Friday, November 10, 2017

The Collaborative Dissertation

Soooo many authors...
Yesterday, I completed the drudgery that is teaching undergraduates how to cite their references in APA format. As we went through all the little details, commas here, periods there, I found myself marveling at how many papers had multiple authors. I always knew this to be the case for papers in the sciences and social sciences, but as I wrote all those names and "et als" out on the board I thought, "Why are scientists expected to write their own solo dissertations? None of these people are writing alone!"

Writing the dissertation can be the loneliest time in an academic's life. In the case of the humanities, it actually does reflect much of the work we will do once we get a job someday (please, please, please...). But in the case of the hard and soft sciences, that isn't so. Researchers in the fields most often work in teams. The American Sociological Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science both offer extensive articles and blog posts on collaborating. Everyone is doing it!

So it seems that no one person can or should handle all the moving parts of a major experiment, be it conducting gene therapy on mice, or surveying survivors of assault. Science and social science require objectivity. Placing an experimental project meant to add original material to scientific discourse -- dissertations must be original contributions -- into the hands of an amateur scientist (the doctoral student), no matter how brilliant, seems like a recipe for existential and experimental trouble. Results could be compromised and things could be overlooked or fall through the cracks, when a researcher has to plan it all, do it all, document it all, and write it all up.

More importantly, for the students' sake, placing such a weight on the individual is not indicative of, or good training for, collaborative work that they will eventually engage in. It does them a disservice to expect such a strangely isolated project of them, at a time in their lives when pressure is high, pay is low, and finishing the project is the only thing that lies between them and their career. Weathering this experience as a team, or even as a partnership, could make it far more bearable and fruitful.

Looking at tissue cultures is more
fun with friends!
This is not to say that every science dissertation writer is actually going it all alone. Certainly, collaborative research feeds into students' dissertations and into professors' papers all the time. But no one but the writer is given top billing. Usually, only one student gets the Ph.D. for that dissertation. And where does that leave the others who put long days and nights into the scientific work that created it? Should working on other students' doctoral research grant a junior grad student a master's degree? Or should senior students simply plan and execute the entire project together, as equals?

A search for collaborative dissertations comes up thin. They are catching on in education, where all kinds of collaboration are non-competitive, daily occurrences (give me that lesson plan, eh?). Collaborative dissertations are, according to a 2015 paper, a "disruption" in composition studies. This is odd considering Comp teachers are teachers too. And in the sciences, the co-authored diss is still highly uncommon. However, some researchers and universities hope to change this.

NIU Chemistry students make one of
their colleagues disappear.
In 2014, two students at Saybrook University completed an important study on diabetes -- together! -- as their dissertation.  The dual-authored document is a far better model and far better practice for writing scientific papers for publication. Charlene Conlin and Carlene Phelps offer some awesome insight into the basic requirements of doing such work as a team:

  • Mutual agreement on what the researchers intend for their dissertation, both in process and in outcome.
  • Ego minimization when necessary to achieve the greater good.
  • Organization in the form of intentions, goals, and timelines.
  • Resiliency in the form of drive to keep going until both get to the finish line. (It seems particularly important to have someone else relying on to you to get done!)

You can read the rest of their advice and more about their study here.

Why collaborative dissertations have not caught on, seventeen years into this new millennium, I can't say. We've rethought every kind of document we create, from music to film to the news. But we still think of a dissertation as a monolithic monograph and a rite of passage, rather than a learning opportunity that will prepare students, especially those in the sciences, for a long life of collaborative work and collaborative writing. Why do you think we cling so tightly to an outdated dissertation model?

For more on the future of the dissertation, keep reading!

"I'm not sticking my hands in there unless someone else does it first!"



Friday, October 27, 2017

The Future of the Dissertation Is Already Here

This post was contributed by Carolyn Law, Thesis and Dissertation Advisor in the Graduate School at NIU
James Whiton: "Aren't you jealous?"

How did we get here?
To talk about the future of the dissertation, you must understand a little something about its past. To say the dissertation has changed over the centuries is an understatement.

