Editing, editing, yeah / Fun fun fun fun...
June 24, 2011 7:42 PM   Subscribe

Does this college-paper-editing idea sound viable for a high school student? Help me come up with a pitch. I have an opportunity this summer to make it happen, as well as expand my school newspaper.

(See previous question for background. tl;dr I’m a rising senior in high school thinking about editing college papers for free or a nominal fee. I’m also co-editor-in-chief of my HS newspaper.)

Since asking that question in October 2010, I haven’t really had the time to pursue leads or start a business. I’ve edited a couple of professors’ and grad students’ papers for free and received acknowledgments in their papers, but that’s about it.

This summer (in about one day, in fact) I’ll be attending a residential engineering program for a month at a large university in New Jersey. (Memail me for info.) There, I’ll be working closely with lots of HS students as well as grad students and professors from that university. This seems to be an interesting opportunity to ask if any grads/foreign grads or profs need help or could point me in the right direction. Are my impressions correct? If so, when and how should I approach them?

Additionally, paper-editing seems to be an unusual and fruitful way to expand the newspaper. There are at least 10 people that I know are good enough editors for the job, as well as many talented writers who would jump at the opportunity to participate more. These students are college-level readers, writers, and editors. If all goes well, how should I broach this idea to the club adviser, school principal, and newspaper staff? Being able to show off our liaison of volunteers with the university would only benefit the administration, I’d imagine. But if the newspaper connection sounds unwieldy, I won’t pursue it.

Ideally, this is how the “organization” would work: profs and grad students at the university (or other ones) would send papers to us or spread the word to others who might need editing help. We (my co-editor-in-chief and I) would look it over and accept or reject it (if the paper were incomprehensible or too technical for us to edit) and assign it to someone to edit. After receiving it from them, we’d make our own revisions and send it back within the requested turnaround time. We’d probably edit for free or a nominal fee so that editing could count for volunteer hours and so we wouldn’t have to deal with taxes, dividing pay, accounting, etc. We’d only ask the clients to acknowledge the editors in the paper and to spread the word about our help.

Does this plan sound workable? What are some concrete steps I could take to set it in motion? I live half an hour away from the university and August is free for me.

Sorry for all the sub-questions; I’m most concerned with how to pitch the idea during the summer camp and follow up on it in August. Thanks for your help.
posted by glass origami quicksilver robot to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: By the way, regarding my father: I do edit papers for him, but he doesn't get his hands on that many. And I know there's lots of need for editing among foreign grad students, but I don't know where to find them.
posted by glass origami quicksilver robot at 7:48 PM on June 24, 2011

I just don't understand why people would want to volunteer their time to help people who could pay for editorial assistance if they felt they needed it.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:42 PM on June 24, 2011

How would spending time editing random papers benefit a student newspaper? A newspaper is an organization with a particular goal that has nothing to do with this hobby of yours.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:57 PM on June 24, 2011

I agree that this is really a misappropriation of the newspaper's time. Instead, what I'd look into doing is starting a peer writing center at your school where students can go for paper consulting. At most writing centers, rather than offering editing, you'd be sitting down for a set period of time and discussing these papers with other students to give them advice on how to improve them. At most schools, you'd probably have to find a faculty advisor willing to oversee the whole thing.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:10 PM on June 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

But.. why??? You're about to become a senior in high school, which means you should be spending your time applying to college and having fun with your friends. Unless your life's dream is to be a copy editor, I can't see how this would be a fulfilling use of your time. If you want your newspaper to have an outreach component, you could organize a middle school newspaper day, help ESL students with their writing, etc. But most people join the newspaper because they want to write stories, not insert commas.

If you're looking for something to do during August, I suggest that you try to get a research assistantship with one of your science camp professors, or maybe get a real job. Your plan is very pie-in-the-sky and some real world experience might inspire a better idea.
posted by acidic at 9:13 PM on June 24, 2011

Are there fields in which professors or graduate students are publishing unedited papers? If they already have access to editing -- why do they need you and your motley crew? In addition to what you're getting out of it (why not just read research papers?), you need to confront the problem of what they're getting out of it.

