As a former teacher, I’ve taught the principles of academic writing to countless students, both native and non-native speakers of English. I’m well versed in the linguistic issues that arise when writing for academic purposes, as well as the possible pitfalls when attempting to follow a style guide.

However, there are a number of ethical considerations when proofreading for students; your writing is to be presented for examination as your own work, after all.  Therefore, it is very important to be crystal clear about what is and is not involved in the proofreading of an essay, dissertation or thesis, and how much help I can give you with the various aspects of the text. To this end, I will ask you to sign an Academic Agreement, based on the guidelines and/or permissions laid down by your academic institution, which will ask you to confirm that you have your supervisor’s authorisation to have your work proofread.

The most important thing to note is that I only offer proofreading, and not proof-editing or copy-editing, to students. I will not be able to help you with the research or fact-checking, nor will I re-write or re-organise the structure of the argument, or comment on the content. In short, my input will be concerned only with correcting errors and inconsistencies in spelling, punctuation, grammar and typography. Where I find a lack of clarity, repetition, illogical flow or ambiguity of meaning, I will highlight this, but I am not permitted to correct it for you.

This is a breakdown of what can be included in a student proofread, subject to your university’s guidelines:

  • correcting errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar

  • highlighting incorrect word-usage, and suggesting alternatives

  • minor rewording of parts of sentences to improve clarity, but not to the extent that the text could be deemed to have been copy-edited

  • highlighting places where the meaning is very confused or unclear so that you can re-write them

  • highlighting very long sentences that impede clarity, and suggesting ways to break them down

  • ensuring consistency of stylistic choices concerning hyphenation, punctuation, capitalisation, use of italics, single or double quotation marks, abbreviations (such as e.g., etc.), initialisms and acronyms, use of subscript and superscript for footnotes/endnotes. You will be asked to provide your university’s style guide for this purpose. If the corrections required are more than minor, or if it is clear that you have not made attempts to follow the style guide, I will instead make a marginal annotation to this effect e.g. ‘Check style guide for correct use of quotation marks and apply globally’.

  • correcting minor errors in the punctuation of in-text citations, or pointing you in the direction of the university style guide as above

  • checking the hierarchy of headings is logical, their numbering is sequential, and they are typographically consistent (e.g. use of capitalisation, bold, italic, font types and sizes). Minor errors which diverge from the overall layout/design will be corrected, but for anything more than this you will be pointed in the direction of the style guide. 

  • checking that any bullet point sections or lists are typographically consistent/numbered sequentially

  • correcting minor errors in the indentation of headings, paragraphs and display quotations

  • ensuring the justification of text is consistent

  • checking that any tables or figures are correctly positioned

  • ensuring the numbering or labelling of tables and figures is sequential/logical

  • checking there is a reference for every citation, and vice versa. If there are more than a few minor omissions, the issue will be highlighted but it will be up to you to correct the errors and complete the reference list.

  • proofreading a bibliography/reference list that has already been formatted by you in accordance with the required style (e.g. APA, Harvard). I am not permitted to make more than minor corrections (with regard to the aspects listed above) or compile a bibliography/reference list from scratch or do a wholesale re-format.


A student proofread will NOT include any of the following:

  • checking or correcting any factual information or carrying out any research

  • checking the arithmetic in any tables or the labelling of any diagrams (beyond the caption)

  • any changes to content or comments on its quality

  • clarifying or re-organising the structure of the argument

  • making cuts or additions in order to meet the prescribed word count

  • changing verbs from passive voice to active voice or making any global changes to tenses (excepting minor errors)

  • designing or carrying out any in-depth work in relation to layout and formatting 

  • compiling or formatting a bibliography/reference list from scratch

  • checking that names and dates are factually correct in a reference (but typographical errors will be corrected)

  • cross-checking, e.g. references to pages or sections

  • indexing

  • identifying legal issues such as plagiarism or breach of copyright, libel, obscenity, incitement to racial hatred

I ask that dissertations and theses are sent to me in the form of a Word document; I work on them using Track Changes for insertions and deletions, and comment bubbles for marginal annotations. You should familiarise yourself with these functions, so that you are able to check each insertion and deletion made by me before rejecting or accepting it. It will be your responsibility to read and act on any advice given in the marginal comments. If, as a result of my comments, you rewrite sections of the text, there will be an additional charge for checking this, quoted for in the same way as the original, as this will be deemed to be a new draft of the document.

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