The first three doctorates in the U.S. were awarded at Yale in 1861. A dissertation was required, but only one of the documents survives today, the notorious dissertation of James Morris Whiton. It was handwritten, of course, entirely in Latin--six whole pages on the subject, “Brevis vita, ars longa” (Rosenberg, 1961).

Today, the average length of a doctoral dissertation in the sciences is hovering around 200 pages. There was a dramatic surge in length between 1950 and 1990 (Gould, 2016, p. 28), probably for a number of reasons. For one thing, literature reviews over time have grown because, frankly, there’s just more literature to review now and that body of literature is more easily accessed by students. Also, new theoretical frameworks, methodologies, and experimental procedures are often more complex, unfamiliar, and difficult to explain in academic prose than in earlier eras.

But much of the change in dissertations over the course of the 20th century was conspicuously driven by technology. A dissertation in the 1950s was produced on a manual typewriter with carbon paper. Corrections were made with a razor blade. I wrote my own master’s thesis on an IBM Selectric typewriter. By the time I got to doctoral study in the early 1990s, computers were available, but not universally used.

Memories...
Big change was occurring in the access chain as well. A dissertation has always been a public document, but until very recently “public” did not mean “accessible.” Dissertations were typed directly or photocopied onto cotton-bond paper, bound, and shelved in research libraries. They were very rarely accessed and many (like two thirds of Yale’s PhD class of 1861) have been lost forever.

In 1938, a little firm in Ann Arbor began microfilming and archiving dissertations, mostly because they were a technology company in search of content and the massive stock of dissertations presented a perfect pool of material. UMI is today known as ProQuest International and it is the largest database and repository of electronic theses and dissertations (ETDs) in the world. In 2008, NIU made electronic submission of digital theses and dissertations (in PDF) mandatory. These documents are now discoverable and in some cases fully downloadable anywhere in the world, any time of day or night.

Recognizing the acceleration of technological change in the way research and scholarship are produced and shared in the 21st century, the Council of Graduate Schools convened a symposium in January 2016 on the future of the dissertation, citing “recent controversies about the purpose of doctoral education and the meaning of the dissertation” (Blackwell, 2015, p. 1). What came out of that meeting suggests that the future of the dissertation must include a heart-to-heart discussion of the role of doctoral education in general in the 21st-century knowledge marketplace. That’s changing too. More accurately, it has changed, but graduate education and its grand artifact, the dissertation, are lagging far behind the times.

Where do we go from here?
Graduate schools are just now beginning to grapple with three prominent issues arising in this evolving new-century context: authorship, access, and format. Some of the discussions we must continue to have include:
NIU students collaborating in a study lounge.

Collaboration and Coauthorship 
Most knowledge is created in groups, and in some disciplines the particular skills required to work in teams are absolutely essential to the successful conduct of an individual study as well as the professional development of the student-researcher. Shouldn’t dissertations be allowed to reflect that real-world process?

Open Access 
Knowledge that is not shared might as well not exist, and a dissertation that is not accessible fails to achieve one of its primary purposes. According to Maureen McCarthy (2016), Assistant Director of Advancement and Best Practices for the Council of Graduate Schools, “The idea of the dissertation moving a student from a private to a public phase resurfaced repeatedly” (p. 1) throughout the symposium in 2016. But the public nature of the dissertation in the 21st century is not the same as it was in the 20th. The internet, full-text downloadability, Creative Commons licensing, none of this was even imaginable when dissertations were routinely shelved in brick-and-mortar buildings. On the one hand, such accessibility furthers knowledge dramatically, but on the other hand, that accessibility may run counter to tenure review policies that privilege conventional publication. Shouldn’t dissertation authors choose their own levels of exposure? Shouldn’t students maintain control over their own intellectual property?

Alternative Formats 
In recent years, the idea of the monograph dissertation, an extended discourse on a single topic or experiment, has been challenged. The two most common complaints are that these papers take too long to write and they are not representative of the kinds of writing expected of working researchers. In economics, for instance, the norm now is the “three-article dissertation,” in which the author bundles a series of shorter pieces under a unifying introduction. In other disciplines, the very nature of the “document” itself is being questioned, introducing multimedia, graphical representation, and other digital forms into the dissertation genre. Shouldn’t dissertations be allowed to fly free from the cage of the page when it is technologically feasible and intellectually meaningful to do so?