(I really do like PhoBWan's peer writing center idea, btw. That helps them in that the students actually need the help, and it helps you in that it's actually legit volunteering.)
posted by J. Wilson at 9:37 PM on June 24, 2011

I agree with the others above that there are a lot of leaps of logic in your plan. Can you tell me:
1. Why would anyone edit papers for free? There's no 'job experience' benefit to this.
2. What does this have to do with a school newspaper? The fact that they both involve 'editing' seems a bit to thin to be really relevant. How do you see the connection?
3. 'Editing student papers' is usually code for "writing g student papers for the students" aka "cheating". Whats your plan for avoiding this impression, both with potential customers and with those (i assume) you're attempting to impress?
4. Why would grad students hire high school students to do their editiing? At minimum, wouldn't they hire undergraduate students? Or out of work grad students? How are you planning to sell through the idea that a group of advanced high school kids are skilled enough to do this job?
posted by Kololo at 10:49 PM on June 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, if for some reason you're able to answer the above objections successfully (and maybe you can!) i'd like to note that there is virtually no chance that you (or your organisation) will get acknowledgment for editing in the papers. The whole point of asking someone else to edit is to make it look like the student himself is a better writer.
posted by Kololo at 10:53 PM on June 24, 2011

I'm surprised by the naysayers. Anyways, as a phd student I think this is an awesome idea. There are many legitimate reasons for getting a proofreader: a second pair of eyes on a paper is useful for finding errors or to point out things that are unclear, and sometimes other students/professors are busy with their own work.

From the OP's point of view, I'm unclear what he gets from this but if proofreading is something he wants to do, I don't see why this is a bad idea. Papers sometimes have something like "We thank so-and-so for help with editing". I put anyone who comments on a draft in the acknowledgments section unless they do not care and because of space limitations.
posted by seattlejeff at 11:13 PM on June 24, 2011

I would start with just you. Your friends may say they want to participate, but my experience managing volunteers has been that unless your friends are literally the least busy and most responsible high school students in the history of the universe, you will frequently miss deadlines due to people flaking out. You will find yourself doing the all work at 11pm the night before it's due because someone had a test the next day or had soccer practice or just stopped answering her email, and it will suck. If you want to do this, do it yourself. Trying to make it into a volunteer army is just going to cause you headaches and take away from what you're trying to do.
posted by decathecting at 5:02 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think your emphasis on an editing service is a little confusing, too. Do you mean editing the papers for content, presentation, argument, focus, etc., or do you mean line-editing for errors in spelling, grammar, syntax, punctuation, and the like? Also, I agree that this could be problematic for the students who use your proposed service, despite your best intentions. If my professors learned that I was using (let alone paying for) a service to edit my papers, I could be investigated for a potential honor code violation, even if I gave you credit.

In a university setting (or at least, at my university setting about 10 years ago) the content was far more important than spelling, though both certainly mattered a lot. I worked at a peer writing center of the sort PhoBWanKenobi mentions, and I really believe in the service we provided. The focus is on collaborative editing, so having the student there as an active participant is central to the process. In fact, it's a very effective way to work with ESL students who have a great grasp of the material but want to work on their writing skills. Sitting down with a student for an hour and having them collaborate with you in the content editing process like the "teach the man to fish" approach. Even if the material is very technical, you can often still help guide the student to surface their strongest arguments and think about their presentation based on your response as an unfamiliar audience. This is not always the case, of course; there were some undergraduate and especially graduate papers with scopes was beyond the capacity of our trained staff.

The university you mentioned may have such a center and it's worth checking out to see how it works if they're open in the summer; we were sometimes. And if your high school doesn't have such a center, using the newspaper staff to start such a thing might be a great idea. To get you thinking about logistics: our staff was populated by students that professors recommended. They had to submit papers and do an interview to apply. Selected candidates were then enrolled in a semester-long training seminar to begin work the following year. Our staff was paid by the university as a work-study program, but the service was free. It's not a small thing to start up, but as I said, I really believe in the value. And with the enthusiasm and skills you've developed thus far, you sound like someone who might be really good at it.
posted by juliplease at 12:12 PM on June 25, 2011

I'm a grad student. We have a peer writing center at my university, where you can sit down with a fellow student and get advice on improving your papers (as PhoB described). Many, if not most, universities have such a service, and I think it's a really valuable thing. If you are interested in doing that kind of work, I'd recommend starting a similar group at your high school (this will probably need some sort of approval from the administration so it's clear you aren't helping people cheat), see if you can work for an existing one at a local university over the summer, or wait until you get to college and join the group there. Speaking as a graduate student, I would really prefer to review my papers with current students in my program than send them to a high schooler, no matter how bright that high schooler may be. I was a very good writer in high school too (award-winning, even), but my writing has improved pretty dramatically since then, and to be really honest I don't really see what the draw would be for me to go to someone who has less education and plus is outside of my field.
posted by naoko at 1:04 PM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

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