Maybe so, but it’s pretty simple to do. Just go on the internet, type “essay writing”, and a host of firms will be clamouring to help with your coursework. “Where A Student’s Life Becomes Easier,” purrs the website UKBestEssays.com; less reassuring is its claim: “We provide piece of mind.”
Indeed, while these companies promise round-the-clock customer support and teams of 200 to 4,000 highly qualified essay-crafters, producing pieces of work that will pass all plagiarism tests, some appear to be more, well, questionable.
Question number one: are they in the UK? Not UKBestEssays. Despite a website showing Union Flags, the girl at the end of the phone says she’s in Delaware in the US. And when the rather distant-sounding man at Essaydom.co.uk is asked if I can visit his office, he says he can’t give me the address because I “might bring the police”.
“We all get tarred with the same brush,” complains Jilly Walden, quality manager at UKEssays.com, based at the same address (in Arnold, near Nottingham) as Degree Essays (www.degree-essays.com) and Law Teacher (www.lawteacher.net)
“Yet, unlike other companies, we are happy to publish our address, and we are happy for students to visit us; we have got academics in-house. Nor do we condone plagiarism. It’s made very clear to clients that we don’t supply essays; we give model answers around which they frame their ideas. We see it as no different to a lecturer pointing students towards a document in a library. As far as we know, 99.9 per cent of customers use our products correctly.”
But it’s hard to believe someone would pay £660 purely for a stimulating read. However, the founder of London-based Oxbridge Essays, Stratos Malamatinas, who says his firm (www.oxbridgeessays.com) gets 10,000-plus orders per year, stands by the ''it’s-just-a-framework’’ stance. “It’s made explicit to our customers that they should use our material merely as inspiration, and they should express themselves in their own words,” he declares.
“That said, 75 per cent of our customers are foreign students who, although talented, can’t express themselves as well in English as in their own language. British universities are happy to take their money, without checking their English. There’s a real greediness among British universities; students are left to struggle, and are forced to turn to a private company, rather than getting help that should be supplied by the university. It’s not just foreign students. Most UK students who come to us are profoundly unhappy with the tuition they get, [with] no formal instruction in the writing and structuring of essays.”
Especially when that essay is 90,000 words.
“I’m fine on research, and I can talk about the subject till the cows come home, but I need guidance in putting material together and expressing it in academic terms,” says Geoff (not his real name), who is doing a PhD in marketing at University College London, and is paying Oxbridge Essays to help him with his 400-page-plus thesis.
“They are writing the guideline, so to speak, and I am mimicking it in my own words. It’s going to take a couple of years and I’ll have paid them a five-figure sum, but it’s worth it. I am aware that some people do just take this kind of work and pass it off as their own – so I don’t want my real name in The Daily Telegraph, in case people think that’s what I’ve done.”
The same applies to “Dan”, a second-year student at Bristol University, who, in his first year, sought outside help with an essay on tragedy in Shakespeare. “I felt like I wasn’t getting much academic direction,” he says. “The number of students at lectures was enormous. I was getting no real feedback.” Instead of buying an essay off the internet, he turned to the tutorial agency Bright Young Things, which spent three and a half hours with him (at £60 an hour) planning his essay. Result? A 2:1 grade, but it was all his own work.
“We don’t write people’s essays, we merely teach them essay-production skills,” maintains Oliver Eccles, one of Bright Young Things’ senior tutors.
That’s not to say that tutors don’t get asked to do a bit of proxy essay-penning, though.
“I’ve had some difficult conversations with parents and students who want me to write the essay,” says Michelle Okin, who runs the tutorial agency Rose Okin (£40-£75 per hour). “But how are they going to stand on their own feet if they’ve always had the stabilisers on?”
It’s a powerful argument. Indeed, many would argue that the spread of tutoring in higher education was inevitable, considering how prevalent it has become in secondary and primary education. But the more immediate question for any student contemplating an essay purchase, is more likely to be – can I get away with it?
The answer is yes, if the work has been written by the kind of brilliant academic mind the websites claim to have on their books (Stratos Malamantinas says he has essay-writers who earn between £20,000 and £70,000 per year).
“If it truly is an original work, then it will get through the plagiarism-detection software,” says Will Murray, whose firm supplies Turnitin, the plagiarism checking system used by most UK universities. “But sometimes the writing has been outsourced to India, or America, and the grammar and expressions will reflect that. I’ve even seen cases where the student has left in the name of the person who actually wrote the essay.”
Ideally, prevention is better than detection. By inviting students to discuss essays, university tutors can monitor the sudden arrival of unfamiliar thoughts and ideas.
