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15th February 2017

Proofreading companies: right words, wrong idea

T. S. Eliot examines proof-reading companies: are they killing the skill of writing a good essay?

Do you ever get tired of having to use certain words in your essays that create sentences which are grammatically correct and work together to build up a paragraph where, hopefully, each sentence makes sense and relates to its neighbour sentence in a harmonious way? I find this task of organising clear and logically constructed clauses really rather arduous.

If you have frequented the library recently, you’ll have noticed that a proofreading company is here to help, announcing itself onto the scene by means of flyers proliferating eerily here and there. I look to the left and see two flyers entitled ‘Wordsmiths: Experience You Need. Results You Want’. I look to the right: ‘Wordsmiths’. I look back to the left and there are now three flyers despite no one else being in at this time.

I begin to consider whether the overly sombre night-shift library staff member is in on the game, as he paces the perimeter in his characteristic slow, measured severity. I fear that talking to him would be to break some essential rule of courtesy, like waking up a sleep-walker or interrupting an ancient religious ritual.

Looking back down at all these words I am trying to jam into sentences like a square peg through a square hole that is too small, I feel compelled to find out more about the ones they call the Wordsmiths.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I find that nothing screams ‘this is not dodgy at all and you shouldn’t feel ashamed about using this service’ quite like the proviso ‘100 per cent Confidentiality’. It is a badge of consummate honour and can be found elsewhere — most notably in the payment conditions of online porn subscriptions. And people say I don’t do any research before writing these articles…

Well, the Wordsmiths proof-readers urgently promise 100 per cent confidentiality, in a sales technique reminiscent of someone who once approached me saying “do you want to buy this bike?” before almost instantly qualifying his question by assuring me: “I haven’t stolen it.” I saw this Wordsmiths flyer as I then saw that attempted bike flogging: with doubt as to the product but with sure knowledge that I would write about the situation sooner or later.

It should be said that any editing service is primarily aimed to help those for whom English is not a first language. And anyway, how different is sending your essays to professional editors from simply having a friend or family member read through your work?

For my part, I don’t tend to have others read through my essays, but these Mancunion articles go through an editing process. This is a case where there are benefits from an outside perspective looking over my writing, as I derive great pleasure from the inventive experimentation which goes into the spelling of my name. The unceasing creativity of the editing team has yielded some absolute gems, and I do hope for the much sought after T. S. Eliot variation this week. (My own version shares the stage with the likes of Missy Elliott and those portaloos you see on building sites, the latter providing evidence that almost all Elliotts lead to the waste land.)

The Wordsmiths flyers on my left, which now have amassed in their hundreds, tell me that the cheapest of their services is the proofreading package at a tenner per thousand words. I have yet to enquire whether it would be possible to offer them a sole penny for one word you are having particular difficulty in spelling.

This service, it says, acts as “your second pair of eyes.” Above this description is a picture of someone doing some proofreading while wearing glasses, thus generously doubling up on the company’s initial claim.

Proofreading is a fairly unobtrusive process, but it is the more expensive services which may offer cause for concern, such as a paraphrasing service at £45 per thousand words for those who “have the right ideas but have trouble finding the right words.”

That people might pay this much for their essay to be rewritten further illustrates the trend of money pervading all areas of higher education. Your assignments can now be seen as monetary investments, rather than intellectual investments, where you will see a return in the earning of a job that has been rewarded on the basis of your degree. All the things which we are encouraged to tell employers about studying an essay subject — those skills of argument, analysis and communication — won’t actually have been accrued if people choose to have professionals do it all for them.

With four years of essay-writing under my belt, and with the knowledge that the skills of writing essays are now dying out, I think I’d better give Wordsmiths a call and ask for a job, offering them a CV of attributes that their own organisation has now proved obsolete.

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