Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Gibberish for Sale Professor Dan Ariely Bought Term Papers from Essay Mills and Was Glad to Learn They're Awful

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Gibberish for Sale Professor Dan Ariely Bought Term Papers from Essay Mills and Was Glad to Learn They're Awful

Article excerpt

Sometimes as I decide what kind of papers to assign to my students, I worry about essay mills, companies whose sole purpose is to generate essays for high school and college students -- in exchange for a fee, of course.

The mills claim that the papers are meant to be used as reference material to help students write their own, original papers. But with names such as echeat.com, it's pretty clear what their real purpose is.

Professors in general are concerned about essay mills and their effect on learning, but not knowing exactly what they provide, I wasn't sure how concerned to be. So together with my lab manager Aline Gruneisen, I decided to check the services out. We ordered a typical college term paper from four different essay mills. The topic of the paper? Cheating.

Here is the prompt we gave the four essay mills:

"When and why do people cheat? Consider the social circumstances involved in dishonesty, and provide a thoughtful response to the topic of cheating. Address various forms of cheating (personal, at work, etc.) and how each of these can be rationalized by a social culture of cheating."

We requested a term paper for a university-level social psychology class, 12 pages long, using 15 sources (cited and referenced in a bibliography). The paper was to conform to American Psychological Association style guidelines and needed to be completed in the next two weeks. All four of the essay mills agreed to provide such a paper, charging us in advance between $150 and $216.

Right on schedule, the essays came, and I have to say that, to some degree, they allayed my fears that students can rely on these services to get good grades. What we got back from the mills can best be described as gibberish.

A few of the papers attempted to mimic APA style, but none achieved it without glaring errors. Citations were sloppy. Reference lists contained outdated and unknown sources, including blog posts. Some of the links to reference material were broken.

And the writing quality? Awful. The authors of all four papers seemed to have a very tenuous grasp of the English language, not to mention how to format an essay. Paragraphs jumped bluntly from one topic to another, often simply listing various forms of cheating or providing a long stream of examples that were never explained or connected to the "thesis" of the paper. …

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