"Action indeed is the sole medium of expression for ethics."...  ...Jane Addams.

Commentary of the Day - December 18, 2010: The Write Stuff.   Guest commentary by Kim Marie Wood.

I loved college.  I love to learn, I love to read and I love to write.  I actually would get excited when an instructor handed out the directions for an essay, research project or paper.  Let me at it!  I confess I spent countless hours in the library, as this was in the 1970's and actual books were involved.  It also meant that all papers were typed, edited and revised on an IBM Selectric typewriter and included gallons of "white-out," as word processing did not yet exist.

As a result of my prowess in this area, my grades were very good and I completed B.A., M.A. and M. Ed degrees.  Along the way, I also tutored and coached other students to help them revise and improve their papers, earning a little extra money.  But I never once wrote the paper for them!  It was both depressing and sad when I recently learned that the combination of my college and graduate school education and my writing expertise make me "highly qualified" to work for an online college paper-writing service.  And this service is willing to pay me a very nice fee to write essays, research papers, master's theses and even doctoral dissertations for a massive horde of anonymous college students unable or unwilling to do this work themselves.

Let's be clear, this is not a service that sells "canned," pre-written papers from a library.  Those papers are pretty easy to catch with the plagiarism engines to which most colleges and universities subscribe.  Instead, the companies I am describing act as a clearinghouse for "orders" from undergraduate and graduate students willing to pay to have someone else do all the work for them.  All the student is required to supply is the specific details of the assignment (and, of course, a valid credit card.)  It is technically "original" work when they turn it in.  It's just not their work.

The term plagiarism is derived from the Latin word plagiarius.  It is defined as the intentional or unintentional use of another's words or ideas without acknowledging this use and giving appropriate credit.  I have to believe that paying someone like me to do all of the research and to actually write the essay, thesis or dissertation takes plagiarism to an entirely new level the moment a college student puts his or her name on the cover sheet and submit this work as their own.  The Latin word plagiarius actually means "to kidnap."  In this situation, many things have been kidnapped.

The most obvious thing that has been "kidnapped" is the internal belief system of the student who pay to use this type of service.  In what direction is his or her moral compass pointing?  You have to wonder what ethical system this student is using to guide his or her actions, in order to "cheat" on such a grand scale.  Surely the student was taught better by parents and educators.

Who are these students, you ask?  The college students purchasing paper writing services do not fit into one simple category.  While we would all like to believe that these students are college athletes busy playing a sport and desperate to hold onto a scholarship, this is just not the case.  Many of these students are capable of doing their own work, but simply choose not to.  Others are graduate students who do not have the necessary English language skills to prepare a complex paper.  However, the most expensive services are charged to student who have ignored a deadline and have something important due in 48 hours.  The ghost-writer choosing to undertake assignments of this type can earn a premium wage for pulling off the proverbial "eleventh hour miracle."

That leads us to the sticky question of the writers themselves.  Who are they and how do they deal with the obvious ethical issue, knowing someone else is turning in their writing for a grade and ultimately academic credit?  I can only answer for myself.  In broadening my search for freelance writing work not too long ago, I came across one of these online companies, called EssayWriters [ed. note: the IP has intentionally omitted a link to this service for obvious reasons].  If you visit their home page, you will see that their slogan is "Where good writers make great pay."  Yes, but at what cost?

I was both irritated and curious, however, about what this whole essay writing thing really was, and I had some time on my hands, so I applied.  It was a multi-step process that included my resume, academic credentials, a grammar test, and an online timed writing test.  A few days later I got an email acceptance letter and a username and password that would allow me to see and bid on the actual jobs available.  At that point I must admit it was like a car accident, I simply couldn't look away.  I was expecting to see jobs for an ordinary freshman literature essay or basic research paper.  What I found instead were mainly complex and often advanced graduate level assignments.  It became crystal clear to me at that moment that I knew exactly where I stood.  I had no ethical dilemma at all, I could never do it.  Both the student and teacher in me wanted to poke out my "mind’s eye" for even looking at it!

So…is there an ethical dilemma for the writers who do choose to earn money this way?  Apparently not, for without them, this kind of service could not exist.

2010, Kim Marie Wood.
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Kim Marie Wood is an author, educator and freelance writer.

The Irascible Professor comments: There is no ethical dilemma for the writers who choose to participate in this kind of academic fraud, because they have no ethics of their own.  The students who purchase such services should have their degrees revoked if they are ever discovered.


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