Dance your dissertation!
These are just some of the questions, not thoughtfully crafted, negotiated policies. But we must ask the questions to arrive at the policies. And we need the policies soon. What do you think? We welcome your comments.








----------------------------------------------------
 References

Blackwell, J. (July 2015). Rethinking the dissertation: An opinion piece. GradEdge [Council of Graduate Schools], 4(6), pp. 1-3. 

Gould, J. (7 July 2016). Future of the thesis. Nature, 535, pp. 26-28.

McCarthy, M. (March 2016). The dissertation’s many futures [summary of the January 2016 symposium on the future of the dissertation]. GradEdge [Council of Graduate Schools], 5(3), pp. 1-3.

Rosenberg, R. (1961). The first American doctor of philosophy degree: A centennial salute to Yale, 1861-1961. The Journal of Higher Education, 32(7), 387-394. doi:10.2307/1978076

Friday, October 13, 2017

Video Tutorials Are Here!

You'll find a new page at our Thesis and Dissertation Office website: Video Tutorials!  Robyn and Fred spent the summer designing step-by-step guides to some of the most frequently used Microsoft Word tools for theses. Here, you'll find videos on:
  • Page Numbering: Proper pagination (creating page numbers and hiding page numbers) in your document
  • Leader Dots: Creating rows of leader dots (......) to build a professional-looking Table of Contents and other tables
  • COMING SOON, Landscape Pages: Working with landscape pages to accommodate your tables and figures

Don't get as frustrated as Fred! Watch our videos!
We use on-screen help plus live video of real people (us!) to guide you through every step of these processes. Watch the videos at full speed, slow them down, or watch as many times as you need to in order to learn the processes. Also, we have carefully captioned each one so you can watch without sound. We chose the videos we made based on what we've seen come through the office -- page numbers out of control, margins obliterated by big tables, and Tables of Contents with MS Word weirdness everywhere. When we see these problems, we sometimes have to tell a student the last thing he wants to hear: "We need to start from scratch." With these videos, we're trying to nip bad formatting in the bud. 

Fred's award for his blockbuster,
"Page Numbering"
We try to have a sense of humor to help lighten up what can be a boring and lengthy process. We don't love formatting either, but we'll help you learn to like it just a little better!  As one of our recent graduates said after spending weeks formatting his dissertation, "I should get a degree just for that!"

So before you throw the laptop out the window, avail yourself of these new videos. And if that doesn't work... come see us! We'll be glad to help in person, too. (No autographs, please.)


Friday, September 29, 2017

Brown Bag Recap: Committee Relations


Committee Relations.  It’s a topic of great importance to grad students, and one that covers a lot of ground.  Last week in our office—on Wednesday, September 20, to be precise—we held a Brown Bag discussion on various issues that come up when working with a director (or, as some say, advisor) and committee members on a thesis or dissertation project.  Below we share some of the big takeaways.

Committee Formation

The Grad School has certain requirements concerning who can serve on a thesis or dissertation committee.  We talked about these requirements and noted you can find plenty of information on composition of committees and other facets of completing your degree via the Grad School website.  But we really wanted to talk about the process of choosing committee members, especially a director, that is, someone to chair the committee.  We noted that the form you need to submit once you line up either a thesis director or dissertation director helps to contextualize the situation.  But how to approach a professor about all this?  While running through various scenarios, both clever and clumsy, we noted that sometimes a professor will approach the grad student about working together on a project.  In any case, we firmly agreed on this: keeping in touch with faculty whose work you admire and/or whose courses you’ve taken and found especially relevant or inspiring is especially important as you progress through your first semester or year in your program.  We also agreed that once you have a director lined up, a good procedure for filling out the rest of the committee—if you’re unsure about this part of the process, which can also be tricky—is to ask your director for suggestions.  In the case of at least one participant in our discussion, the director was very glad to help with this important matter.

