re a student and you would like someone to review your work, please check with your instructor or advisor first to ensure it is permissible, regardless of whether you’ll be working with an unpaid reviewer (e.g., a classmate or friend) or a paid editor. Your instructor or advisor will provide clarification on the acceptable scope of the review, such as requiring an academic edit rather than a copy edit. An academic edit is a proofread of the text where the editor only identifies issues or errors. The author then has the responsibility to identify solutions and modify the text, which helps authors maintain academic integrity in their works. For more information and suggestions regarding academic edits, please see Using an Academic Editor on the Writing Centre website.

Suggestions for reviewers

Ask the author to identify the feedback that would be helpful and any limitations to the review. For example, does the author need you to provide a general review, such as focusing only on readability (e.g., can you understand the words, sentences, and paragraphs?) and logic (e.g., does the text make sense?)? If you are providing peer feedback, commenting on readability and logic doesn’t require you to be an expert in the subject matter or in other aspects of writing. For example, when you read the document, were there words, sentences, or sections that you found confusing? When did you feel confident or unsure that you understood exactly what the author meant to express? Were there sections of text that were easy or difficult to understand? The answers to these questions will provide helpful details to the author.

For more formal edits or peer reviews, please follow the appropriate guidelines, such as the Guidelines for Ethical Editing of Theses or peer reviewer guidelines provided by the publisher (e.g., "Reviewer Guidelines and Best Practice").

Suggestions for authors

Be specific with your reviewer about your expectations for the review. For example, if you’ve written a personal or business document, are you expecting a proofread or a copy edit? If you’re expecting a copy edit, does that include structural, stylistic, and copy editing?

If you want your reviewer to provide an academic edit, it’s your responsibility to make sure your reviewer understand the limits of the edit: the reviewer can flag problems, but should not suggest corrections or make changes to the text. If you’re an RRU student and you need additional information to decide how to fix the issues, please contact the Writing Centre so we can assist you. Please keep a copy of the reviewer’s feedback in case your instructor or advisor wants to see it.

If you are a student who is seeking an academic edit of a major project or thesis, please refer to Using an Academic Editor, and in particular, the Editors’ Association of Canada’s Guidelines for Ethical Editing of Theses.

Self-editing strategies

If you’d like suggestions of how to edit your own work, please visit “Edit the Draft” for information.

Do you have questions about this tip or any other writing matter? Please contact the Writing Centre as we would be pleased to assist you.

Theresa Bell
Writing Centre manager

(Originally published in Crossroads December 13, 2016)

Reference

Royal Roads University. (2014). Academic integrity and misconduct policy for students. Retrieved from http://policies.royalroads.ca/policies/academic-integrity-and-misconduct...

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