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I am applying for masters and I would like to know this as my professor has completely altered the phrasing of my paragraphs and also made a spelling mistake. I had to correct them, so the metadata shows that it was modified. Do they really check all of that, as it is otherwise a genuine letter?

Edit 1: I think I need to give more context. So in my university, the students are supposed to write their own letters of recommendation and approach the professor for signatures (they sign it if the mentioned skills and facts are true to their knowledge), as opposed to the professor writing the letter. I had sent my draft with good paragraph phrasing and devoid of spelling mistakes, and I got it back with the paragraphs jammed together (hence, the disruption of phrasing) and one spelling mistake. I have been having this ethical dilemma since my college is quite bad at communicating in general and if I need to get this corrected, I might not even be able to reach out to them as I am not a student at the university anymore (I graduated this year). I had to go through a lot of hassle just to obtain this letter and I don't want to commit any kind of fraud in any way.

Edit 2 : The letter has a spelling mistake where I have been addressed as the Proctor, when in actuality, it's my professor who's the proctor: I am the proctee.

Also, would a spelling mistake in the letter of recommendation affect my chances of admission in any way? Please do give me some insight on this, if anyone has any idea.

Edit 3: I would like to update that I have approached the professor to get this corrected, if possible. I will not be submitting the LoR that I made changes to. I really appreciate each and everyone who has given me frank and sound counsel regarding this ethical dilemma of mine. Thank you.

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    "as my professor has completely altered the phasing of my paragraphs" - the professor can write the letter of recommendation however they like and you are not meant to modify that. For sure you didn't "have to correct them". Oct 14, 2023 at 10:10
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    I would upload the original letter with spelling mistakes if I were you. It's your professor's typo, not yours. If the typos must be corrected, then I would ask the professor to re-write the letter.
    – Nobody
    Oct 14, 2023 at 10:51
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    It's your professor's letter, not your letter, so of course they want to phrase things the way they see as best. "In my university, the professors tell the students to draft the letter of recommendation and they sign it if they find the details to be correct." The word "draft" means precisely that they expect to make modifications to your draft. "I had to correct them" No, you didn't. Oct 14, 2023 at 11:05
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    If you modify a professor's letter in any way you will have committed academic misconduct. You will have possibly also committed the crime of fraud as you have misrepresented the words of another to your own benefit. Don't go there.
    – Buffy
    Oct 14, 2023 at 12:16
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    The reasonable course of action in case of inaccuracies and typos in the letter is to contact the letter writer and ask them to fix the issues. Oct 14, 2023 at 13:17

6 Answers 6

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The truth is that no one would probably check if the letter was modified.

The moral is that any self-respecting institute should solicit letters directly from the references, and not accept letters appended to the application by the candidate (who can clearly forge such a letter).

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    I don’t know if anybody would literally check the PDF’s internals, but I knew a student who got booted out of MIT 50 years ago in the middle of their first semester. Apparently admissions sent a confirmatory letter to the source of the recommendation, and got a response saying that s/he had not written that recommendation.
    – pjs
    Oct 15, 2023 at 4:11
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Do not submit this letter! You were asked to draft one, to help your professor, but it is their name and not yours that is at the bottom. You have no right to change what they have written, but they have every right to change what you had suggested. Whether or not the university will or even can check this is irrelevant: you are committing fraud and putting words into your professor's mouth. Please don't do this. It is deeply unethical and, if discovered, it can seriously harm your career and future.

Just undo your changes, and submit the letter exactly as the professor gave it to you. It is the professor's recommendation that the university is interested in, not yours.

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    I do not think there is sufficient information in the question to determine if it is fraud or not. Oct 14, 2023 at 14:55
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    @AnonymousPhysicist the OP has written "In my university, the professors tell the students to draft the letter of recommendation and they sign it if they find the details to be correct." in a comment and "my professor has completely altered the phasing[sic] of my paragraphs [...] I had to correct them". So the professor asked for a draft letter fo recommendation, edited it to fit what they wanted to say, gave it back to the OP and the OP changed it back to what was in the original draft. That seems pretty clear fraud to me, what am I missing?
    – terdon
    Oct 14, 2023 at 15:02
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    @AnonymousPhysicist, perhaps not by the (local) legal definition, but certainly by the common understanding of the word.
    – Buffy
    Oct 14, 2023 at 15:06
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    "edited it to fit what they wanted to say" is your opinion, not what the question actually says. Oct 14, 2023 at 15:09
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    @AnonymousPhysicist I... honestly don't see how else "my professor has completely altered the phasing[sic] of my paragraphs [...] I had to correct them" can be interpreted. The professor changed the phrasing so the letter they signed can actually represent what they want to say, and the OP is changing it, thereby putting the professors signature on a text that the professor has not approved.
    – terdon
    Oct 14, 2023 at 15:12
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It is not uncommon for someone to write a draft for their own recommendation letter, although it felt really really weird the first time I had to do it for myself (which is why I never ask this of people I am supposed to write a letter of recommendation for).

That being said, your professor is then free to use this input however they like and change paragraphs as you said. You are never ever supposed to alter the letter after! By all means leave in the typo too. It just screams "busy professor" (although to be honest, if you have a good relationship you can ask if they want you to leave the typo in - otherwise you are typically supposed to pretend that you didn't see the letter even though you uploaded it and obviously read it because you were curious - we are all human after all).

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Echoing other answers and comments: I don't think anyone ever checks whether a PDF letter has been altered. Anyway, the original letter-writer might have done it themselves.

On the other hand, you really should not alter the letter after it's been signed by your letter-writer, even to correct mis-spellings, etc. It's not so much whether or not it's "fraudulent", since you're not trying to deceive anyone in a serious way, it's just at the least "inappropriate" to alter a signed document, even if you don't profit by that alteration.

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    This. Independent of whether this particular case is "fraud" or otherwise illegal in your jurisdiction, there is a very strong societal consensus that "altering a signed document" is wrong. And in those edge cases where it isn't (hint: this is not one of them), you modify the document in a way that makes it abundantly clear that you modified it.
    – Heinzi
    Oct 14, 2023 at 20:53
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You do not need to make any changes, submit it as you received it

No university is going to negatively judge you because of formatting errors or spelling errors made by someone else in a recommendation letter. It's unlikely that they will notice that you have edited the letter, but if they do then it is very likely to be perceived negatively, so don't take a foolish risk for no benefit.

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Beyond the letter in question which you should not submit in its edited form, it’s important that you learn not to alter documents that someone else has already signed. Beyond ethical implications, while I’m not a lawyer, I imagine there could be serious legal implications for you were you to do this in the wrong situation. So it’s important to understand why this is not ok and stop doing it.

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