By Aleysha Haniff
Struggling with all of the anxieties first year has to offer, Dan Smith turned to an outside source to help him get his work done. (Smith’s name has been changed to protect his identity.)
By using a professional editing service, Smith unknowingly broke Ryerson’s academic code of conduct.
The number of plagiarism charges at Ryerson is rising. Two years ago, 250 students were charged with academic misconduct. Last year, 350 charges were laid. Like Smith, many students have little understanding of Ryerson’s academic rules.
Donna Bell, Ryerson’s academic integrity officer, said punishments for professional editing, which counts as plagiarism under the academic code of conduct, are up to the instructor’s discretion. The minimum penalty is a mark of zero on the assignment.
Smith, a child and youth care student, used a professional editing service to improve his first university essay in October.
It was recommended to him by a friend and posters for professional essay writing and editing were easily found on bulletin boards around campus.
Smith was uncertain of the expectations his professor had for him.
“If I participate a lot in classes, in my head I think the prof expects a lot more of me,” he said.
But Smith knew writing wasn’t his strong suit, so he emailed his paper to a professional.
The editor did “everything,” said Smith. His grammar, spelling, and citations were fixed. Even the flow of his writing changed, as the editor switched words to make the essay sound more professional.
“He did sex it up,” said Smith, but for a hefty fee. He paid well over $100 to have his work reviewed.
Smith was aware that his actions might be against the academic code of conduct, but he said it was easy to make excuses for himself.
After all, he asked his mother and his friend in journalism to look over his essays. But this was different. “I really feared that I might get caught.”
Bell said it’s up to the instructor to detect professional editing. But, “it’s very hard for a professor to determine,” she said.
Lynne Mallatratt, Ryerson’s Writing Centre administrator, always rips down posters for professional editing services.
“We do not edit and we’re very careful not to,” she said. Instead, Writing Centre tutors teach citation and editing skills to students, and help them create essay outlines and thesis statements. “It’s up to them [the students] to fix it,” she said.
After Smith finished the paper, the guilt kicked in.
“I really did feel bad about it,” he said.
“He [the editor] did change things around, use words I wouldn’t use.”
It wasn’t fair to the other students, and Smith said he wouldn’t learn anything if someone else did all the work.
He wrote the other six essays he had this semester on his own, using the polished, professionally edited one as a guide.
“Now I know what to do,” he said.
Smith said he’d only use professional editing again for emergencies or on really tough assignments.
He hasn’t received the professionally edited essay from his instructor yet.