Working Together

Once everyone is on board, then of course you have to move forward, together.  Some tips for working with your committee members that we found especially useful:

* Plainly and simply, make a schedule.  That is, a semester-long schedule for you and your committee.  Think of it like a course syllabus.  Plan dates for completing drafts, submitting drafts, and meeting with members in the same way you would when sequencing assignments over a semester.  Distribute the schedule to your committee at the start of the term and ask if they have questions.   We considered making such a schedule to be a constructive way to help initiate and keep communication lines open with committee members at different stages of the project.  Another reason for a semester-long plan: many of us, in the course of the big endeavor, end up needing to make changes to the overall schedule of completion as outlined in the proposal.  A shorter schedule can take such changes into account and inform all committee members about them clearly.

* Send updates to your committee.  Think of these as progress reports for the benefit of all involved.  Praise yourself and your committee for work you’ve already completed.  “Look how far we’ve come,” or effusive comments of that sort, can pepper emails and/or face-to-face meetings.  We noted that by sending updates, you can also reassert your role as one of the principal actors moving the project forward.

* Use “I…” statements when corresponding/communicating about submitted work.  Such statements contrast with the all-too-easy hedging questions you might already be using with members such as “Can you please see about possibly responding to this draft within, say, a few weeks or so?” or even the slightly more direct “Please respond at your convenience.”  Better results are likely when you politely state your needs.  For example, “Our schedule has me starting on this next chapter next week, so I need your feedback on the last draft on. . . .”  You get the idea. 

What if…?

The last phase of our discussion on committee relations touched on some of the things that can go right but centered on things that can possibly go wrong.  Let’s say, for example, you need to make a change to your committee—the main thing we thought of in terms of things going wrong.  Sometimes a member leaves to take a position elsewhere, must bow out for personal reasons, or for other reasons turns out to be not quite working out.  What to do?  Our biggest takeaway here: tread lightly but firmly.  The Grad School does have procedures in place for working through committee changes and has form to use if needed for a thesis or a doctoral committee change.  We also noted that a committee change usually won’t happen all of a sudden.  Likely a series of events, signals, or impressions will lead up to it.  In the end, we reemphasized the importance of keeping lines of communication open between you and all committee members.

Final Thoughts

We have a few more Brown Bags scheduled this fall—one of them planned just for faculty and staff.  We also have more formal presentations and workshops happening over the next two weeks.  Check out the details in our previous blog entry.  Email us for more information or to sign up.  We look forward to meeting you and helping you finish your project with flourish.  Now: take a few minutes away from reading, writing, or revising…and wish your committee members a happy fall!

 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Announcing Our Fall Programs

Adams Hall, home of the Graduate School
and the Thesis and Dissertation Office.
Welcome to fall 2017!  In September and October the Thesis Office will once again offer brown bag sessions, presentations, and workshops for NIU grad students at various stages of the thesis or dissertation process. Some brown bag sessions are also open to faculty, and one is geared for faculty and staff.  We look forward to seeing you!

Basics
Brown bags will start in the second week of September and meet Wednesdays from 12 to 1 p.m. in Adams Hall, Room 103.  Presentations and workshops will start in the last week of September, and most will will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. in the same Adams Hall location on a Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday.  Note that two presentations meet at different times, locations, and/or days.  For details on each program, see below.  

Registration
No registration required for brown bags.  Registration is required for a presentation or workshop.  Register via email at thesis@niu.edu.  Include the name of the presentation or workshop you want to attend in the subject line or message.  We do have space limitations for events in Adams 103 (12 seats maximum).  Register early!

What to Expect
Plenty of important information regarding completion of your graduate degree.  After running these programs over several semesters, we’ve learned that most students who attend presentations and workshops are blown away by how much they didn’t fully know about meeting various deadlines, submitting the proper paperwork to the proper place, or formatting the long document.  At all our events, expect thorough coverage of common concerns as well as time to address individual questions.

Brown Bag Sessions 
Breaking Through Writer’s Block (and Other Obstacles)
Wednesday, September 13 (12 to 1 p.m. in Adams Hall, Room 103)
Informal discussion on common obstacles that slow or entirely halt progress on one’s thesis or dissertation.  Carolyn Law, Thesis/Dissertation Advisor, will facilitate the discussion and offer practical strategies.  Students only, please.

Committee Relations
Wednesday, September 20 (12 to 1 p.m. in Adams Hall, Room 103)
Informal discussion on choosing committee members, creating productive working relationships with them, maintaining good communications, and managing feedback throughout the process.  Graduate School policies regarding committees will be reviewed.  Faculty and students welcome.

