Editors-for-Hire (Part II): Guiding Discussion & Policy-Making

Topics: Blog, Editorial

In last week’s post, I argued that it is time that we discuss the burgeoning Editors-for-Hire industry, its impact on higher education, and the best strategies for responding. To be sure, it would be very easy to simply “outlaw” the practice and create punishments for our students if they use an editor, but as we have discovered within the contract cheating industry, the response must be more robust than that if it will have any chance of being effective. But to develop a more robust response, we must first discuss the issue, come to shared understandings and then develop our responses.

Thus, in this week’s post, I posit 4 areas ripe for discussion and 2 standards we can use to guide our discussion of best possible responses. 

 Discussion Area #1: What type of editing are we talking about?

According to Editors Canada, there are three levels of editing:

Level #1 – Copy editing – this level of editing is what likely typically defines editing in most academics’ minds because it is the type routinely performed by journal and book editors on the pieces submitted to their outfits. Such editing merely fixes typos, grammatical errors, and perhaps citation errors.

Level #2 – Stylistic editing – this level of  editing changes the style of the writing, but only by using the author’s own words. Thus, stylistic editing doesn’t alter content, but does make the writing better by enhancing “flow” or readability so that the ideas of the author are “polished” and thus more palatable to the reader.

Level #3 – Content editing – this level of editing fundamentally rewrites the underlying thoughts, ideas, arguments, and/or theses of the author.

It is easy to imagine a very different conversation about copy-editing than about content-editing. Thus, we cannot simply talk about “editing” or “editors” without clarifying the actual practice being discussed. If we do so, we risk misunderstanding and lose the chance at developing shared standards.

Discussion Area #2: Why has this practice become more common over the last 5 years?

While there have always been people willing to function as editors for student assignments, the Editors-for-Hire industry has become more formalized and expansive within the last 5 years. So, what was the stimulus for the development of this industry?

To be sure, there have been external forces shaping this development, from the advance of the internet to the pressure on “everyone” to get a college education. However, there are likely many more internal forces at play that we should examine. For example, are we focused too much on product production and not enough on competency development? Did we decide somewhere along the line to outsource this role typically played by an instructor or committee? If our students do not have the necessary competencies to succeed with integrity, are we providing them with the opportunities to develop those competencies? 

These are just some of the questions we should ask ourselves before we simply decide act to prohibit the practice by students or fight against the industry itself. 

Discussion Area #3: For whom (if anyone) is the Editors-for-Hire practice acceptable?

It is insufficient to have a conversation about Editors-for-Hire without stipulating the level (and perhaps even discipline) of the student to which the conversation applies. Are Editors-for-Hire appropriate for undergraduates? What about for masters students or doctoral students? Does it depend on the student’s field of study? What about students majoring in engineering versus creative writing versus journalism?

Discussion Area #4: For what types of assignments (if any) is the Editors-for-Hire practice acceptable?

This question is related to the previous question. For example, is it acceptable for an undergraduate student to hire an editor for their honors thesis but not their term paper? Why or why not? What about for the doctoral student who is writing a dissertation versus a doctoral student who completes their degree not by a traditional dissertation but by published research products?

Discussion Guiding Standards

While the above questions are critical to answer, we cannot do so unless we agree on the standards we are trying to upload. I suggest employing two standards at a minimum:

Standard #1: Fundamental Values

The fundamental values standard asks if the practices or policies we are contemplating uphold honesty, responsibility, respect, trustworthiness and fairness. For example, if we decide to allow our students to use editors, should we provide them to students for free so that we do not create an unfair evaluation environment where wealthier students have access but poorer students do not? If we allow the use of editors, how will we require students to disclose that information to their faculty assessors and how will we disclose to the public that this practice is allowed so they do not assume that a graduate of our campus has developed editing skills? If we prohibit the use of editors, how will we enforce this fairly?

Standard #2: Learning Outcomes/Competencies

This standard asks if the practices or policies we are contemplating inhibit or develop the learning outcomes/competencies we claim for our students. For example, if we claim students develop critical thinking or written communication skills, does the practice of using editors help or hinder that development? If it hinders it, do we prohibit the use of editors or do we change our learning outcomes? Do we need to change our assessments so that we can evaluate student accomplishment of expected learning outcomes regardless of whether they used an editor or not?

A Final Thought: Developing Policy

Once the above discussion has occurred, the results of the discussion should be codified into policy. Policy is the vehicle to communicate established, shared and understandable standards. And it is likely that most University academic integrity policies fail to adequately address editing clearly and specifically. Instead, our policies probably rely on general statements like it is important for all scholars to acknowledge clearly when they have relied upon or incorporated the work of others” to enforce inappropriate use of Editors-for-Hire. However, I did find a few Policy examples that specifically address editing at the University of Waterloo (Canada), the University of Adelaide (Australia), the Australian National University (Australia), and Auckland University (New Zealand). Guidelines produced by editor associations in Australia and Canada may provide some excellent suggestions for developing good Policy.

I’ve spent two blog posts on this topic, so now it’s time to hear what you think. Go to https://goo.gl/forms/sMk5cdW77lUUX3p43 and share your thoughts. You’ll be able to see summary charts of all of the responses as they are collected.

About the Author
Tricia Bertram Gallant, Ph.D. is the author of Academic Integrity in the Twenty-First Century: A Teaching and Learning Imperative (Jossey-Bass, 2008), co-author of Cheating in School: What We Know and What We Can Do (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), editor of Creating the Ethical Academy: A Systems Approach to Understanding Misconduct & Empowering Change in Higher Education (Routledge, 2011), and section editor for the Handbook of Academic Integrity (Springer, 2016). She is the Director of the UC San Diego Academic Integrity Office and Board Member of the International Center for Academic Integrity, and has been an ethics lecturer with the Rady School of Management. When Tricia blogs, the content is hers and should not be attributed to her employer or ICAI.
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