October 7, 2005
Ellen on Proofreading
Ellen Swain, Academic Success Program Director at Vermont Law School, recently responded to a list-serve inquiry. I am reprinting much of her superb response here in case some of you missed it.
Whether you have to make decisions on granting accommodations or whether you support students with disabilities, the question is whether proofreading a student's work fundamentally alters the academic requirements of law school, and in the workforce, whether a qualified lawyer must be capable of writing grammatically perfect prose without assistance.
I'll throw out some thoughts. I worked as a professional writer before attending law school.
No publication ever published my work without scouring it for grammatical mistakes, punctuation mistakes, and, in some instances, fact-checking. Following the initial checks, another editor did a final proof before publication. Was this done as an accommodation? No, it's just the common sense view that no writer can catch his or her own mistakes. Simply put, it takes a newsroom to write a grammatically correct newspaper article.
When I worked as a judicial law clerk, none of us ever passed along a draft to our judges without having another set of eyes look over the text. The judges would regularly ask me to review their writing for any possible mistakes.
As a practicing attorney in a busy PD's office, I regularly asked colleagues to read through a filing for any grammatical mistakes or to check the logic of my arguments. My colleagues did the same.
Ultimately, helping students to come up with good strategies for proofing their own work - such as running it through a screen reader, which will read back the text in audio form, using the free software, "readplease," or through Kurzweil - is a responsible way to assist students at a level below making a finding of entitlement to an accommodation.
You might also suggest that students print out their papers on a different color paper to do the final edits; it helps to find those mistakes. Now editorless, I use that method myself.
Just some thoughts,
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