Online Term Papers Cheating

Study Guide

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 Plagiarism

Plagiarism 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 Issues

But 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.

Current Safeguards

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.

We also learn a few hard truths from these snippets: that ''A Farewell to Arms,'' which is called ''Hemingway's first book,'' is ''much more than a love story'' (this is a ''high school level'' paper, but still); that Newland Archer's fundamental problem in ''The Age of Innocence'' is his lack of ''tools'' to deal with Countess Olenska; and, reassuringly, that the crucial theme in ''Invisible Man'' is ''the subject of race and racial relations.'' Just think, your children might be spending their drinking money on this stuff.

I bought a prewritten paper on ''The Great Gatsby.'' Dr. T. J. Eckleburg, ash heaps, stupid rich people -- what could go wrong? I also ordered a custom paper, on what I innovatively titled ''The American Dream and 'The Great Gatsby,' '' to see if there was any difference between the two types of book reports.

Surprise: the prewritten paper, on the idea of the hero in ''Gatsby'' (''What is a hero?'' it begins, and later: ''Muscles do not make a hero''), coming in at a reasonable $35, was terrible. The sentences run on, as in this clunker: ''Moreover, the fortune that Gatsby did amount was gained through criminal activities as he had experienced the finer things in life and wished to have a better social position, again he knew that this could only be gained through the status of wealth, in this way Gatsby sought to win the heart of the woman he had fallen in love with, Daisy.'' Faux-elegant words like ''whilst'' butt up against the jarringly conversational: ''Then Nick the narrator discovers who he is bang goes his secret.'' Bang! The paper becomes increasingly sloppy, mimicking the writing patterns of a tired and confused freshman. Maybe this is the point.

Another surprise: the custom-written paper, delivered in three days for $180, a tenth of a community college's annual tuition or the weekend allowance of a wealthy Ivy Leaguer, was a decent piece of work. One passage that probably few undergraduates could dream up even on a good day, after a couple of writing workshops, reads: ''Those who go from rags to riches don't find nirvana or some special land where they are immediately happy, content and removed from earthly worries. They, like Gatsby, find that the reality is that the world is still ugly . . . and that money and power just allow one to ignore those dichotomies a little bit easier.''

Occasionally, the paper even strives for the poetic: ''Idealizing that which has little substance is like saying that once you draw a perfect circle, all of life's secrets will be discovered therein -- the circle is still hollow, no matter how perfectly round and beautiful it is.'' It's a little much, but this paper goes way beyond the green light at the end of the dock.

And compared with the standard paper -- whose dizzy take on the American Dream goes like this: ''Gatsby is the archetypal hero figure, yet he has tasted the bitter ashes of poverty, but then there were so many poor during the turn of the century that he is not alone in that and so like many others of his age he wished never again to be poor'' -- the custom paper is worth coughing up more dough. A's don't come easily, after all.

But wait. So if you're a cheap cheat, your paper will be shoddy, but believable. If you're willing to dig deep for the custom-written papers, you might raise eyebrows. What a bind. Considering that it takes three to four hours to read ''The Great Gatsby'' and perhaps a night to write a short paper, what's actually more amazing is that students would risk their integrity, their education, their unlimited access to sexual experimentation -- all for freeing up 10 measly hours of their already limitless college time.

FINE, I'll admit I was impressed by how efficiently the paper happily popped up in my e-mail in-box. The process is alluring in its simplicity, and more so in its anonymity, except that, in my case, Brenda from the Paper Experts called to tell me, in keeping with the irresponsible-undergraduate theme, that my credit card was maxed out. That unsettling human contact in the midst of my cyber-cheating was creepy and gave me pause. Even had I been a desperate, craven student, Brenda might have been enough for me to call the whole thing off.

And although these sites may proliferate, thanks to the hungry Web marketplace, they won't go completely unchecked. Colleges can sign up for plagiarism-detector Web sites like Turnitin.com, which allows professors to submit papers for an originality check (incidentally, newspaper and magazine editors might be interested in checking out its publishing arm -- iThenticate.com). But can those search engines detect custom-written papers, like my $180, A-plus ''Gatsby'' paper, assuming it's an original? No, not this book report, anyway. It passed with flying colors. Now that it's part of Turnitin's database, however -- and supposing that even the hard workers at the Paper Experts get lazy once in a while -- pity the 19-year-old who goes shopping online for some quick help with the American Dream.

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