Robyn Byrd leading a brown bag discussion
in Adams 103.
Writing the Proposal
Wednesday, September 27 (12 to 1 p.m. in Adams Hall,
Room 103)
Discussion will address typical characteristics of any strong thesis or dissertation proposal (sometimes called a prospectus) as well as aspects unique to proposals in various disciplines.  Faculty and students welcome.

The Balancing Act: A Life in Grad School
Wednesday, October 4 (12 to 1 p.m. in Adams Hall,
Room 103)
Informal discussion on the complexities of managing life as a graduate student, balancing family responsibilities, personal health, outside work, and the pressures of a dissertation or thesis.  Session will be facilitated by Thesis Office GA Robyn Byrd, doctoral candidate and mother of two.  Students only, please.

Faculty Q & A
Wednesday, October 11 (12 to 1 p.m. in Adams Hall, Room 103)
(Grad students, you might want to bring this one to the attention of your director or other faculty members in your department.)  Carolyn Law, Thesis/Dissertation Advisor, will introduce the functions and services of the Thesis Office and answer questions about Graduate School requirements and standards for theses and dissertations.  Faculty who are directing a thesis or dissertation at NIU for the first time are especially encouraged to attend, but all faculty and staff are welcome.

Presentations
Carolyn Law presenting on the submission process in Wirtz Hall.
Demystifying the Submission Process
Tuesday, September 26 (5 to 7 p.m. in Wirtz Hall, Room 104)
This presentation is for students preparing to submit a thesis or dissertation to the Graduate School for December 2017 graduation.  Carolyn Law, Thesis/Dissertation Advisor, will walk students through the steps of the process: defense, electronic submission, and final approval.

Dissertation Essentials
Monday, October 2 (2 to 4 p.m. in Adams Hall, Room 103)
Designed for all doctoral students enrolled in 799 in any department.  Staff will walk students through the Graduate School’s specific requirements for dissertations and cover a wide range of the most troublesome issues dissertation writers frequently encounter.

Thesis Essentials
Tuesday, October 3 (2 to 4 p.m. in Adams Hall, Room 103)
Designed for all master’s students enrolled in 699 in any department.  Staff will walk students through the Graduate School’s specific requirements for theses and cover a wide range of the most troublesome issues thesis writers frequently encounter.

Writing a Thesis in Engineering
Thursday, October 5 (2 to 4 p.m. in Adams Hall, Room 103)
Designed specifically for thesis writers enrolled in thesis-credit hours in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.  Staff will walk students through the Graduate School’s specific requirements for theses and cover a range of issues that students in engineering fields often find troublesome.

NIU Naperville, venue for Writing a Dissertation in Education.
Writing a Dissertation in Education
Saturday, October 14 (9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at NIU Naperville, Room 119)
This one-day program at NIU Naperville is designed specifically for dissertation writers enrolled in 799 in the College of Education.  Staff will walk students through the Graduate School’s specific requirements for dissertations and cover a wide range of the most troublesome issues dissertation writers in education frequently encounter.

Workshops
Tables/Figures/Pagination
Tuesday, October 10 (2 to 4 p.m. in Adams Hall, Room 103)
This hands-on workshop is designed to help writers comply with the Graduate School’s requirements for tables, figures, and pagination.  Students should bring their work in progress on their own laptops.  Staff will cover the specific format requirements, demonstrate helpful techniques and short-cuts in Microsoft Word, and allow generous time for individual troubleshooting and one-on-one consultation.

ASME Documentation
Thursday, October 12 (2 to 4 p.m. in Adams Hall, Room 103)
This hand-on workshop will teach the documentation style of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, known as ASME journal style.  Using real-word examples, students will apply the principles in real time to their own writing.  ASME journal style is ideal for research documentation in all departments of the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Professional Development for NIU Grad Students


It's a buzz-phrase you might see a lot in department emails, on university and corporate websites... and The Graduate School at NIU is no exception.  They are riding that "Professional Development" train!

