If you Google "academic proofreading," you will see a list of sites offering to "proof" your work. What they are also offering, however, is to write your assignments for you. How do I know this? There are two main reasons.
The first is that I occasionally assess ghost texts: I teach English for Academic Purposes (EAP). Where I work, students don't sit traditional exams. Instead, they write research papers and at the end of the process (which we scaffold), they sit a viva voce exam to extend and defend their research. Both the paper and the viva are assessed. This, we believe, provides several opportunities to get to know the writers and their texts. In the end, we are reasonably confident that final papers are genuine.
Now and then, however, a student will submit a piece of beautifully polished and referenced work that is clearly at odds with evidence from our day-to-day interactions. It is usually sufficiently and artfully peppered with inaccuracies to be attributable to a novice writer, but we know it is not the student's work. When a piece of work is plagiarised, we can usually prove it – but in cases where the student has paid someone else to write the piece, we can't.
Paid by the grade
The second reason is that, in a fit of professional curiosity, I recently sent my CV to, and was interviewed by, a "proofreading" agency. Proofreading prices range roughly from £16 for a 2,000-word essay to £600 for a doctoral thesis, though most sites don't give prices. It wasn't until my interview, however, that I was asked if I would actually write essays and told that I would be paid according to whether the essay got a first or second. When I asked how much, the response was vague, but if the story about Saif Gaddafi's use of the writing services of a PhD student is anything to go by, ghostwriting pays well! Much of what I was told also chimes with this ghostwriter.
I do not have statistics on the extent to which ghost writers haunt higher education. What I do know is that there are several agencies offering the service and that obtaining a degree really matters to the UK's 2.5 million students (their parents and sponsors), half a million of whom are from overseas, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
Academic writing is complex
Such pressure can contribute to inequitable levels of competition. Could you produce lengthy academic assignments without having benefited from a traditional academic background or without English as your first language? Academic discourse is highly complex, inherently cultural and discipline-specific. It requires extensive reading and is also rapidly evolving. In the same situation, I too might be tempted to ask for help, plagiarise or drop out.
However, since all students – including those who write for themselves – are subject to the same assignments, deadlines and assessment criteria, it is unfair for universities to collude tacitly with ghostwriting.
Name and shame?
I am not advocating a culture of penalties where students are named and shamed, as happens in plagiarism cases: I can understand why some students do it. But since ghostwriting isn't illegal (yet), what can universities do to maintain high academic standards?
A typical response is to extend deadlines, run workshops and set up writing centres. Re-instating the written exam might help, but that too has drawbacks.
I would endorse a profoundly different attitude to academic writing, one that recognises its role in the development of responsible academic individuals and communities. I would like academic writing to become more integrated, not outsourced to market forces or bolted on as a response to last-minute deadlines.
There are some universities with an integrated writing culture. These include Warwick University, which runs an MSc in chemistry with scientific writing, and Coventry University, which offers an MA on academic writing theory and practice. At Nottingham, we take this approach in our EAP programmes. But how do other programmes integrate a culture of writing within their disciplines? And to what extent might nurturing such a culture reduce the need for ghostwriters and foster more pride in developing our writing selves?
Julia Molinari is a PhD researcher and EAP tutor at Nottingham University – follow her on Twitter @serenissimaj
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Code of Ethics
Academic Integrity Policies
Academic institutions have established integrity policies to cultivate an environment of honesty, integrity, trust, and fairness. These policies detail the rules that are expected to be followed and specify the consequences that result from engaging in misconduct. Each member of an academic community has the responsibility to abide by these regulations.
While academic integrity policies aim to protect the institution against cheating, forgery, and other offenses, concerns with academic writing can be encapsulated in one policy:
What is plagiarism?
Plagiarism is the intentional or incidental presentation of another's work as one's own. The writing, research, and conceptual thinking of an academic work must belong to the student.
What are some examples of plagiarism?
a. The submission of an assignment that was acquired or purchased from another person;
b. The presentation of another's work as one's own;
c. A failure to acknowledge a direct quotation;
d. A failure to acknowledge the source of paraphrased or summarized material;
e. An improper citation of a source (e.g. misrepresentation or exclusion of a source).
What are the consequences of plagiarism?
The consequences of plagiarism come at the discretion of faculty members and directors of academic affairs. Instances of incidental plagiarism, such as a failure to acknowledge a direct quotation, may result in a grade penalty. Severe plagiarism violations, such as the presentation of another's work as one's own, may result in notations of academic misconduct or expulsion from the academic institution.
Hello Essay Code of Ethics
Hello Essay does not approve of writing support that violates plagiarism policies. Presentation of an academic document that was crafted by an “essay mill” constitutes academic fraud. Plagiarism violations can also occur when students are helped by friends, parents, tutors, or editors who do not know where to draw the line on assistance. Students can get into trouble when their helpers rewrite passages, write new content, or change the author's voice.
Hello Essay provides a safe environment where students can find expert writing help. We are transparent about the standards and practices we follow and are proud of them. All of our editors are required to adhere to the following moral code of conduct:
1.0 HELLO ESSAY EDITORS WILL NEVER:
1.1 Write or Rewrite Essays
Hello Essay is a highly ethical organization and scrupulously complies with academic integrity policies. We are not an essay writing service. We will never write or rewrite a student's essay and will decline any request to do so.
1.2 Accept Essays That Would Require a Rewrite
If an essay is so confusing or illogical that it would require substantial rewriting to make it passable, we will decline service to the student, explain our policy, and issue a refund.
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Although our editors have expertise in diverse subject areas, we will not offer substantive new content or concepts for our students. We will help students improve the presentation of their thoughts but will not add new ideas or lines of supporting evidence.
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If there is a more effective way to convey the paper's message, we will offer our recommendations. However, we will never remove the author's genuineness or authenticity by injecting our own style or changing the author's voice.
1.5 Edit Papers Suspected of Plagiarism
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2.0 HELLO ESSAY EDITORS WILL:
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3.0 HELLO ESSAY EDITORS WILL ALSO:
3.1 Go Above and Beyond
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