PhD theses: the pros and cons 5

August 24, 2007

Alistair McCulloch claims that it should be acceptable for PhD students to resort to "professional" proofreaders (defined as individuals "professional in the use of English", such as secondary-school teachers).

The question is: use of which English? Has McCulloch ever heard of disciplinary discourses and discipline-specific ways of building an argument and delivering a persuasive message? Is a secondary-school teacher familiar with the rhetorical conventions of, say, biotechnology, which are inherently linked to and defined by the practices and methodology of the biotechnology discourse community? Can language be separated from content, and how does one distinguish between a badly constructed argument and lack of linguistic efficiency to construct that argument? To what degree can students' work be improved by people unfamiliar with the language and rhetoric of their discipline?

Finally, it may not be possible to prevent students going to proofreaders, but it should be possible to prevent supervisors referring students to certain proofreaders, and this practice should be flagged as unethical.

I know of one Midlands university where students were more or less forced by their supervisors to pay small fortunes to a certain "professional" when their theses had already been proofread by fellow students and were hardly in need of further editing.

Dimitra Koutsantoni
Cass Business School
City University, London

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