I want to talk about some ways to professionalize yourself, i.e. gain work experience, while you're here -- some of these opportunities are through the Graduate School, and some are within your own department. (In all likelihood, your department is riding that train too.)

Graduate School Programs and Resources

So many programs!
The Graduate School at NIU has recently increased their offerings for professional development programs, including mentorships, workshops for teaching assistants, internship opportunities, and assistance with developing a teaching portfolio. Their goal was to centralize your professional development experience by using Grad School tools to track progress and find resources. Their redesigned home page has a "Professional Development" drop-down menu, under which you can find links to workshops and programs. Here are a couple important ones you should look into:

Individual Development Plan
An individual development plan can address your specific goals for graduate study. For those studying in healthcare, an IDP is mandatory.  But anyone can create one! The plans helps you bring together all your own programs, workshops, and degree progress, to get a sense of what your strengths are and what else you need to do before you leave us. Attend a workshop to see if an IDP is right for you.

Future Professoriate Program
According to the Grad School:

"The Future Professoriate Program was designed for two purposes:
  1. To recognize the efforts of doctoral students who prepared to enter the professoriate.
  2. To supplement on-going training and mentoring efforts."
Doctoral students with any kind of assitantship are eligible. You must attend workshops and work with a teaching mentor, and the program earns you a Certificate in College Teaching. The program provides excellent support for teachers in training, especially for those whose departments might not be as involved with their TAs. (You likely won't find a long-term teaching mentor in the department! Why not sign up for one who is dedicated to you?)

Workshops
Numerous workshops are going on at the Grad School, every week. Learn about ethical research, how to work with a mentor, how to do lunch with professionals, and even how the heck to write a dissertation. Some workshops are formal while others are discussion based. There is even a suite of research workshops that will grant you a certificate in Research Integrity. (And some of them offer free pizza. Always a necessity.)

Thesis and Dissertation Support
The Thesis and Dissertation Office (that's us!) should be your go-to for thesis and dissertation support. While we may refer you to an admin or to someone in your department, we know who gets what done. And we are staffed by graduate students who are currently writing dissertations!  We offer a unique peer perspective that administrators cannot, when it comes to everything from cutting through red tape, getting the writing done, and navigating the thesis/life balance. What's that got to do with professionalization? We are the last stop on the way to your degree, and we are the ones who will help you produce that final document, and make it look awesome.

Departmental Development Programs

While the Grad School has a noble goal (and a sound program) for devloping NIU's future innovators and teachers, don't forget that specialized career development is important too. What does professional development for a graduate student look like within the department? Well, it has to be cobbled together dependent on availability of opportunities, and on department resources. It can range from being a humble participant, to being in charge of something bigger than yourself.

For me it looked like this:

  • Attending and presenting at conferences on literature (my subject), and on pedagogy.
  • Attending and presenting at my department's "First Fridays," where we shared lesson plans and classroom ideas.
  • Co-Chairing (organizing, planning, choosing presenters) MCLLM 2014, the NIU English department's annual international conference.
  • Being a GA "junior" committee member running the 2014 International Virginia Wolf conference.
  • Mentoring new TAs.
  • Producing artwork and graphics for conference literature and department book covers.
  • Serving two years on the First-Year Composition Committee and the assessment sub-committee.
  • Editing and publishing two editions of Y1 Writes: A Journal of First-Year Composition Essays  (after being editorial staff for a year prior)
  • Teaching, teaching, teaching! (Here as a TA, elsewhere as an adjunct, doing summer camps...)
This list may seem Herculean, but I've been here six years. You can see that much of my professionalization happened within my department. However, the activities I did were quite varied in nature: publishing, assessing (the behind the scenes of university outcomes, metrics, etc!), creative services, and more. And of course, teaching. You should absolutely teach or run a lab, if that's at all possible for your GA duties. The best way to make sure you know how to do something is to teach someone else how to do it. 

A final note: 

MA students: The Graduate School's programs are well-supported and goal-oriented. If you only have two years here, lean on the Grad School for your professionalization, and dabble in the department. Your career goals are likely non-university, and being professionalized is probably more important to get to within those two years! 

