Condemned To Be Free Essay Editor

International students are paying for their work to be proofread, edited and, in some cases, written entirely, by professional writers and agencies, raising concerns around issues of support and plagiarism.

"Most students who ask me for a quotation are from outside the UK and English is their second language," says Louise Harnby, who has been a professional proofreader since 2005. "Many of them simply don't have the access to sufficient language-support services at their university."

Harnby says she has experienced an increase in the number of foreign students seeking proofreading support, which she says is in line with the rise in the number of international students studying in the UK – a trend recently proved to be unstable, with figures from the Higher Education Funding Council of England (Hefce) showing the UK experienced a fall in the total number of international students for the first time in 29 years in 2013.

Is proofreading classed as cheating?

Whether it's acceptable or not for students to use proofreading services to help them with their work has divided academic opinion. Some say the practice is blatant cheating, while others argue that it can help students with weak English language skills and dyslexia.

Harnby says: "I don't think most students are trying to cheat – I think they're trying to do the best they can with the language skills they have."

Judy Carroll, who runs workshops on deterring students from plagiarism and effective teaching of international students, says that using proofreading services can been seen as cheating and that students should always "go for transparency" when submitting assessed work.

She says: "I define cheating as students seeking an unfair learning advantage. If a student is saying, 'Give me credit because I can write grammatically correct and error-free text', then the student is misleading the assessor and seeking an unfair learning benefit as it isn't their skills and their learning that is being judged.

"If the student is submitting ideas, arguments, original work, research etc for credit (so, content not text), then using a proofreader seems a very useful thing."

Students not getting enough support

Carroll, who was formerly educational developer at Oxford Brookes University, says students are "probably not" getting the support they need at universities. A reason for this, she suggests, is because "many have needs that exceed any reasonable ability to meet them, and more than a few wish things to be done for them rather than them getting down and dirty with the hard work of writing!"

Proofreading agencies boast of being able to improve grades and offer the academic support which they claim universities have failed to provide. They also empathise with students on the difficulties of studying for a degree in a foreign language.

On its website, Cambridge Proofreading LCC states: "If you do not get a significantly improved grade from our proofreading and editing work, we will give you a full refund."

Another agency, Oxford Tutors, states: "Most students are being let down by their universities in providing them with adequate tutorial support [...]. This is where we step in!"

Others openly say that they will write essays for students. One agency,, claims to provide "100% plagiarism-free papers" for those who "have no time or inspiration".

But all this comes at a price. Students can pay anything from £5.45 to £19.35 per 1,00 words for an essay under 80,000 words, depending on their requirements.

Up to universities to create proofreading policies

Some of the services offered far exceed what universities and some proofreaders would see as legitimate intervention in students' work, but free-market rules apply for the use of these services, and therefore, it's up to universities to police any academic dishonesty.

Although most universities have now designed policies on proofreading and copy-editing for students – with many forbidding the use of such agencies, or requiring students to be open about using them – it's still difficult to prove and there is uncertainty about whether universities are willing to act.

Julia Molinari, English for Academic Purposes (EAP) tutor and PhD researcher at the University of Nottingham, says there isn't much academics can do about students using these services because "plagiarism software can't detect a ghost text in so far as it is de facto original. It's a bit of a taboo topic, one we tend to gloss over and one that leaves a bitter aftertaste."

Alan Smithers, the director of the centre for education and employment research at Buckingham University, says: "I once had a PhD student whose thesis was so much better than her command of English led me to expect, but the university (not Buckingham) did not want to get involved in an investigation."

Reliance on coursework not helping

He suggests the use of proofreading agencies by undergraduates could be "greatly reduced by switching back to actual examinations". He says: "The ever-increasing reliance on coursework is an open invitation to seek external props where you can find them."

Kim Shahabudin, study adviser at the University of Reading, says her university does not recommend professional proofreaders because of the "danger that intended meaning may be changed".

She says: "We advise international students who are not confident about their academic writing to ask a fellow student, who is a native English speaker, to read through their work with them. This way they learn, self-correct and gain more confidence in their language skills."