“My instinct is very much against the combative 'We don’t trust you’ approach,” says Professor Ward. “Rather than going for the Orwellian system, whereby we monitor our students’ internet traffic, I favour making them understand the only people being ripped off by these short cuts is them.”
Finally, there is always the worry that the immaculately written document you have bought is not as fresh as claimed, and may contain great chunks of pre-plagiarised text that will set off the digital detection sirens.
“So the question,” says Will Murray, “is how confident are you that the essay you are handing in, that has been written by someone you have never met, is 100 per cent original?”
Source: Paul Bateman
Google Books and Wikipedia are the tools of my trade. I give the illusion of depth, the impression of analysis. It’s always enough to score a 2:1 (at least)
In recent months, I have written thousands of words of coursework for more university courses than I can remember. I’ve covered everything from literature and international relations to conservation and the Renaissance. But my name is not attributed to a single essay I’ve produced. I will receive no academic credit for my work and it won’t help me to graduate.
Why? Because I am a freelance ghostwriter. I work primarily through agencies (as any academic knows, there are many operating in the UK), bidding for contracts to complete students’ university assignments.
Sometimes I work through the night to complete an assignment on a tight deadline. On other occasions I work slowly, gathering material and considering my arguments with careful deliberation. And yet I don’t have a library card, nor access to any university’s cache of e-books and journals. Google Books and Wikipedia are the tools of my trade. I give the illusion of depth, the impression of analysis. It’s always enough to score a 2:1 (at least).
It all started six months ago, when I was made redundant from a well-paid office job. I cast around seeking conventional work, yet nothing appealed. In truth I was tired of sitting beneath strip lights filling out spreadsheets, answering emails. I was initially hesitant to get involved: was it all a scam? Besides, what kind of student would be tempted to use this service? During my own studies at Oxbridge I never once thought of cheating. I enjoyed what I did and was good at it.
The agencies are surprisingly thorough in hiring writers, which surprised me. I had to provide evidence of my qualifications as well as samples of my writing. I was asked to provide a breakdown of the areas in which I felt comfortable writing (but that has never stopped me taking on essays in areas that are not immediately familiar). It was also a prerequisite that I had graduated from Oxbridge or another Russell Group university. We are told that we are the best, the pick of the crop.
I’ve seen all sorts of assignments as a freelancer. The agencies maintain sophisticated databases of available work, and there is often more demand than we can handle. If you perused their lists, you would be shocked. They feature everything from first-year undergraduate assignments on Dickens (so easy! Who would need to cheat?) to PhD theses on molecular biology – not to mention the odd MBA on business ethics.
I stay away from applied fields – it is my only ethical standard as a ghostwriter. I will not help a nurse to qualify on false pretences: who knows, it might be my parents who find themselves in their care.
Some clients provide vague briefs, such as an essay question and suggested reading. That’s easy. Other times you can be sent a full package of primary data, segments of chapters and comments from the student’s supervisor. While some clients are in a hurry or lazy, others have difficulties with their English and cannot complete their assignments to the required standard. I suppose they are afraid to fail.
I can make up to £150 for a standard essay of 2,000-3,000 words – an evening’s work. Longer items can fetch up to £2,000.
I know all the tricks universities use to identify plagiarism and have learned how to dodge them. Now that software can identify the percentage of text that has been lifted from other sources, bespoke personalised essays – as opposed to generic ones – are the norm. I’ve also edited students’ clumsy plagiarism, hiding their tracks with my own well-hidden watermarks.
I operate on the assumption that the student I’m working for will have little or no personal interaction with academic staff. This means there is only a small likelihood that the lecturer who sets and marks the questions will be familiar with the student’s style of writing. Helpfully, clients will also specify what grade they require – after all, a third-rate student would attract suspicion if they submitted a first-class essay. These students ask for a 2:1, or merely a pass; sometimes it helps to leave a sentence in rough shape or drop in a spelling error. Personalisation is the key.
I don’t justify the work I’m doing on ethical grounds. While what I do is not illegal, it does enable others to break rules and suffer the consequences if they are caught. The agencies maintain the image of legitimate businesses: many do not even refer to “cheating”. You are simply “helping” with an assignment (making up, as one agency argues, for the university’s failure to provide adequate tuition). While I’m happy to acknowledge that I am dependent on clients’ continued cheating, this doesn’t mean I am not conscious that my job is a symptom of an illness, a fracture, in our universities.
If you asked me whether I enjoy my work I’d say – on the whole – “yes”. Of course I’d prefer to write honestly for a living, but in this market words are a slight commodity. For now it beats getting the train to work.
On the opening page of each assignment, I always remember to add that oh-so important line: “I confirm that this essay represents entirely my own work.”