This blog needs to be written. And it needs to be read. If you supervise non-native speakers of English (or whatever language you use academically), you need to read this.
I have had friends doing PhDs who have complained bitterly that their supervisors focus so much on correcting their English and their grammar and end up not giving them substantive feedback on their work. They suffer from this. And I don’t know if it helps their English much, either. I don’t know what the solution is, but I hope most Universities offer some type of writing support outside of the supervision itself, so supervisors can focus on what they do best. Their academic area and hopefully nurturing the relationship with the student. I understand how difficult it is to read incoherent student work. But you need to find a way to help students express themselves clearly so you can focus on the substance of their work.
Now here’s another part. I’ve been fluent in English most of my life, been a relatively good writer most of my life, and even though I am human and make editorial mistakes in my own writing, I am usually a good editor of other people’s work. This means that I know that even though I can pick out mistakes in the work of others, I can often miss mistakes in my own. I have corrected written work of native speakers who teach English, who teach literature, who teach composition. I have.
Now here’s the other thing. I write for different spaces. My writing gets “edited” by different people. And not all editing styles suit me. Some editors use a very heavy hand that can modify meaning to the extent it’s ridiculous and feels colonizing. Some editors try to modify style to an extent it’s insulting. Some are very good at getting what they need from a writer without imposing, and end up helping the writer do it better – the process with them makes me feel like it’s still my article but better. You know which ones I like 🙂
So here’s the thing. If you’re not the editor of a work I am submitting to, and I ask your feedback, I am asking your feedback on the substance of what I wrote, not asking you to correct my English or modify my style. That is downright insulting, even though I know you don’t mean it to be. Even though you may be rephrasing me in ways that do end up sounding slightly better, it’s not worth insulting me that way. I know I am a writer, it’s part of my identity, and I write in English. Not even my PhD supervisors corrected my English because my English is good dammit and unless you’re correcting a glaring typo, there’s no need to rephrase my stuff because that’s not what I asked you for, it’s not your role.
Thanks for listening. Xo