One of the most common inquiries we receive regarding our professional paper editing services is whether having a paper edited would constitute plagiarism. Our clients are seeking master’s, PhD and undergraduate degrees at the nation’s top colleges and universities, and their concern is understandable. They want the competitive edge without compromising their integrity and the hard work they have put into their studies. They come to us because of the more than 1,800 students we have helped achieve A’s on their papers, and they want to be sure that hiring us for our paper editing services will not be seen as plagiarism.
First, What Is Plagiarism?
The first step in addressing this concern is to understand what exactly is plagiarism—and what it is not. Simply put, “plagiarism” is using the ideas or words of another as if they were your own. Let us say that you have a neighbor named Bob who just invented the wheel. You then write a paper describing how you invented the wheel, without giving Bob any credit. That would be plagiarism. Let us say that after writing your paper you read the paper that Bob also wrote on inventing the wheel. You then change some of your paragraphs to use Bob’s paragraphs, because you like them better. That also is plagiarism.
When it comes to thinking of what constitutes plagiarism, the above examples are fairly obvious. However, what about getting assistance with a sentence, a word choice, or following the rules of the APA style? If someone helps you, is that also plagiarism?
Then What Isn’t Plagiarism?
To help understand this issue further, let us continue with an obvious example of what is not plagiarism. Let us say that your professor has asked you to write a paper for her class. It is due in a week, but you have received poor grades on your prior papers, and this time you want to make sure you get it right before you hand it in. You write a working draft the same night you receive the assignment and the next day meet with your professor during her office hours to ask her thoughts on what you have written. She gives you feedback on the content and recommends changes to a few words and sentences. You follow all her suggestions, hand it in and receive an A on the paper.
What many students writing papers do not realize is that this is precisely the process that is followed for writing a dissertation. The candidate writes an initial draft, submits it for review, receives feedback from his or her advisor, and makes the necessary changes to ensure the dissertation will be approved, before submitting it to the review committee. When time is short, or when a more detailed review is needed, the dissertation advisor will recommend the candidate seeks additional help from a professional editing service.
Does this mean, then, that simply using any professional editing service will result in a paper that is free from plagiarism? Maybe not.
A Question of Creating a Unique Idea
The fundamental issue of what is and is not plagiarism comes down to a question of whether the idea is unique and, if it is, who was the one who created it. If Bob has just invented the wheel, he “owns” that invention, and your pretending to own it would constitute plagiarism. Similarly, if Bob has written a paper, he “owns” the content of that paper, and your copying from it would constitute plagiarism. The question then comes down to how unique the idea—either the invention or the words—is and who is the one who created it.
For an idea to be considered unique, it needs to be one that no one else has created, as well as one that is not already commonplace. The invention of the wheel is a great example. When it was first created, it was unique, but now that many years have passed since it was invented, it is no longer unique. If when it was first created someone other than the inventor pretended to have invented it, that would have constituted plagiarism. Now that the wheel is no longer unique, however, there is no such concern.
When Paper Editing Is Free of Plagiarism
In a previous blog post, I wrote on the qualities that make for a great copyeditor. Among them I included the ability to edit within the author’s unique voice and style, and not to impose or insert his or her own ideas on or into the author’s document. This is the first distinction in whether the paper editing service will result in plagiarism. Mature editors, like the ones we have at DLA Editors & Proofers, will know how to stay within the author’s work to keep the editing free of plagiarism. Our editors’ approach then becomes the same one graduate school advisors use when reviewing drafts of their candidates’ dissertations, but with the time to be able to perform a thorough edit of the drafted paper.
How our editing can be free of plagiarism is easy to illustrate with a couple of simple examples using word choice. Let us say that you have used “fewer” when the correct word to use is “less.” This distinction is not one we invented and can be independently verified with a dictionary. Another example would be if you have used “smile,” but in the context of your writing we see that “grin” would communicate your idea more effectively. While we are the ones making the suggestion, the difference in the definitions of the two words is not one we invented. Our role as expert paper editors, then, is not to create new content for you but to recommend improvements our experience has trained us to see.
The Need for Track Changes
At DLA Editors & Proofers, one additional measure we take to ensure the result of our editing is free of plagiarism is that we make all our suggestions using the Track Changes feature of Microsoft Word. The reason for this comes from our point of view that at all stages in the drafting, editing and rewriting process, the author is the owner. When we identify an improvement that could be made, therefore, we see it as a suggestion we are making rather than a correction that must be accepted. What Track Changes allows us to do is make our suggested changes directly to the text but in such a way that keeps them from being incorporated into the document until our client has had the chance to agree or disagree with our recommendations and taken the action of accepting, modifying or rejecting them. With this process, we ensure they are the ones taking ownership of the changes and that the final result is an edit that is 100% free of plagiarism.