PhD students: If you are doing a dissertation, you have plenty of time here (trust me... you have plenty of time). Look into what Grad School professionalization programs work best for you -- especially the Future Professoriate Program --  but lean on your department for opportunities and guidance. If you are sticking with academics and researchers, the department is where to find them and learn to be among them.

Go get professionalized!
Me teaching a poetry lesson.
After six years, no classroom fears!





Friday, August 4, 2017

Writing Services Ahead: Proceed with Caution


“I’m thinking of hiring a writing service.”  Imagine hearing those words from a fellow grad student who’s highly stressed about their thesis or dissertation.  “Riding service?” you ask.  Then you quickly realize your colleague isn’t talking about Lyft or Uber.

Actually, the service in question is likely a person or business that offers—for a price—various types and levels of help with a writing project’s potentially stressful components: planning, revising, editing, proofreading, or formatting sections of the document.  But then there are shady services that even offer to “help” with the writing by employing ghost writers to compose texts for paying clients.  That’s taboo!  Submitting academic work as one’s own when that work was actually made (entirely or in parts) by someone else is unacceptable.  Words to the wise: if you’re thinking of paying for help with aspects of your writing project, beware of so-called writing services.  (But, in some cases, you might want to consider working with an editing service.)  If you wonder why we pass these words along, take a look through the comments sections at the ends of our blog posts.    

Writing Services Galore

We’re well aware that numerous paid writing firms exist because posts to this blog regularly attract brief comments with dubious hyperlinks to a wide range of such services.  Consider the murky details behind comments received over the past two months:

- On July 15, in response to our July 7 post about ProQuest blogs, a few bits of generic praise came our way from someone at an eerily sparse blog.  A hyperlink in the comment leads to the sketchy homepage of a UK-based company that entices the visitor to enter personal data and information about a writing project in order to receive an estimate on how much it will cost to have the firm do the work.  Not wanted!

- On July 5, in response to our June 16 post about services for international grad students at NIU, we received another short bromide, this time from someone whose “name” is a link to site featuring a disturbingly glowing review of an online firm that offers academic ghost writers for hire.  We’re not interested!

- On June 19, in response to our June 2 post about taking writing outside, someone sent nice feedback with direct references to topics we wrote about.  But then the letdown: the comment has no author’s name but is instead represented by a link to a website in Australia offering essays for sale.  We want nothing to do with such sites!

- Finally, on July 21, in response to our May 19 post about facing the fear of the blank page, we received a positive comment from someone appearing to represent another essay-writing service.  But this time, the attached link doesn’t lead to such a business but instead, oddly, to a 2015 article at The Huffington Post about the increase of undergraduate and graduate students paying to have papers written for them.  The article points to an alarming trend.

At Project Thesis NIU, we don’t endorse paid writing services.  When doing routine blog maintenance, we eventually delete comments with hyperlinks to such services.  In the past we’ve been inclined to let a comment with a suspect link stay as long as wording in the comment is remotely related to ideas we write about in a post.  But now, after digging deeper into the above recent comments, we plan to delete anything associated with a writing service.

Editing Services: Wheat from the Chaff

Aside from essay mills, many places offer student writers ethical and professional editorial assistance.  Fee-based editing services tend not to publicize through brief comments to our blog posts.  But they sometimes approach us.  Several months ago, for instance, our office received a promotional piece in the mail from Editors for Students, a Minneapolis firm that specializes in academic editing, proofreading, and formatting.  On their website, they mention that they have connections to academic institutions and are “committed to working within the legitimate boundaries of academic honesty.”  Perhaps worth a look, if you’re interested in paying someone to review a draft.  In addition, note that our office maintains a List of Freelance Formatters and Editors who work in the DeKalb area and who are equipped to assist thesis and dissertation writers with NIU Graduate School guidelines.  We can confidently refer these local freelancers to writers whose documents may need extensive help with matters of grammar and punctuation in addition to things like formatting of tables, figures, page numbers, citations, or end references.

Free NIU Services

Also remember that NIU student writers can get constructive help with no extra fees attached.  The University Writing Center is a free consultation service for students at all levels.  We’ve heard that most of their clients in recent years have been grad students.  Finally, come see us in the Thesis and Dissertation Office!  We provide free editorial assistance and expert help on formatting your important document.  We’ll be happy to hear from you.

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