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I am proofreading and editing a dissertation proposal for a student for whom English a fourth language--cleaning up the language for clarity and grammar, etc. The student has asked me to paraphrase the information of some articles so that s/he can use what is most relevant to her research. Is this commonly against school policy?

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    Reading and understanding the articles is part of the research, so this should really be the PhD student's job. I believe proofreading the student's own words is acceptable, but you shouldn't be doing part of his job for him. Oct 25 '13 at 3:56
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    The question in the title significantly differs from the one asked in the text.
    – Nikolaj-K
    Oct 25 '13 at 7:44
  • I agree with @NickKidman. The title question asks about proofreading, which is (probably) acceptable; the text question asks about paraphrasing other articles, which is certainly not.
    – JeffE
    Oct 25 '13 at 16:32
  • The paraphrasing part sounds like a ghostwriting request.
    – silvado
    Oct 25 '13 at 18:46
  • @JeffE: The funny thing is that in my comment, I was refering to the old version of the title, which was about ethics.
    – Nikolaj-K
    Oct 25 '13 at 19:14
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I am proofreading and editing a dissertation proposal for a student for whom English a fourth language--cleaning up the language for clarity and grammar, etc. The student has asked me to paraphrase the information of some articles so that s/he can use what is most relevant to her research.

That is fine.

I am proofreading and editing a dissertation proposal for a student for whom English a fourth language--cleaning up the language for clarity and grammar, etc. The student has asked me to paraphrase the information of some articles so that s/he can use what is most relevant to her research.

That is abhorrent in two levels. First, the student had the guts to even ask. Second, the task itself involves significant amount of intellectual input that is not of the student's.

I understand you wish the student to do well, and the work would reflect on your mentoring ability. But this is just identical to parents helping children with art project the night before school. It can be a fun and educational experience for kids, but outlandish for a grown up PhD candidate.

At the very least, make the student do the major part of the work:

  1. Highlight the parts that he/she feels relevant. The selection of articles and contents should never be done by you. Discuss with the student on the rationale of the selections, and use this as an educational opportunity.
  2. Paraphrase 5-10 various statements and hand them to the student as a guideline/examples, ask him/her to replicate on a dozen or so, check and give comments.
  3. Send him/her away with a complimentary copy of a thesaurus, or some URLs like http://thesaurus.com
  4. Identify the ESL center in your institute, and ask the student to work with the ESL staff along the way.
  5. Recommend the student to identify an editor. His/her English standard will not become any better. Now you are helping with proposal, a couple years later you'll help with dissertation---vicious cycle.

Also, as how I define it, if English is my mother tongue, then all languages I would learn are my second languages. It'd only be a fourth language of this student if, say, he/she has Russian as mother tongue, then learned Chinese in Russian, then learned Thai in Chinese, then learn English in Thai. I don't think that is a very viable pathway, and you may want to hook the student up with a Russian English teacher/editor.

And lastly, where were you when I was working on my PhD?!

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  • awesome example about languages, some sort of inception of languages, as if..
    – posdef
    Oct 25 '13 at 13:24
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You may want to be sure of the policies as to what your university considers as plagiarism, if this is not clear, then ask what is the boundary.

But, to be absolutely certain, I was advise to do as has been mentioned, that student needs to learn to paraphrase, even more so importantly that English is their 4th language - especially if they are pursuing a career in academia, paraphrasing is something the student will need to do themselves.

You're heart is in the right place, but, by not doing the paraphrasing for them (rather editing etc), you will do yourself and the student favour in the long term.

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I would maybe like to add that since a collaboration is an important part of research, explaining or summarizing the articles you already read would be okay in my opinion.

When somebody new comes to my team and either has read something relevant to my research or is researching something where the articles I have read will be of help, we will often sit together for an hour or so, and the one who has read the relevant articles will explain the basic ideas, point out to relevant examples and/or results.

In my opinion, this is fine, since there's no point in duplicating the time invested. Of course, I always read the articles in question after such talks, and I hope the other people do to. But, the explanations help reduce the time it takes me to fully understand the paper.

So, to summarize, sharing the knowledge and research findings is okay and even encouraged in PhD level, but not researching and summarizing the relevant materials for somebody else; that is something I imagine high school professors would do for their pupils in the classes.

Oh, and as a sidenote, proofreading is completely fine and I would gladly do it for any of my friends and colleagues whose English level is lower than mine (provided I have time).

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It normally comes under plagiarism to do paraphrasing for all dissertation. But if student does it by himself/herself it should be fine to proofread and suggest how to improve that.

Just noticed kigen wrote same thing in the comment.

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