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Essay writing services are all over the Internet. A quick Google search will turn up hundreds of academic writing service on the web, from major companies to part-time independent freelancers, and PayPal makes it even easier to securely order papers online. But these services are not without controversy. Custom writing services often bring to mind plagiarism concerns and ethical questions, especially for academic essay writing.
Many universities have honor codes prohibiting students from purchasing essays, arguing it is ethically wrong to submit another person's work for a grade, whether or not it is plagiarized or paid for. However, in the professional world, it's increasingly common for busy executives to hire ghostwriters to author expert articles or thought leadership papers. Is contracting with an essay writing service any different?
Essay Writing Companies: An Insider-Perspective
Curious to learn more about essay writing services, including just how popular they truly are and who is using these services, I spoke with a writer from SuperiorPapers company. The writer explained that the industry is busier than ever, with thousands of students eager to order papers online.
"I've been part of the custom-writing industry for seven years, and I can say that it's constantly gaining on popularity among students," said the writer, who preferred to remain anonymous to protect his client base. "One misconception is that only foreign students use essay writing services because they struggle to write effectively in English. It's true that foreign students may have more troubles with academic language, but almost everyone who's part of this educational system needs professional writing help at one point or another. No matter how committed and talented a student is, it's impossible for them to meet all coursework requirements, and the task of writing is the only one they can delegate."
According to the professional writer, students from prestigious universities are some of his most regular clients.
"When you're admitted to Berkeley, Yale, Oxford, or another top tier university, failing is simply not an option," said the writer. "That's why so many people decide to order papers online when they can't meet the deadline or the requirements of the assignment. Since custom-writing services deliver all types of papers in different subject areas, virtually every academic writing dilemma can be solved."
Plagiarism & Cheating: Stopping the Epidemic
Plagiarism is a serious transgression at all levels of education that can even result in expulsion should a student be caught. College professors have been known to regularly run essays through Copyscape services. Back in 2008, US News & World Report reported on the rise in text-matching software to catch plagiarized content. The percentage of students who admitted to cheating topped 50 percent in 2002, reports one of the nation's leading cheating experts, Donald McCabe of Rutgers. Since then, it's dropped precipitously in response to new anti-cheating technologies.
Software companies like Turnitin.com and SafeAssign built up massive databases of millions of school papers, books, articles, and Web pages for professors to compare student assignments against. Some professors say catching plagiarism is as simple as Googling a few phrases in a student's paper that are unattributed. Other professors rely on highly sensitive plagiarism detection engines; they offer instant results with links to the original content. If the paper contains a single sentence or even part of a sentence that's not entirely unique, the tool will easily discover it.
Inside the Popularity of Essay Writing Services: Too Many Assignments, Too Much Pressure, Not Enough Time
Our contemporary education system is based heavily upon written assignments, especially for students pursuing a liberal arts education. In the high-stakes world of elite colleges and universities, students with too many assignments and too little time say that professional writing services offer a safe way out. Students who do use essay writing services say they turn to them out of desperation- and the assurance these services offer that content is 100% original and plagiarism-free.
A "plagiarism-free" guarantee is prominent on virtually every company's website. Professional essay writers, like the one I spoke with, say they base their content upon the requirements of the customer. Sources are referenced fully according to the specified citation style. Consequently, when students decide to purchase academic content online, they're submitting unique work and are free from the repercussions that come with plagiarized content. This is a slippery ethical slope, however, as this work is most certainly not their own.
Cheating in college happens, and as long as students feel under pressure to produce in elite institution - while balancing demanding coursework, jobs, and a burgeoning social life - it's inevitable some will succumb to the temptations of cheating. Paying for an essay may not be on the same level as copying exam answers off another student's paper, but it's certainly not the submission of original work, either. Using the label piracy for content purchased online does not discourage students to rely on essay writing services.
Students know that this work is entirely original without any signs of plagiarism, so there's no deterrent against submitting it as their own. Perhaps then the change needs to come from the professors, not the students. Elite colleges and universities need to re-think student workload, how best to inspire students to complete their own work, and how best to assist students in becoming stronger, clearer writers.
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What are Online Term Paper Mills?Online term paper “mills” which sell finished research essays to students are surprisingly rampant. According to turnitin.org, the leading site in automatic plagiarism detection, 29% of students' essays contain "significant plagiarism" and 1% are fully plagiarized. The Kimbel Library at Coastal Carolina University lists over 250 online sites which sell or give away copies of research papers on all subjects. Owners of these websites report daily emails from students profusely thanking them for their "help." Of course cheating and plagiarism have always been problems in academic environments, but with the internet, it is so incredibly easy to simply grab a paper online when the due dates mount up.
Defining PlagiarismPlagiarism is defined as copying someone else's words or ideas without giving them due credit. With the use of online term papers on the rise, it is imperative that teachers educate themselves and their students on what constitutes plagiarismand how to avoid it. For a good start, go here.
Why Students Plagiarize.Most of us would agree that plagiarizing violates some basic rules of ethics, and furthermore, nobody would dispute the claim that handing in a paper downloaded from the internet (or copying significant portions of it) constitutes plagiarism. So how do students justify these actions to themselves? Well, many claim that the academic environment places an unreasonable emphasis on both "formal" assessment through writing that is somewhat artificial and not relevant outside academia. They also claim that our society as a whole relies too heavily on GPA and grades in determining one's potential, and many students, faced with a deadline that they feel they cannot meet, see no other way to get the grade without doing some cheating "here and there." For an essay defending these sites, go here.
Ethical IssuesBut there are problems with the students' arguments. Writing research papers, while perhaps an activity restricted to academia, develops other skills which are highly important in one's work and social life. These include the ability to locate background material and educate oneself on a subject, explaining that subject to others, analyzing evidence and forulating opinions, and supporting one's conclusions through a well-articulated argument. All of these skills trickle down into the most important aspects of life--not just building a successful career, but also being a more informed citizen, evaluating legal situations, being a better parent, and living a happier, more fulfilling life. Not only that, there is the basic ethical issue that you are using someone else's work and fooling people into believing it is your own. If we allow this kind of deliberate deception to be acceptable, why would it stop at graduation? The academic environment, even more than educating, is supposed to enstill lifelong values of honesty, discipline, and critical thinking--all of which get compromised when a student plagiarizes. Maybe the consequences in academia are minor in the "grand scheme," but in the real world they are not.
A McCabe study discussed in the N&O article "Is cheating becoming a way of life?" found that colleges and universities which have an honor code have fewer incidents of cheating. The Seattle Times article "Internet access opens door to paper plagiarism" states that some colleges and universities may practice other safeguards such as monitoring a student's work and progress over the semester for any wide leaps in quality of work. But does this make a student a cheating suspect simply if he/she begins to take the course more seriously? Some instructors, if they suspect plagiarism, may check a student's work against online sources (Google and similar search engines are quite effective here). But, this can be a time consuming process. The most promising form of safeguard is the kind provided by companies such as turnitin.org, who monitor "billions of pages" of works found on the internet, on online term paper sites, and within papers that have been submitted by other students and faculty.