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.
Ethical Issues Involving Online Paper Services
Using Editing Sites
Using a Bought Paper
Using Editing Sites
Some paper-writing sites also offer editing services. The student sends them her paper and the site's editors edits it for her. This seems like a reasonable service at first, since the student writes the paper. If the site only marks areas for improvement and gives tips on grammatical corrections to make, then the editors are serving the same purpose as a roommate who is asked to proofread a paper. Of course, most people are unwilling to pay four dollars a page for mere proofreading. It seems more probable that the sites are actually altering the papers they receive for editing. This is closer to co-writing a paper with your roommate than having him proofread it, and for most classes, falls into the category of “unauthorized aid”.
Using a Bought Paper
Buying a paper off a site is not, in itself, unethical, unless one considers that the student buying the paper is supporting a site whose papers are used for unethical purposes. It is obviously unethical for a student to put his name on a paper and submit it as his own if he did not write it, but what if the student buys the paper and uses it for ideas for his own paper? One could argue that simply using the paper for an idea is similar to discussing an idea with another student, which is usually permissible. However, because the paper is a written resource, if the student does not cite the paper as being responsible for some of his ideas, then he is plagiarizing it. If the paper is cited, then it should be treated as any other resource that the student could get from the library. The web-sites that sell these papers usually include a disclaimer that states that the papers they sell must be used as a reference and cited. The following is an example of a disclaimer from a web-site which sells papers:“All research papers are owned by The Paper Store Enterprises, Inc. and are the property of the corporation and our contracted writers. Our work is designed only to assist students in the preparation of their own work. Students who use our service are responsible not only for writing their own papers, but also for citing The Paper Store as a source when doing so.” -www.africanlit.com
A paper written by an unknown source is not the best reference to site in a paper, but it is possible that some students would seek to use the papers for only this purpose.
So far we’ve examined the ethical issues involved with downloading and using a paper. It is also important to look at the ethics of uploading papers. Paper-selling sites rely on people who are willing to sell their papers online. For those sites who write custom papers, they rely on a pool of students and other people who can write a paper on demand. To the students who write these papers, this may seem like simply an easy way to make some money. If you have to write it for a class anyway, why not make something off it, right? The students are clearly giving unauthorized aid to other students, even if they don’t know the student they are aiding.
But what if the student merely uploads the paper to his web-site? Perhaps he is proud of it, or perhaps he wants his parents to be able to read it. Is that student responsible for another student finding that paper and using it as his own? The student who posted it can be considered negligent, but if his intent was not to promote plagiarism, then he hasn’t really done anything unethical. Seen in the same light, the student who uploads his paper to a paper-selling site may intend for it to be used as a reference only. This seems unlikely because his name is not on it and so the paper can’t be truly referenced, but it is possible. Because it is almost impossible to judge intent, it will become increasing difficult for schools to prosecute students who upload or download papers from the Internet.