Essay Mills and Academic Dishonesty
Recently, there have been articles floating around the internet about essay writing services, how they have become popular, and how universities are clamping down on them. You can read further about this new crackdown in the following report, published by the UK’s Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).
Warning: before you proceed, we apologise no memes are contained within this post
At Currikula we want to take this opportunity to discuss how we are not an essay writing service (commonly referred to as an Essay Mill) and how we do not support the use of these services. We completely agree with the Higher Education’s position on these services as they undermine the very reason you attend university — to learn.
Our intention at Currikula is to help students achieve better grades by improving several elements of their assignments. We provide tools to use to help students enhance their writing, improve their essays and achieve great academic success.
We believe in providing better software to support students’ efforts while writing their essays, saving time and improving the final draft, and our long-term projection fully supports these efforts.
Currently, our platform revolves solely around referencing, which is an aspect of academic writing that many students have issues with. We have outlined our current and upcoming features below to explain better how we intend to accomplish our goal.
Smart Source is an improved version of standard plagiarism checkers. Smart Source scans billions of web-pages against your essay, finding similar sources which could be considered ‘suspicious’. However, it does not stop here like most plagiarism checkers. Instead, Smart Source lets students view the source, see where it came from and what its content is, and then lets them, (the student), determine whether it is something they had forgotten they used, relevant and worth citing, or worth editing their essay to include the new content.
Smart Source does not engage with anyone to write all or part of your essay, nor does it connect a student with anyone or service who can.
Bibliography Builder, as it sounds, helps the student build their bibliography. It takes added references from Smart Source as well as manually added references and compiles them into a full bibliography in the format they require. This is not a new idea nor is it particularly revolutionary. Students have been having issues with correctly formatting a bibliography since they first had to compile them.
Not only are there over 6000 different styles of referencing, but within each style there are varying conventions. One supposedly ‘official guide’ (we won’t mention the name) got itself confused and varied where it placed a ‘.’ between examples. Having consistent, reliable citation compilation is more important than ever — considering how easy it is to plagiarise now.
Like Smart Source, Bibliography Builder does not engage with anyone or service to write all or part of your essay.
Assignment Analytics processes your essay and provides a statistical overview of your essay with further elements: readability scores, quotation usage, and theme analysis. With these statistics, you gain insight into your essay and all the components that make it. Seeing quotation usage as a statistic rather than from a subjective viewpoint can let a student make a better-informed decision at 3: AM rather than the ‘feel’ for how many quotes they’ve used.
These features are designed to let a student understand their writing, to view it from an objective but also different vantage point. It shakes off the tunnel vision they might feel after completing their draft.
By using these statistics we can also compile a profile on the student, looking at how their writing develops, what their biggest trends are, and in the future help provide specific advice that is tailored to their writing style.
Assignment Analytics makes no edits, no changes, nor does it write a single word for the student.
Based on information from Assignment Analytics and best academic writing practices, Currikula provides feedback for each paragraph of students’ essays. Spelling and grammar checkers look at their namesake, but Currikula goes further by identifying elements that are more paramount to a good grade. Think quotation rhythm, argumentative strength, and content relevancy.
This allows us to guide students towards best practises and help them spot major potential errors in their work. Again, we don’t edit, write or change a word of their work. We provide a general service akin to that of a teacher or professor offering general feedback on their writing.
We are very excited about our upcoming features and are eager to see how we can assist students and help them achieve better grades with improved academic software and without the need for Essay Mills or similar services.
There are two types of Essay Mills currently in operation, those that offer bespoke custom written essays on the topic requested by the student or those that simply regurgitate essays they have from a storage bank. The later option is almost always cheaper and provides a quicker service.
Whilst a custom, bespoke essay is seen by some as ‘not plagiarised’ because it is all original work, it is in fact worse because the whole essay, not written by the student, is claimed to be authored as such. The act of submitting work that is not one’s own under the pretence that it is, is the core problem with plagiarism and academic dishonesty.