Following the scandal over alleged plagiarism and the extra assistant given to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi during his PhD at LSE in 2011, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) urged universities to develop clear policies on what kind of academic help students were allowed to access.

Rob Behrens, the independent adjudicator, says: "Universities need to be rigorous in defining what is permitted, and to set this out clearly.

"Buying essays and submitting them as one's own is regarded as academic misconduct. The OIA has reviewed a number of complaints involving both kinds of practice."

Do students know where they stand?

In the US, the use of external academic support services is more generally accepted, providing students disclose what they've had help with. Australia has gone one step further and had the Australian Standards for Editing Practice (Asep) embedded in universities' degree regulations.

Because not every UK university has established guidelines around proofreading – including Coventry University which says that it's now developing a policy around the use of proofreading services – are students clear about what the rules are and whether it's an acceptable level of support?

Since the OIA has no plans to establish guidelines in this area, it's down to universities to clarify.

Proofreader Louise Harnby says although she doesn't look over students' work without written consent from their supervisors, she would like to see a more "unified policy throughout the UK so that both domestic and foreign students know exactly where they stand."

With no hard data, it's hard to say how many students use these services. But what's clear is that not all students believe it's ethical.

Victoria Jayne Dovey, a creative writing student at the University of East Anglia, says she has noticed an increase in advertisements on social networking sites boasting copywriting services for students, but that this has never tempted her to use them. She says: "I have never been interested in such a thing despite numerous deadlines and final year stress as it would undermine my past four years of study."

On a student forum discussion about using proofreading services, one commenter, who blogged under the name Philbert, wrote: "If you can't be bothered to write your own essays, you shouldn't be at university."

Since international students bring in money, and lots of it, and there's no cap on the number of international students that UK universities can recruit, the questions that begs an answer is how universities are going to ensure that they maintain professional integrity and standards, while providing academically sound degrees to the foreign students they recruit.

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Writing a thesis is like being sentenced to life and hard labor in libraries. Forget regular working hours or your natural right to sleep and rest. Only successful defense of your project will break you free.


The following free tools, however, provide a ray of hope. Draconian time management and supernatural self-organization can help you cope with your thesis faster. Optimize the process and enjoy the time you save.

Word Processing and Taking Notes

Although you may be used to Microsoft Word, the following free alternatives can be of much help for thesis writing:

  • LaTeX is a high-quality system equipped with special features for technical and scientific documentation. A great tool for thesis help.
  • LyX is a free document processor that emphasizes the importance of document structure.
  • Scrivener is a popular text-editing tool for Windows users.
  • XMind is an easy-to-use text-editing and mind-mapping tool.

    Mix of office supplies on a wooden table background. View from above.

  • OpenOffice is free and intuitive editing software popular with students.
  • AbiWord is a free word processing program similar to Microsoft Word and suitable for a wide range of academic tasks.
  • Jarte is a free word processor that is based on Windows WordPad and fully compatible with Windows Word.
  • Google Docs is Google’s awesome service that allows you to create, format, store, and share documents online.
  • ThinkFree is a free Java-based word processor that is fully compatible with Word.
  • Etherpad is an open source text editor that allows real-time collaborative editing online.

What else can you do?

Knowledge Management

Here’s the kicker:

While doing research for your dissertation, you will need to dig through an incredible amount of literature.


To make your job easier without getting lost or wasting time, consider the following knowledge management tools — they are great for dissertation help.

  • KeepNote is a particularly effective note-taking application that can help you use full-text search and store your findings and notes.
  • TomBoy is a free and easy-to-use note-taking and mind-mapping application.
  • TiddlyWiki is a knowledge management app with a number of helpful features of much help for your thesis.
  • Mindnote is an effective mind-mapping tool that can help you organize your thoughts intuitively.
  • Mendeley is a tool that allows you to create your own easily searchable library of your research findings and accessible from any device.
  • VUE stands for Visual Understanding Environment. This tool can be used for structuring and sharing information.
  • EyePlorer is a convenient tool for creating charts and mind maps online.
  • Zotero is a valuable academic research and knowledge management tool that combines functionality of a citation maker and knowledge management.
  • Endnote can help you find, save, and share the information you need.
  • Cam scanner is probably one of the easiest ways to save bibliographic information by simply “scanning” a resource with your phone or any other device.

