I'm Learning English and Need Help Revising.

How Can I Make Sure It's Ethical Collaboration?

The problem of finding the boundary between ethical and unethical collaboration is a problem for students of all kinds. However, it’s an especially big problem for students learning English or otherwise being tasked with writing academic papers in a language they are unfamiliar with.

Working with tutors is something that schools and instructors encourage. Many schools even have a writing lab or student success center that provides assistance for free. However, it can be all-too-easy for such guidance to go too far and become collusion, which can become a serious disciplinary issue.

Avoiding this issue means using tutors correctly and the easiest way to do that is to realize that a tutor is not an editor. An editor has final say in what goes in or doesn’t go into a piece. As the student and the author, you have final say what goes into your paper.

As such, a tutor is more of an advisor, someone who makes suggestions and offers tips, but doesn’t work on the paper directly.

The only sure way to do that is to keep the tutor’s work completely separate from the paper. To that end, there are many ways to do this.

The easiest way is to have the tutor work from a printed version of the paper and make their marks/suggestions there. It’s then up to you, as the student, to take those suggestions and apply them to the paper.

If you want to keep the editing electronic, using Google Docs (or other similar tools), it’s possible to set the document into “Suggesting” mode so that any comments made are just suggestions to be accepted and rejected.

But even then it’s important to be careful about the types of suggestions that are made. While a tutor can (and should) point out sections that should be rewritten, they should not do the rewriting themselves. For example, highlighting a paragraph and saying “This part is unclear, please consider these changes” is both acceptable and useful. However, highlighting a paragraph and providing a replacement for it is not.

The biggest temptation that has to be avoided is to simply hand over the document to the tutor and have them edit or translate it directly. While adding a comma or fixing a few typos isn’t likely to lead to collusion allegations, it’s easy for tutors, without realizing it, to get over-aggressive in altering a work.

As such, the safest way to work with a tutor is to not let them edit your work directly. They can mark up a work and make all of the suggestions they want, but, as the student, you should always be the final arbiter as to what is in the paper as it is your voice that needs to be presented.

This might seem inefficient, but it doesn’t add a significant amount of time to the editing process and it allows you to sanity-check the tutor. After all, tutors make mistakes too and it’s important to have your eyes on their work just as it is important to have their eyes on yours.

In short, this process doesn’t just lead to collusion-free writing, but to better writing all around.