Magazine article Information Today

The Web Banishes Term-Paper Blues

Magazine article Information Today

The Web Banishes Term-Paper Blues

Article excerpt

Mick O'Leary has been using and writing about online information for over 15 years. He is the director of the library at Frederick, Maryland, and a principal in The Data Brokers, an information consultancy His e-mail address is 71735.2041@compuserve.com

There are a deplorable number of Web resources for buying term papers The Internet is a magic carpet for bringing us wonders that before were difficult or impossible to experience, such as animated advertisements, spam, limitless pornography, and The Drudge Report (http://www.drudgereport.com). To these great advances of the digital age, you can add online term-paper mills. You've probably heard about these from numerous newspaper and magazine articles over the past few years, including those covering Boston University's high-profile anti-mill lawsuit.

But whatever you may have read or heard, the truth is probably worse than you think. The number of term-paper sites on the Web and the number of types and topics of papers they have available are greater than you ever thought possible. And the quality of many of these "research papers" is far worse than you can believe.

However, where there is demand there is supply. Selling or swapping term papers goes a long way back. What the Internet has done, as it has in so many other ways, is to throw open the gates and pick up the pace. In a well-publicized press release last fall (yes, term-paper mills even have press releases), School Sucks (http://www.schoolsucks.com), a prominent free site, announced that in the fall semester it received 270,000 visitors who downloaded 1.6 million papers.

How Many Are There?

It is very difficult to determine just how many term-paper Web sites there are. A HotBot search brings up at least 4 or 5 dozen. (It can be difficult to tell just what some of these are, and I didn't have the stomach to go into all of them.) Several sites, especially the free ones, have sets of links to others, which may not be picked up by the search engines. Altogether, there may be at least 100 sites whose sole purpose is to sell or give away term papers. To this you can add a large but undetermined number of personal or course-related Web sites where full-text term papers have been posted. In other words, there are so many easily reached term-paper sites that any student who has access to the Web can get a full-text paper on almost any topic in minutes, and often for free.

There is a great range of types, from formal, fee-based online businesses to free sites that depend upon submitted papers and operate like co-ops. There is a variety of payment methods, customer audiences, and interfaces. What they all have in common is an attitude of disdain, whether overtly defiant or artfully hypocritical, for the educational process.

Everything for a Price

Fee-based term paper sites are the Web's version of the old research-paper trade. There are dozens, with databases ranging from several hundred to several thousand papers. They typically provide one or both kinds of product: "custom" papers written to the customer's individual specifications or "stock" papers, which are already on hand and were originally prepared as custom papers. These papers are usually written by students, graduates, or professors and, as a general rule, are proficiently done. (Sometimes too proficiently--reports abound of students who were nabbed because "their" paper was blatantly beyond their skills, especially when a tacked-on introduction is inferior to the rest.)

Prices for stock papers range from $7 to $10 per page, and for custom papers from $20 per page on up. There is little variation in price among the numerous sites I checked, suggesting that the laws of the marketplace apply in the strangest places. You can usually pay by credit card and get instant access to the site's paper database. (I'm wondering how, when the credit card statements arrive at home, does a college kid explain a charge to the Cheat Factory? …

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