The market for term papers

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The Chronicle has just published a first person account by ‘Ed Dante’, someone who writes term papers for a living: http://chronicle.com/article/article-content/125329/. It is well worth a look. I don’t support the practice, but it exists.

Three things crossed my mind after reading the article. Firstly, there must surely be a market failure happening here. Otherwise, Ed Dante should be earning more than the  $66,000 per year that he claims is his income. This is especially given the amount of work he described doing and the potential value of his work to his clients. I suspect it is because he is aiming at highly customized pieces, so students may be reluctant to refer their friends and classmates to him as potential customers, just in case they end up with suspiciously similar essays.

Secondly, it confirms for me that libraries are in trouble. Apparently he relied mainly upon Google Scholar and Wikipedia but has never once been to a library since starting his job. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? If I were a Librarian, this present a good business opportunity as library resources could be complementary. In fact, scrolling through the comments, I saw one by “p_s_nym” that said “I do the same thing… I work for an internet company (while doing my day job as a librarian! Unfettered access to library materials is a great boon, and I can kill two birds with one stone).”

Thirdly (and yes, as an educator I am a bit concerned), it seems the solution here is one that already exists and is the age old one: exams. Term papers are fine to some extent, but this is what you get if you put too much weight on them. If the term paper contributes only a fraction of the students’ overall grades, it reduces the incentive to cheat. Besides, one can correlate the student’s exam performance with their term paper, and to some extent this acts as a way to smoke out the cheaters: it is hard to imagine that the girl who wrote that email (“did u get the sorce I send?”) would be able to write complete, coherent sentences in an examination under controlled conditions. So, looking for divergence in the scores as well as the writing styles between the exam and the term paper would be a useful thing to do.

Are there better solutions out there? Maybe I’ll set that as a term paper question for my students and see what their paper writers come up with.

3 Responses to "The market for term papers"
  1. I’ve never been averse to a good, well-written, comprehensive exam.
    I particularly liked the aggressive, and over-the-top civil war going on below the article:
    “raykitt, there is no ad hominem nor venemous attack upon you, as much as you may like that. you are being criticized for having, well, buffoonish ideas. (sorry charlie, that’s not venemous. merely descriptive.) and why do you feel the need to melt three anonymous identities into one? does that make you feel better?”
    I’d love to see them all in the same room… no thesauri allowed!

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    Of course, such services have been around since about 5 mins after the first person was asked to write an essay. The medium has just changed from local scribe to faceless website.  

    The challenge for teaching staff remains writing idiosyncratic questions based around the distinctive aspects of our courses such that any student engaging these sort of services is taking a large gamble.
    In the past I’ve done things like using Australian SMEs as cases and/or cumulative assignments (short individual pieces that then build to some group-based submission). Group-based work can act as a nice attenuator of the risks, as the likelihood of a student even revealing their inclination to cheat may be socially discplined. 

    We do have to be vigilant, but in the end also recognise that most students are not using such services, and that that those who are may get caught out eventually and probably deliver poor work (my sense is that this article is in fact a scurrilous .attempt to market these services as higher quaility than they typically are).

    The final resort is the old saying that they’re just cheating themselves…

  3. It means a 25 page paper nets him $330. The company he claims to work for must take a cut too. So let’s say $400 for a paper. How mcuh do you think students could afford to pay? From what he says he is working flat out producing 25 pages a day.

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