Student Planners

In being preoccupied with your thesis, you may easily forget something. The following free tools will help you be better organized:


  • Any do can synchronize your personal tasks and help you achieve maximum potential.
  • Trello can help you see everything about your project in one place.
  • Exam Countdown is a free and easy-to-use app to keep track of all your deadlines.
  • Wunderlist is a tool for ticking off all your personal and academic goals.
  • Todoist is a free online task manager that will kindly remind you of approaching deadlines.
  • Tomsplanner is an online chart to help you get things done.
  • HabitRPG is a free productivity app that treats your life like an exciting game.
  • Todokyo is a simple way to create to-do lists online.
  • TrackClass will help you organize your schoolwork.
  • Ta-da Lists will help you reach those amazing “ta-da” moments with all your daily and weekly tasks ticked off.

Bibliography Helpers

Collecting resources and formatting citations is important for your dissertation writing, but imagine letting free citation tools do that work for you! Make this academic dream come true with our past list of the top 25 free online citation generators, or check out the following collection of free tools:

  • BibDesk will help you edit and manage your bibliography. This tool can help you keep track of not only bibliographic information but also related links and files.
  • BiblioExpress will help you find, manage, and edit bibliographic records.
  • Docear is a free academic literature management suite that helps you discover, organize, and cite your resources.
  • Recipes4Success is an open source bibliography maker that formats citations in MLA and APA.
  • Ottobib is a free, easy, and fast bibliography maker that allows formatting citations using only ISBN.
  • Citavi is a free reference management and knowledge organization tool that can help to not only create citations but also organize and highlight text.
  • Cite This for Me is an open source and easy-to-use citation maker that is compatible with a wide range of citation styles.
  • Colwiz is a free online reference management tool that requires registration.
  • CiteLighter is a free and fully automated citation maker.
  • GoBiblio is a free online citation maker that generates citations in MLA and APA.

Academic Research Tools

One more thing you will appreciate is an academic full-text research environment free of commercial links:

Research word under magnifying glass

  • Google Scholar is the place to start your online research that will help you with your thesis.
  • ContentMine is a tool that extracts scientific facts from around a billion academic resources.
  • Data Elixir is a twice-monthly digest of the latest scientific discoveries.
  • Labii is a template-based electronic notebook.
  • LazyScholar is a free Chrome or Mozilla extension that will do an automatic full-text search and create fast citations.
  • Scientific Journal Finder can help you access the latest and most relevant resources in your field.
  • Scizzle is a fast and easy way to discover new papers on a topic of your choice.
  • MyScienceWork is a platform for making your research papers visible to anyone on the web or getting access to research of others.
  • Scicurve uses an interactive approach to show you relationships between publications and authors.
  • Sparrho is a collection of scientific channels and an easily navigated search engine.

Working with sources and doing research may be rather exhausting.

Here’s the deal:

You have to work on your performance and productivity.

Productivity Apps

Another important routine change that can save hours and days of your life is blocking or minimizing distractions:

  • Freedom can help you block the most distracting websites and applications.
  • Self Control is a Mac app that will help you avoid distracting websites.
  • Focus Time is a combination of an activity tracker and a Pomodoro timer.

    byod concept: laptop and smartphonep on a desk workplace. All screen graphics are made up.

  • Write or Die is a web-based app designed to boost your productivity by reaching a target word count within a chosen time frame.
  • Rescue Time promises to help you block all distractions.
  • Leechblock is a Firefox add-on that can block time-wasting sites.
  • StayFocusd politely questions if you shouldn’t be working and helps you achieve that.
  • Write Monkey is software that can create a distraction-free interface for simply writing.
  • Nirvana will help you prioritize your tasks and get the most important ones done on time.
  • Tomato Timer is a minimalist timer that will help you work according to the well-known Pomodoro technique (working 25 minutes before taking a 5-minute break).

