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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Exploring postsecondary students' use of proofreading services at a Canadian university Conrad, Nina Lee


Many postsecondary students engage the services of a proofreader at some stage in their academic career. Such third-party interventions in the production of student texts, classified as a form of literacy brokering (Lillis & Curry, 2010), have raised questions of ethics and academic integrity. In recent years, researchers have begun to examine students’ use of proofreading services from multiple perspectives; however, much of the previous research has focused on graduate students’ dissertations and writing for publication (e.g., Li & Flowerdew, 2007; Turner, 2012), whereas less attention has been paid to other genres of student writing or proofreading practices among undergraduates, and the North American context has rarely been considered. In addition, there is little empirical evidence to support the assumption that proofreading is practiced predominantly by non-native English speakers. This mixed methods study was carried out based on the theoretical framework of academic literacies, a social practice approach to the study of literacy, particularly writing, in academic contexts (Barton & Hamilton, 2000; Lea & Street, 1998). The use of proofreading among students at a large Canadian research university was investigated through an online student survey and follow-up interviews. The aims of the study were to determine who uses proofreading services and to explore their reasons for doing so, the nature and extent of proofreading they receive, and how they perceive this practice to affect their development of language and writing skills as well as other outcomes. The findings suggest that students who use proofreading are diverse and do not conform to any binary categorization. Although there were some differences between self-identified native English speakers and non-native English speakers with respect to their learning outcomes and relationship with their proofreaders, most participants across both groups used proofreading to improve their writing skills and reported learning from the proofreader’s corrections. In addition, use of proofreading has potential to affect writers’ identity and relationships with others in their academic communities. The findings of this research study have implications for writing instruction at every level of postsecondary education and reveal the need for clearer policies on proofreading of all genres of academic writing.

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