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Teaching Ethics

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published on September 10, 2020

Becky De Oliveira

The Ethics of Writing Services for Graduate Students

One area of ethical concern in higher education is writing services for graduate students, which can range from simple proofreading to rewriting content for flow, coherence, and structure to extensive content creation akin to ghostwriting. There are various ways to look at the use of writing services: 1) as a clear violations of ethics, presenting the student as a more capable writer than he or she is; 2) as a “necessary evil” resulting from greater numbers of individuals with inadequate writing preparation entering university graduate programs; and 3) as a routine part of professional practice utilized by published writers who uniformly benefit from editing and proofreading. Professors, research advisors, and writing center tutors must face a range of ethical questions regarding writing assistance, particularly given that many graduate students, particularly those at the doctoral level, will soon be established professionals expected to guide others in the production of scholarly work. What are the ethical differences between types of writing assistance? What is the appropriate level of writing help for those in graduate programs? How does a strict stance on the editing of student papers reflect on the common practice of professional editing for publication—which can make published writers appear perhaps more capable than they really are? This article examines the complex issues those working with graduate students can face in trying to improve the writing they produce while also maintaining strong ethical standards regarding authorship and encouraging the learning process. It provides an overview of the ethical issues involved in writing services and extensive outside writing help provided to graduate students, and offers suggestions for creating a balance between compassion, professionalism, and honesty in graduate writing. It also proposes general ideas for offering appropriate assistance based on the type of writing in question—assistance that honors the learning process, demonstrates respect for the concept of authorship, and adheres to the concepts of Respect for Persons, Beneficence, and Justice outlined in the Belmont Report (1978).

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