Vocabulary Builders

By the time you finish your project, you can undoubtedly boast of having a rich and diverse academic vocabulary. You may want to boost your vocabulary even further with the following tools:

  • IntensiveVocab is a free tool designed to help you improve your vocabulary, score higher on standardized tests, and thus improve your dissertation’s language.
  • WhichWord is an iOS app designed to help you better understand the difference between frequently confused words.
  • Just the Word is an online tool to help you better combine words in a sentence. You enter “just the word” into a search line and receive examples of how that word can be used and other students’ errors.

A bunch of scrambled game board pieces with letters imprinted on them, focusing on Words with a shallow depth of field.

  • Lexipedia is a tool that creates semantic differences for a word of your choice.
  • Wordnik is a free tool that will give you several definitions for a word of your choice.
  • Wordhippo is an easy and quick way to find synonyms and antonyms for a certain word.
  • Wordthink will help you enrich your vocabulary by learning a couple of rare words every day.
  • SAT Vocab by MindSnacks is a free app that can help you learn SAT vocabulary by simply playing games.
  • Vocabulary Builder from Magoosh is a free app to quickly boost your vocabulary.
  • Visual Vocab SAT is a free but effective app for building your vocabulary.


This collection of sources will make you thesis writing process easy and professional.

  • Abbreviations is a huge directory of all abbreviations imaginable.
  • Cambridge Dictionaries is a collection of free online English dictionaries and thesauruses.
  • Definitions is a multilingual dictionary that provides definitions from many reputable resources.
  • Macmillan Dictionary is an open source tool with activities and word lists to not only find the words you need but also learn them.
  • Merriam Webster is a free dictionary with a variety of online quizzes and tests.
  • Net Lingo is a free online dictionary providing clear and concise definitions of terms, including Internet slang.
  • Thesaurus is an open source dictionary offering synonyms and definitions.
  • Urban Dictionary is the go-to place for synonyms and definitions.
  • Ozdic is a free online collocation dictionary.
  • YourDictionary provides simple definitions that anyone can understand.

Plagiarism Check

Unintentional plagiarism makes most students worry. With the following free tools, you may, however, sleep well:

Plagiarism text concept write on notebook with pen

  • PlagScan will compare your documents with billions of others.
  • Article Checker is a free online plagiarism-checking tool that can search for copies of your text on the web.
  • Duplichecker is a free plagiarism detection tool restricted to 1,000 words per search.
  • generates plagiarism reports and offers an unlimited number of free attempts.
  • Plagium is a free, quick search that helps you detect instances of occasional plagiarism in your paper.
  • Dustball is a free plagiarism detection tool that will easily find plagiarized parts in your text.
  • ThePensters is free plagiarism-checking software for students and beyond.
  • PlagTracker is a convenient online plagiarism detection tool.
  • Plagiarisma is another free online plagiarism checker.
  • Copyscape will help you scan your thesis for any copies on the web.

Grammar and Style Check

Grammar and style checking of large amounts of text can last forever if you do it manually. The following free tools will make a world of difference for you:

  • Ginger is a quick and quality online grammar checker.
  • Grammarly with its grammar, style, and plagiarism check is a must-have for students.
  • AftertheDeadline is a spell, style, and grammar checker that promises intelligent editing.
  • Spellchecker is a spell check solution with a 300-day free trial.
  • Online Correction is a tool for detecting style, spelling, and grammar mistakes in writing.
  • Spell Check Online is a website for quick spell check online.
  • Paper Rater is a free tool that offers online proofreading and does not require download.
  • Grammar is a way to check and correct style, grammar, and spelling of your text online.
  • Language Tool is an open source tool for style and grammar check.
  • Grammar Base provides quick and in-depth scanning of your text for style and grammar errors.

Would you like to add some tool to this list? Which free apps and websites help you with your thesis?

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