By submitting someone else’s work as their own, the student is cheapening the worth of their university, jeopardising their future, and blatantly engaging in academic dishonesty. The report cited at the top of this article, also notes that many Essay Mills put in fine print ‘the essay should be used as guidance for the student when writing their essay and not be submitted as their own’. If a student were to follow this logic (and we don’t think any do) then they would be essentially paying for an essay ‘template’, which can easily be found for free online or in the vast amounts of university library resources.
So why do students use these services?
“Remove the stress of writing” — Every Essay Mill advert ever
Essay Mills are now advertising on Instagram and various social networks (we have seen several ads ourselves) claiming to remove the ‘stress’ of academic writing by using professional academic writers. So clearly they believe this is a student’s pain point. But quite frankly if you didn’t want to write essays or submit academic work, why go to university in the first place? Writing good essays are hard and we understand that. However, the rigorous act of writing an essay provides much needed analytical skills, teaches attention to detail, and helps garner a greater understanding of planning and structure. While this may be a contributing factor, we don’t think it is the main reason why students cheat.
“Not enough time” — Every lazy student ever
We understand that some students don’t go to university for the academic thrill. Some go for the sports, some go for social aspects, and some go because they have to. Some students may even be working part or even full time to support themselves while there. For many, academics come second to their other priorities.
We are not an authoritative voice on what people should or should not prioritise. Everyone has their own unique experience of university, their own worries and concerns. But we are still not quite sure that this is the root issue.
“I have to get the best grades” — Anonymous
What would drive a student to cheat? The promise of a guaranteed good grade delivered on time? It solves the problem of them having little time, guarantees success, and leaves them graduating with the best possible opportunities. Or does it…?
Buying an essay means that there has been no learning curve. The student has not developed or enhanced any skills, besides maybe researching the most cost-effective writing service. There is nothing valuable to an employer about that. If they turn up to a prestigious job with stunning grades and then proceed to demonstrate a significantly less impressive character and a compromised work ethic, what is the employer going to think?
Some students, who buy essays either just don’t want to do the work required or just don’t care enough to. And those are the kind of students that are very difficult to help. But many are those that we feel are perhaps not getting as much support from their tutors or professors as they could. Perhaps due to their part-time job they don’t have time to make a professor’s open hours. Perhaps the professor’s open hours are always booked up or are at inconvenient times (ie. when they’re in another lecture).
This means that the students can not get the support and the feedback they need to improve their writing, understanding, or academic performance, so they turn to the only source they can think of that will guarantee them that success (even if it may be an ultimately hollow victory).
Now this is not the fault of the professors, tutors, or teachers, nor does the blame rest on the shoulders of the students, it’s just a fact of university culture. In fact it’s been a staple of our education system since primary school. As you get further up the educational tree the access to help and assistance, in a one on one sense, decreases. This is natural as the class sizes increase and the person providing the learning experience gets their time and attention stretched across more people. At university the massive lecture classes are supposedly supplemented with individual study and self-learning.
But many people would agree teaching yourself how to write is very difficult. Self-reviewing is hard, after all you have written it. It is much easier to spot flaws or things to improve in other peoples’ work rather than your own, especially right after finishing writing it. It is here that feedback is most important and perhaps most lacking.
What can be done?
Well universities are being advised to introduce new measures that make it harder for students to use these services. They are also planning on introducing software that analyses the style of the students writing to determine whether they have written what they’ve submitted.
In some cases this might work; it may reduce the amount of essays that are bought. But how will they really tell? Students won’t admit to it until the fear of having their degree revoked, annulled, or terminated is passed. They’re fighting a hard fight.
Another option is providing further support for students. Can universities step up and provide an even better experience? Can they help students achieve their academic potential without cheating?
Well if they cannot or are simply not willing to, then maybe that’s where Currikula can provide some assistance. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to help those students that want more support, that require a little more guidance or those that simply want to use every honest tool they can to achieve the best grades.
We have, in the past, provided helpful tips and tricks to help students in assignments, but we never encourage academic dishonesty or the use of Essay Mills. All work a student submits needs to come from the student, and any outside sources used must be properly cited. It is our goal at Currikula to help students achieve a better, honest grade, that they can be proud of because they put in the effort, not someone else.