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Essays for sale – using paper mill sites

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What are paper mills?

Paper mill is a term used for an organization which uses the Internet to market a databank of pre-written essays. Some also offer a customized writing service that is sometimes called ghostwriting. They are commercial concerns, mostly providing essays in return for a fee. They are not the only sources of coursework: other sites on the "visible Web" include papers posted by lecturers, conference submissions posted on relevant sites, and students posting their own work so they can copy from one another.

Sites are also growing where students can post their assignments and accept offers from suitably qualified professionals to complete the work for a fee. For example, a well used site on computer programming relies on many thousands of programmers offering their services.

According to a report in The Guardian (Taylor and Butt, 2006), the paper mill industry was estimated to be worth £200 million a year in 2006 in the UK. In the USA, the Kimbel Library of Coastal Carolina University listed over 250 [November 2006].

Such sites have been available on the Internet since 1996, and there is no doubt that the Web has facilitated the industry's growth, both by making it easier to contact providers and by vastly increasing the amount of material available for reuse by student writers. In fact, the Internet has given plagiarism a new variant – cyberplagiarism, where people cut and paste material from websites in the (mistaken) belief that such material is public property and commonly owned.

The paper mill sites vary a lot in what they offer and what they charge – many charge per page with fees starting at less than US$10 to around US$15-19. Almost always, the price increases steeply for a rapid turnaround. Top-end ghostwriting services can charge over £1,000 for a customized essay at master's level. What they all have in common, however, is that they claim to be better than one another, and most adopt an almost holier than thou attitude towards plagiarism, which they accuse their fellow providers of furthering.

In its pricing information section of the website, claims that cheaper, online essay providers' articles are cut and pasted from the Internet, and guarantees that its papers are not plagiarized. Similarly, also claims that all its papers are checked for plagiarism.

Not all sites, however, adopt the moral high ground: seems to wash its hands of possible moral qualms as it claims that,

"We are not going to edify anyone about the moral issues of plagiarism, because this is not our business. Our business is providing quality model essays that satisfy the customer's specifications. Our business ends here and we leave that moral dilemma to the customer" [].

Other agencies sidestep the issue. A spokesman for commented:

"It's technically plagiarism, but you won't be caught as the essay is written specially for you. The way that people are usually caught is that they use essays from databanks."

But surely it's risky to submit work that you haven't originated?

"We are in an area of semantics – if you submit work that you haven't done that is plagiarism, but you won't be caught as the essay will be pertinent to your need."

Many services play to the pressures students are under – pressures that are very real in an age when study is often combined with earning and supporting a family. They use life's unpredictability as a marketing tool: claims to:

"empower students to handle unexpected emergencies ... as well as take advantage of unexpected opportunities".

Elizabeth Hall Associates flatters potential clients, pointing out that MBA students are often highly successful people who are too busy to have time to write essays.

Tailored Essays says it is selling time:

"We understand that for various reasons, there might be other issues on top of the student's priority list."

Life can, indeed, be full of surprises. However, many programmes, especially those leading to professional qualifications, argue that the ability to juggle priorities is one of the skills that they would expect their students to develop as they will certainly need it when in the world of work.

Many of the more reputable essay-selling services, in addition to carrying warnings against plagiarism, state that their products should only be used as examples, and should be credited in the user's bibliography. However, there is little recognition that no marker would see these as reliable or authoritative sources, nor that students might be buying them at the last minute with little option but to pass them off as their own work.

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