Is professional proofreading allowed at UK universities?

The answer is yes. Most UK universities have policies that outline what outside proofreaders are and aren’t allowed to do. As long as your university does not have a policy in place against using outside proofreading services, proofreading is generally allowed.

What proofreading is

Proofreading is when you or someone else looks over your work and helps identify and correct language errors. This includes common grammar mistakes, spelling, and sentence structure. All of this falls within university policies and standards.

Scribbr editors are trained to not only identify the problems in your writing, but they also give you resources so your academic writing improves in the future.

What proofreading is not

Proofreading is not writing your dissertation for you or touching the content of the paper. This includes writing or rewriting sections of a paper for you. This is what universities will consider plagiarism and against their academic policies.

Scribbr editors will not write or rewrite your dissertation for you.

Here’s what universities say:

“There is no obligation for any student to engage the assistance of a paid proofreader at any stage of study or on any piece of coursework. However, it is acknowledged that certain types of student texts are quite often submitted for proofreading to a third party, and that such assistance is at times actively recommended by supervisors. This is particularly the case for doctoral dissertations which typically aim for publication standard in their presentation. In addition, students whose first language is not English may want to have Masters level projects and dissertations proofread. There are no University regulations forbidding the use of proofreaders for other types of work but please see the note below on consulting supervisors.” – University of Essex

“However, for longer pieces of work it is considered acceptable for students to seek the help of a third party for proof-reading. Such third parties can be professional proof-readers, fellow students, friends or family members. This policy does not apply to the supervisory relationship, nor in the case where proof-reading assistance is approved as a reasonable adjustment for disability.
The default position is that the guidance outlined below applies to all assessed written work where the word limit is 10,000 words or greater. However, departments and faculties may opt to specify that, for certain assessments, students should not be allowed any proof-reading assistance, if the purpose of the assessment is to determine students’ abilities in linguistic areas such as grammar or syntax. In this case, the rubric for the assessment should state clearly that no proof-reading assistance is permitted. The use of third party proof-readers is not permitted for work where the word limit is fewer than 10,000 words.” – University of Oxford

“It is important to note that if a student chooses to engage with a proofreader the University considers this exercise to be part of the learning experience. Proofreading should initially be undertaken by students themselves – the identification of one’s own errors and inconsistencies is a valuable learning experience. Third-party proofreaders are not expected to actively amend existing, or create new, content in draft work; instead they should support the student by identifying errors and/or making suggestions relating to – but not creating – content. The University considers the role of the proofreader is more akin to that of a mentor rather than a content producer or editor of the work.” – University of Warwick

And more:

University of Sheffield, University of Edinburgh, University of Reading, London School of Economics and Political Science

Conclusion

As you can see, a large majority of UK universities have policies regarding what third party proofreaders can and cannot do.

Most state that you can use a third party proofreader if:

  • Your editor does not alter the content of your text
  • Your supervisor or lecturer suggests and/or approves it
  • Your assignment meets any possible word count limitations
  • The editor acts as an adviser by identifying areas needing improvement or change

There are a few exceptions, but it is very likely that your university allows you to use third party proofreading services. If you’re uncertain what your university’s exact policies are, ask your lecturer.

What Scribbr does:

Scribbr editors work under the same guidelines that many UK universities already put forward, so as long as your university doesn’t have a policy stating otherwise, using our services won’t violate university policies. If your university has specific requirements, just include them with your order and your editor will make sure to follow them.

Your editor will point out your mistakes and make suggestions, but never rewrite the paper for you. All the content will remain untouched and completely yours. Your editor will provide you with personalized feedback that gives you an overview of the corrections they have suggested.

Scribbr extras:

If you order a structure or clarity check, they will also provide you with checklists that outline how your text fulfills each of the points listed. If there are any points for improvement, they’ll also list it here.

Having a second pair of eyes is always recommended since sometimes it can be difficult for you to spot your own mistakes. Even if you’re confident that your paper is error free, it can be helpful to have someone to look over your work and help point out those easy to miss mistakes.

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Lorenza Shabe

Lorenza is an academic writing expert. She has a Master's in English Literature and Creative Writing and a background in Political Science. She works tirelessly on improving Scribbr's Knowledge Base content.

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