How TAs Can Assist in the Editing of Student Papers

Hikaru Hirata

In this issue’s Teaching Assistance, the author claims that her current part-time job as a teaching assistant at a private university in Japan would be more academically rewarding if the job description included proofing and editing of graduation theses. So as not to detract from her own studies, she can assist classroom instructors and receive a salary for up to 10 hours per week. Hikaru Hirata majors in American literature and is investigating how Jack London’s (1876-1916) editors influenced her work. Her own master’s thesis may include the review of a set of corrected page proofs for London’s article “Getting Into Print” which appeared in the Editor in March, 1903. 

The Teaching Assistant (TA) can help a university course instructor in various ways. TA roles at universities in Japan include a wide spectrum of duties—from taking attendance, to correcting papers, marking tests, instructing workshops, facilitating seminars and discussion groups, conducting online courses, or even giving a guest lecture during the course. In this essay, I discuss how a TA can perform the role of correcting papers. In conclusion, I argue that it is worthwhile for course supervisors to upgrade the TA’s role to act as a proofreader and editor of university student capstone papers.

I prepped for this essay by thinking of the roles that a TA once did for me when I was a fourth year seminar student. One year ago, my seminar class had a TA who acted as a proof-reader for our papers. She corrected our grammar and typographical errors. This correction service helped most of us. On the other hand, some of my classmates said they also needed to receive comments, critique, and objective opinions from the TA. They were told, however, that normally students should receive academic comments from the course instructor. When writing graduation theses in the literary field, the professor often performs the role of an editor, checking the flow of the thesis and offering comments on how to make it better to students. The TA is usually expected to only correct the grammar and find mistakes. The TA who does this work could be considered as a proof-reader. However, in my class students wanted to be critiqued by someone they felt more comfortable with prior to having the professor weigh in on the discussion.

It was with some trepidation, therefore, that when I became a graduate student I also stepped forward to become a TA. To help me develop my own TA role for a seminar class, I asked my supervisor the following five questions.

What do you expect from a TA who works in your graduation thesis class?

Teacher (T): I demand that they teach students how to write the thesis. Students often don’t know how to decide on a theme and compose a paper on that topic. I would like you to judge whether students have reached the stage at which they can show their paper to the professor.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of having a TA in your class?

T: The TA and students are close in age, so it’s easy for them to talk to each other. Students can talk to the TA if they can’t find the opportunity to ask me. They will get good advice and motivation from you.

Do you think it’s too difficult for a TA to work as a semi-editor?

T: You’ve already successfully written a graduation thesis. You know how to write it. You might feel that having the ability to be a semi-editor will help you to grow as a person.

What influence does a TA have on students?

T:  Because you just finished your graduation thesis last year you can recall the precepts. When you give detailed advice to students who are just beginning, they can pick up the rules and procedures.

Would you rather your TA be a proofreader or be a semi-editor?

T: I hope you would like to be a semi-editor. I would like you to combine both of these roles.

Keeping in mind my class last year, and my supervisor’s views, I believe that in the capstone thesis class for literature majors the TA could act more like a semi-editor. In my case, with a literary academic background and some editing ability, this role could benefit the students, the instructor, and me as a graduate student. The function of an editor is to make authors realize if their ideas are spread too thin. The author and editor need to have a lot of discussion before publishing a new book (Berg, 1997). In addition to cutting unnecessary sentences, the editor’s role is to give direction (Wheelock, 1979). This role of a director can also be efficiently carried out by the TA. TAs can shed light and new points of view on the development of a written paper.

So far I have assisted 12 American culture majors consider topics for their graduation thesis. In the first semester—the fourth class of a 30 class course—one student shared a mind map of possible ideas that he wanted to write about. While itemizing these ideas, he explained that he wanted to write about the history of English and discuss whether British English or American English was more appropriate for Japanese students to study and speak. I advised him to narrow down this wide topic and more clearly focus on just one point. “Yes, you should definitely write about what you are interested in” I advised him. Then I added “but, it would be too difficult to theorize on such a wide topic that likely doesn’t have an answer in our global English world of 2018.”

In that same culture class, another student asked me for advice in choosing a theme related to the film industry. She said she was interested in American live-action movies. She was starting to do a library search to check and catalog all the live-action movies that had been made since the 1920s. Live action is a form of cinematography that uses actors and actresses instead of animation or animated pictures. I suggested narrowing the 100-year span to one decade, or even one year. To narrow the time helped her to contrast the societal events with the subject of the film. This focus might permit her to write and search more deeply. It is easy for undergraduate students to skim the Internet, to cut and paste, and come up with a superficial viewpoint. But they really need to dig much deeper and debate one topic. TAs can read a thesis to find out if it is a cut-and-paste effort or an original well-thought out work. TAs can act as a trouble shooter for professors who have many students.

In conclusion, I strongly think that TAs should be allowed to fulfill the role of a semi-editor in the university graduation thesis classes. In addition to helping the course instructor and assisting students to learn how to successfully write a capstone paper, the TA can contribute to both proofing and editing. In addition to correcting their sentences, TAs should be allowed to give ideas to students. My supervisor thinks that I can help students because our ages are similar. Sometimes the students do hesitate to consult with the professor, but they freely talk with me. These students really do need to receive direction on how to write a thesis, but for various reasons they don’t ask, so that means I can fill the role as a consultant. TAs can best develop themselves through contact with students and professors.

In addition to aiding students, TAs need to gather information to frame their own dissertation. They should not only give their opinion. They must ground their ideas in facts. Time is needed to build up this knowledge. Because the TA is frequently in contact with their supervisor, they can leverage their time on the job to help their own research. As a TA I can increase the amount of time I am in contact with my supervisor by 10 hours per week. We communicate with each other on an academic level. This communication helps me to set new sights on my own academic horizon. In the publishing world, an editor is supported by a proof-reader. An editor is a first reader for an author. The editor can approach an author as a reader who is a person close to the author and also as a reader who is a professional editor.


Berg, A. (1997). Max Perkins: Editor of genius. New York, NY: Berkley Books.

Wheelock, J. (1979). Editor to author: The letters of Maxwell E. Perkins. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.