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In an office across the courtyard from Trevor, Fraser Williams works away on CHECKIT, the company he founded – a distinctly professional, ethical proofreading service aimed at students. The peer-to-peer model comprises Fraser and five other team members. The notes on the whiteboards add colour to the all-white office. “I’m focussed on being as effective as possible, but also as ethical as possible,” Fraser tells me. A note in the corner, “look after yourself”, has been left by his mum. A second year LUMS undergraduate, Fraser will move to Silicon Valley after graduation.
The idea for the business came to Fraser when one of his friends, who comes from Hong Kong, began asking him to proof read essays when they were together in the library. “We believe every student has the potential to be remarkable. We want to level the playing field, to provide an ethical proof reading service. If UK students went over to Hong Kong, and they were asked to write in Chinese, our abilities would be massively hit, and it would be extremely difficult to write a really great essay, as some of the Chinese or others international students do, they do remarkably well here to achieve that. The idea for CHECKIT is that we can help and facilitate with language by proofreading essays, point out language and grammar errors and suggest corrections. Hopefully, in the long term, CHECKIT becomes redundant to that student, because we have improved their language sufficiently that they don’t need proofreading anymore.”
Fraser designed a peer-to-peer model which in part replicates what is already happening within friendship groups within the University, in a more professional and effective form. High performing students, gathered from the English department, are the proofreaders. They all went through an extensive four stage process which Fraser conducted in conjunction with the LUMS Effective Learning team and training before being incorporated into the CHECKIT team. “The thing I want in my team is that they believe what I believe and that they are passionate about the same things.” He is obviously very pleased with his team of proofreaders. “One of the guys didn’t drop a mark in his English Language A level, these are really, really impressive people.” An English Literature major and CHECKIT proofreader, Alice, is so enthusiastic about proofreading that she does it out of hours for her housemates, who cook for her in return. “I love proofreading,” she tells me. “We’re all a bit weird with how much we like it.”
“It’s great that we have people who are excited about language”, Fraser adds. By the end of the interview, I want to be in this team. They almost have me excited about proofreading.
Ethics are also emphasised. The business recognises that within certain groups, friends may give subject specific advice, which isn’t entirely ethical. Nevertheless, constructive advice on the use of language is crucial. CHECKIT sets clear boundaries and there is emphasis placed on this not being an essay writing service; in no instance will the meaning of the essay be changed. Fraser is clear in that CHECKIT “will go as far as language, grammar, and we will also sometimes advise on syntax, which is the arrangement of words in a sentence,” but content is off limits. Alice similarly reinforces this: “we are not experts in the content, so we have no right to change it. The content is completely the client’s area.” CHECKIT aims to create a wider impact on a student’s work than the initial changes. The belief that the service should become redundant for individual students in the long run is evidently a belief which runs through the whole company, as Alice continues: “people can take our suggestions on board and hopefully learn from them.” I point out that the mistakes people usually making with language are repetitive. “Absolutely!”
The pricing varies between each piece, and the website is sufficiently sophisticated that all you need to do is enter your word count to receive an instant quote on prices (http://checkitproofreading.com/). There are two options, Basic and Premium. Basic contains the suggested corrections and the Premium option also includes a more thorough feedback report explaining the strengths and weaknesses of the piece. There is a live chat where Fraser will usually respond within the hour if you want to request that the proofreading be done in the next day or two, clearly taking into account tight deadlines. If you do not need the piece urgently, the standard turnaround is within four days. The system has evidently been designed intricately to consider student needs and preferences on a case-by-case basis. As a model for a student business, CHECKIT is built to serve an audience in a way that others have failed to do.
Fraser’s enthusiasm for business is clear. One of the first things he told me when we met previously was that “this is what I really care about.” Having been close to dropping out at the end of first year, to pursue another venture, he has returned this year and is wasting no time in utilising the tools that are at the disposal of Lancaster students. The interview is conducted in his office on campus, which he acquired after pitching in the ‘Mind Your Own Business’ scheme coordinated by the Furness JCR. Fraser is a Management and Entrepreneurship student, which has given him an understanding of the “financial toolkit”, as it were. He starts from his own ideas and builds outwards, taking into consideration management structures and entrepreneurial concepts he learns in his degree, without being dictated too by them. On the issue of management degrees, we agree that, in the same way as studying law won’t make you the most effective lawyer, your ability to transfer the knowledge and incorporate this with your interpersonal skills is what ultimately determines your ability: “I think that is the bottom line, if you have good emotional intelligence, and you are open to criticism, I think that is how you become a better manager.”