Essay Mills: a student-friendly service or plagiarising scams?

WHEN deadlines collide and work piles up, it’s easy to wish there was some fairy godmother to wave a wand and write that essay for you. Well, as with many things, the internet is ready and willing to provide such a service for you. Just type ‘essay writing service’ into Google and link after link appears offering ‘plagiarism free’, ‘high quality’, ‘100% original’ work that offers you the chance to close the books and hit the town rather than slaving the night away.

Whilst writing this, I also have an essay due in four days that I’ve yet to start. Like most students I’ll spend my weekend drinking energy drinks, slumped over my laptop, surrounded by empty packets of sweet chilli Sensations. But first I decided to see just what I could expect from one of these sites. With search-engine-happy names like ‘EssayWritingServiceUK’ and ‘OxbridgeEssays’ there is plenty of choice. Many of the websites have price calculators and you enter the word length, due date and what grade you would like – with longer essays and higher grades, of course, coming in at a higher price.

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For a 2:1 and a stress-free weekend I could have my essay written for £245. The price seems steep, but for some students times may be desperate. Though it might be unsuspecting freshers who fall for these websites assurances and promises, a final year student with societies and a job might consider it a small price to pay for one less essay to worry about. But I still had my doubts – how could these sites promise a 2:1? I still find essay assessments and grades mystifying at times, with each tutor differing from one another. If I’m pulling over £200 out of my pocket I want a guaranteed grade, and if I was after a first the price would double. On one website a chat box immediately appeared, with a mysterious advisor named ‘Wayne’ asking if I needed any help. When I asked him how he could ensure the essay would be marked as a 2:1 he responded in seconds:

We guarantee that you will receive a 100% original paper written according to all of your instructions and guidelines.
However, we do not guarantee the grade you may get if the paper is submitted as your own work. Grades depend on the professor’s opinion, on your overall performance in class and many other outside factors that we cannot influence on. This is something we can’t guarantee.

I have no doubt something of similar wording is written into the Terms and Conditions upon buying an essay. Whilst scoping around other sites, ‘Wayne’ continued to ask about my essay until I closed the window.

All of the sites place a particular emphasis on each essay being original. Many have a separate tab to disparage fears about plagiarism and cheating, and some claim that these essays are not, in fact, for you to pass off as your own in but to act as a guideline. Some sites boast ‘academic integrity’ whilst others hope to ‘fill the gap’ created by universities that fail to help students with their essays. But who are they actually kidding? It is clear these sites reel in panicked procrastinators and lazy students with freshly arrived student loans.

And as for originality? Turnitin – the electronic essay hand-in application used by our own university – claims that most of these essays are at least partially plagiarised. They reference a mini-experiment carried out by US professor Dan Ariely, who ordered essays based on his questions for his own students to mark and check for plagiarism. Unsurprisingly Ariely found the quality of the essays to be shocking and using a website that checks for plagiarism found that some of the essays were as much as 40% plagiarised. Over £200 to be accused of plagiarism – an offence which could cost you your degree – makes the price of using these essay mills even steeper.