Part One: Have No Morals
Short on time for a school paper? Have no morals? You can always purchase your essay online. One such site has been in business for 20 years.
The website, Essay Pro, boasts being a “plagiarism-free” essay writing service since 1997. They’ll write your school essays for money — but they won’t steal someone else’s work when they do it. The stealing of ideas is all on the student buying the essay. In their mission statement, Essay Pro calls themselves a “team of professionals in Custom Essay Writing Services, Plagiarism Detection and Customer Support.” They claim to have “mastered the art of simplifying student’s (sic) lives.”
When students wish to purchase an essay, they enter in their deadline and the topic, as well as any other information and/or special requests they may have. Ghostwriters on the site then place their bids for how much they’d charge to write the essay. These bids are accompanied by messages to the student requesting the job. When the Ebbtide tested this system, it discovered many of these messages contained typos and were incoherent. One, from a ghostwriter calling themselves “PureEssay,” was simply, “hi.” Another, “Hello,! (sic)”
Another ghostwriter called themselves “Perfect Papers.” Not all responses were grammatically correct, but some were awkwardly overly formal. This writer wrote, “Hello, esteemed client. How are you doing?”
The customer reviews on their website are, mostly, not attached to pictures of users. According to the home page of their site, they have over 140,000 likes on Facebook. This is announced under the statement: “People trust us.”
Curious to see the skill level of one of the essay writers, the Ebbtide posted a request for an essay to be written, ironically on the topic, “Why honesty is the best policy.” Our description of the assignment contained questions like, “How does plagiarism affect students’ self worth?” We asked our essay writer to use their personal experience to explain how their academic growth had been affected by cheating.
The essay was given a late deadline in the hope of lowering the price. It was to be a two-page, university-level reflective writing piece with two sources.
The requirement of using personal experience in the essay, with anecdotes from the writer themselves, did not deter the essay writer. The essay had just-vague-enough wording, to maybe pass off as being written by a student. Take for example the second paragraph, where the writer says, on the subject of cheating, “The dishonest act destroys the academic environment by showcasing the institution as impure.”
The essay was submitted on time and with the correct formatting. The MLA formatting was passable. The ethics involved were not.
Part Two: Prof.it
Disclaimer: for the purposes of this article, a teacher was lied to for 18 minutes in an interview.
Davis Oldham, an English professor at SCC, was asked to read and grade an essay the Ebbtide purchased online. He had no knowledge that it had been purchased through an essay writing service. While aware that there were things about the essay he was not being told--who exactly had wrote it, for instance--he was asked to give his opinion on it.
Oldham believed that the essay ended up being “an abstract exercise in putting words on a page.” Given that the writing prompt was vague, Oldham didn’t believe he would grade the paper down because it was unfocused.
Oldham was, however, “happy with the lack of mechanical errors,” in the writing. He stated that there were few, if any. The sentence length was varied, and it didn’t feel like it had a “monotonous kind of tone.”
“I felt like I had to work to stay with the train of thought,” Oldham said. There were issues of citation--a source cited for something that could be common knowledge, and then no citation for something that was not common knowledge.
“It’s trying to tell a personal story, but it takes too long building up to that. It should really lead with the personal investment of the author.” According to Oldham, the writer buried the lead.
Before it was revealed to Oldham that the essay was purchased, and not written for a class, Oldham stated that a student’s specific style was a huge piece he used to determine if a student has plagiarized.
“Plagiarism takes many forms,” he said. “There are degrees of plagiarism, and degrees of intention regarding plagiarism.”
Oldham describes a spectrum: on one end is accidental plagiarism. A student was sloppy, they didn’t follow the rules, and this is contained in an isolated section of their writing. At the other end of the spectrum is copying a paper from the internet.
A common dead give away is the “cut and paste/mix and match” style of plagiarism, where several skill levels and writing styles are present in one paper, because the student has plagiarized several different pieces. On this style, Oldham believes, “it’s obvious, and it doesn’t take much to figure it out.”
When asked if he would suspect if the essay he was shown was plagiarized, Oldham responded, “Well … until you asked me the question, it didn’t come into my mind.”
Plagiarism is not the first thing Oldham thinks about every time he reads an assignment. “We operate on an honor system here. We have to. The notion that I’m gonna be a cop trying to detect plagiarism with every paper I read, I would have a totally different job description … in my opinion, you can’t have a good relationship with someone you don’t trust on some level. And so, I start by trusting my students. I assume they’re being honest with me.”
When told the essay was purchased online, Oldham was not surprised. “That stuff’s out there!” he said. “There are paper writing services out there. They advertise on Craigslist.”
As for whether the price was fair, Oldham laughed. “I don’t know! What a question.” Whether the price was worth it to a student--morals aside--Oldham joked, “I don’t know, are they paying in state tuition?”
For Oldham, teaching is about relationships. “I’m not here to bust people. I’m here to help people.”