Drawing the line: Views from academic staff and skills advisors on acceptable proofreading with low proficiency writers

  • Declan McNally Student Learning Services, Australian College of Physical Education, Olympic Park NSW 2127, Aus-tralia
  • Benjamin Dirk Kooyman Australian College of Physical Education
Keywords: proofreading, student support, writing support, ethics, intervention, best practice


One of many services provided by Academic Language and Learning (ALL) institutions across Australia is allowing students with low levels of written proficiency to forward drafts of assignments prior to submission for formative feedback. The task of the ALL advisor is to suggest how an assignment could be improved, identify common errors, and highlight weaknesses without materially altering the student’s work, so that their assignment can receive a “respectful” (Shashok, 2001, p. 4) reading in terms of content from whoever ultimately grades it. Despite reluctance to describe this process as “proofreading”, that is often exactly what it is, with the fine line between editorial advice and intervention frequently crossed. This discrepancy between individual proofing practices and the broader anti-proofing ethos of the ALL community can be a source of discomfort, with advisors torn between upholding the “party line” and meeting individual student needs. It is important that proofreading as a type of support is not viewed as heretical, but as a valid pedagogical offering supported by clear institutional agreement on what constitutes acceptable proofreading. This paper reviews the literature on the ethics and efficacy of both non-directive and directive intervention in student writing. It also reports on a research study where students, ALL- and discipline-based academics reviewed examples of ALL-style commentary on student writing. The study found that proofreading per se was not regarded as an unacceptable practice by academic staff or students, though there was divergence on what types of comments were helpful and which were ethically problematic in terms of “voice” and “ownership”. The study elucidates correspondences and differences in opinion between academics, ALL advisors, and students on what constitutes unacceptable intervention in the work of low proficiency writers, with the aim of establishing supportive communities of practice around this contentious issue within ALL institutions.

Author Biography

Benjamin Dirk Kooyman, Australian College of Physical Education
Dr Ben Kooyman is an Academic Skills Adviser at the Australian College of Physical Education
How to Cite
McNallyD., & KooymanB. D. (2017). Drawing the line: Views from academic staff and skills advisors on acceptable proofreading with low proficiency writers. Journal of Academic Language and Learning, 11(1), A145-A158. Retrieved from https://journal.aall.org.au/index.php/jall/article/view/472
Research Articles