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Proof reading someone else’s work will never be a fun thing to do. It won’t be a pleasant thing to do, it won’t be satisfying and it won’t even be useful to you in any imaginable way. But unfortunately you’ll have to do it and depending on how friendly you are, reluctantly or otherwise, you’ll have to do it a lot throughout university.

This is why whenever people call university the best time of their lives, I fail to understand for a large part why that is. You have to do things for yourself, you’re left to your own devices when it comes to your education which allows anyone without the slightest amount of self control to procrastinate themselves into oblivion. You also have to meet new friends, all of whom have increasingly longer histories than the friends you had at school whose history consisted of time in the womb and then with you. Not only this, but those friends who you inevitably know less about, are going to be people who you then have to find a house with within a year, which is a thing that no person in their right mind would do if it was a romantic decision, because it could be potentially awful, yet do it anyway and have it be potentially awful.

But there’s one beautiful thing about secondary school, which occurs just around the time when essays start becoming more prominent and important in your life and you start to get the sneaking suspicion that for the rest of your existence you will be relentlessly tested in unrepeatable and somewhat unfair exams, the results of which will structure the remains of your continuing and underwhelming life. That beautiful thing is that your teachers will do all of your proofreading for you. See, the teacher is not a friend and so when they give you constructive criticism, they can give it in a plain and matter of fact way that you can take up as useful information in order to improve your work. They are also not in competition with you, so if your essay is good, they can celebrate that fact and not envy you for it.

If you were paying attention to that last part, this is where proofreading for friends at uni can become irritating. The worst part really is that you hear the background to the writing of the essay itself. You hear how they haven’t slept, have been popping pro plus for several days and only taking short breaks to watch random Youtube clips which are not a reward in themselves, but simply just an escape from the torment of the remaining work that is to come.

And then you have to read the product of that misery and what do you find? Spelling mistakes litter the first few paragraphs. The introduction doesn’t make any sense. They’ve used to many commas, too few commas, they use irrelevant content, use words incorrectly and you eventually grow to hate their essay writing style because it sounds strikingly similar to the person who you like but if they were a massive arsehole.

But breaking bad news to them is awful enough and depending on how much they have left to complete the essay, that awfulness can range between a feeling of harsh yet constructive advice, all the way to a similar sensation to drowning a cat in a bag, but a clear bag, so you can see its moist face and silent meows as it struggles impotently against your greater strength to break the surface of the water and breathe in one last deep lung full of that sweet life giving air.

On the other side of the scale is when you read their exam and its amazing. Just fantastic. This person, it turns out, is just better at constructing an argument and then fine tuning that argument to perfection. In real life you might appear smarter and have any number of talents greater than them, but on paper they destroy you. A worse man would take that opportunity to try and sabotage their achievement, but most of the time it’ll just leave you staring at your own failed essay and knowing deep down inside that you aren’t as good as they are. Any drive to improve your work will quickly dissipate and you will hand in a half arsed piece of work all because you saw the workings of the enemy and they were more than you’d ever be.

There are many subtle problems between the teacher having proof read your work and a friend doing it also. When a teacher reads your work, the essay is set for them to mark and therefore like. This means that when they give you their corrections, those corrections will definitely get you a better mark because it’s to their personal preferences and it is those preferences upon which you will be graded.  Now alternatively, when you mark someone’s work, you have no idea what you’re talking about. You and that university professor are so different in your preferences of what makes a good quality essay that it’s not even worth discussing because it’s plainly obvious. It’s the difference between how I thought a Curb Your Enthusiasm reference as the final few words in someone’s dissertation was hilarious and would have the person reading it chuckling to themselves and adding a mark or two simply out of their shared love of Curb. In actuality it led to them losing a mark for having an irrelevant and poor grammatical ending to their essay. I guess the phrase “pretty, pretty good” just doesn’t sound quite so academic and thoughtful without context.

There was one example of proofreading however, which I think was both unpleasant and useless, but not simply due to the quality, but more so the content. If people give you an essay to read outside of your subject then its hard enough. But when people give you an essay to read that is outside of the subjects of everyone on the planet save about three professors in some of the top universities (of which I was not one) in the Western Hemisphere, then you have a problem.

A friend of mine asked me to quickly read through his essay regarding the subject, ‘Can Crispin Wright’s ‘Best Opinion’ account of primary and secondary qualities account for truth about Pitch?’ Now, I recognized a few words there, and so extrapolated from that that if there were words there that I knew, then I could fill in the gaps of the words I didn’t recognize, check the spelling and at least basically understand the overall argument. This plan did not work and I soon discovered that the philosophy that I had been studying was nowhere near this level. I had two hours and I wasn’t going to let him down, since he had no other people around to read it and had stupidly come to me asking for his first and last proofread. Any hope I had of helping were dashed as soon as I hit two words that I didn’t recognize in the first paragraph; “apriorisity” and “euthyphronistic”. These words are found in only one book, that of Crispin Wright’s, and did not exist in any other realm aside from this. All throughout the word document were littered the red lines of spelling failure, which I had thought at first was due to the laziness of the writer, and that I could make loads of corrections and be a really good mate. I was very much mistaken.

They weren’t in the dictionary. They weren’t in Google searches that I tried. I wasn’t even sure if I knew how they were spelt let alone if they even had any meaning other than between a handful of people in the world. I may as well have just followed that pattern of language and simply written the word “glub” in my essay and simply defined it as the most concise answer to all known questions in the universe and gotten 1:1 out of sheer balls to the wall logical shortcuts. Men and women of the world could’ve lived in the peace and harmony under the rule that any answer to a question could be simply answered with the word glub and that upon hearing this, you should be relieved that you had found the answer to your question, because although it lacked meaning to you personally, the unknowable word itself still held the answer to your question. Okay maybe if I accomplished that, I’d expect a little more than a 1:1.

So I spent the next two hours that he could’ve been actually fixing it up, reading words and ideas that I could not understand in the slightest, only to hand it back to him minutes before the deadline and simply offering the advice of, “yeah, it’s good”. He got a good mark for it at least, although I have a suspicion that the professor marking it was in exactly my position and not wanting to look more ignorant than one of his students, did the equivalent of my response by just dumping a good grade on it. I had always hoped the rushed gibberish I spewed out in essays would also have their lack of sense or reasoning confused for brilliance, but so far that has yet to happen.

Anyway, if you read this far I’m assuming that you either enjoyed it or are really desperate for some advice on avoiding proofreading. So given that, my advice is simple. Don’t do it, because it’ll only make you sad. Just say you’re too busy or too drunk to do it and people will usually leave you be. You could even fake dyslexia so that they won’t trust your judgement if you become too desperate . Alternatively, if you already have dyslexia, then you’re already quids in. If you are at some point forced to do it, just read it quickly, ignoring almost all the content, tell the person it’s good and then when they receive their final and also terrible mark back, just complain that the marker doesn’t get it.

Even though he’s probably smarter than you have any hope of ever being.

Written by Harvey Clayton-Wright