students copying/buying term papers from web sites

back in the good ol’ days of studenthood( I graduated on or about 1980) I spent many hours typing all night a paper that was due the next morning, or trying to convince a prof to accept it a day late.

Sure , I was irresponsible,–but at least I did my OWN work. I spent long hours in the library looking at lots of sources and finally at the last minute put together a coherent 5 , 10 or 15 pages of research.

Back then, there were a few shady companies that advertised in the local paper offering “research assistance”. But the mechanics of it made such cheating difficult. (Snail mail, you had to order weeks in advance and pray it arrived before your deadline, and that it would be relevant to your professor’s assignment, etc.)

Today, we have the net. And it just now occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, a few students might actually be dishonest. So I googled “term paper”, and discovered that there are only enough sites out there to provide for the needs of several million dishonest students.

So 2 questions:
Professors–how do you check that students are actually writing their own papers?

And students–how tempting is it to you?(well, okay, I’ll let you keep your private secrets–just tell me what the “other” students in your dorm do)

How widespread is it?

We’ve had instructors post on this subject before. One comment I remember was that searching for blocks of text from a suspect paper sometimes turns up the original.

And I suppose one might become suspicious if the caliber of the work or the language used is inconsistent with the student.

Two identical papers would be a tip off.

I’ll bet some students are sharp enough to get something of the internet and just rewrite it.

I, too, graduated in 1980. One of my roommates paid another student to write a paper for him and the instructor quickly realized the style was alien to the student.

Speaking as a High School student, teachers can usually tell if the paper has been written by the student judging on style and how “good” it is. Of course, this may change in college as students write better and teachers have more students, thus making it harder to compare with previous works by that student.

However, there is at least one computer program in which the teacher can plug in a snippet of the paper, and the program searches through a database of those pre-written papers. If it finds a match, then the teacher/prof knows it isn’t original work. I believe the database contains thousands of papers, so it seems to be a good resource for teachers. (Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of said program, but I’m sure a Google search would return it)


It’s far too expensive. Papers start at $5-10 per page, at least on the sites I’ve seen, and most of my papers are pretty long.

As usual, only the rich will be able to cheat effectively. That’s how so many of these braindead twits manage to succeed.

99% of the time, it’s international students who do this (at least in my classes) for several reasons:
–their language skills aren’t up to snuff (but I can’t tell them to leave unless they’re found ineligible);

–they don’t seem to realize that copying and pasting from the Net without quoting or citing is a violation of campus policies;

–they think I won’t catch it (but I do, with a little help from Google).

I give the paper a zero, make copies of it and of what they took from the Internet, and tell them that if they do it one more time, they will fail the course and it will be reported. This is standard practice on campus.

Yeah, its not a temptation at all. Aside from ethical concerns and it being flat-out wrong, there’s the practical matter of if I can find it on google, so can a prof.

in my high school all the teachers used It seemed to keep people from cheating because they knew they would get caught. At college there doesn’t seem to be much going on in the “War on Cheating.”


I don’t know of anybody that has used these ready-made essays before. Its really easy to see why.

If you cheat:
Negatives- You lose $50+ that you could spend on the weekend. The papers usually won’t be exactly what the teacher wants, so you probibly won’t even get a good grade, And lastly there is at least a 1 out of 3 chance (Usually higher) you will be discovered and get a 0 on the paper, an automatic F in the class, and probibly be expelled from school. You will not be able to get into another decent school and your life will be ruined
Positive- Save a couple hours of actually having to think.

Doing the paper yourself:
Negative- You will be stuck at home writing a boring paper.
Positive- Its free. You will make a decent grade if you try. You will learn a lot of relevant things from actually writing the paper that will be good for the test. You won’t feel guilty. You will not be kicked out of school.

And thus only stupid people cheat this way.

As others have said, it’s usually blindingly obvious that a student hasn’t written a particular section of text. In my experience, most students don’t copy whole papers word for word off the Internet. They make a few concessions to originality – either they cut and paste chunks of text and fill in the gaps with their own words, or change a word here and there, or plagiarize the body of a paper but write a new introduction and conclusion so that the paper appears to be written in response to the assignment. Most of the time, the difference between the passages written by the student and the plagiarized sections is all too evident.

My favorite case involved a young woman in my Writing Across the Disciplines course who plagiarized most of her paper on iron deficiency anemia from the on-line Merck Manual, which uses the chemical symbol Fe to refer to iron. She decided (correctly) that this would look odd in an essay written for an English class, so she used her word processor’s search and replace function to substitute “iron” for “Fe” throughout the paper. Unfortunately for her, she forgot to proofread the results and ended up turning in a paper full of words like “deironctive” and “irontus.” :slight_smile:

In conclusion, most people who are dumb enough to plagiarize are dumb enough to get caught.

What kills me is that there is something much, much easier than plagirizing and it takes up more space. It’s called “quoting”. Most teachers don’t mind if you quote a chunk of text–within reason. It serves the same purpose AND you don’t get in trouble.

And at my current university, they subscribe to the Turnitin site and have a collection of old papers, and they do check that kind of thing.

I’ve been tempted by the promise of wonderful essays at a good price. I’ve always managed to overcome those temptations and just suck it up, crack open some caffeine, and write the damn essay.

One time my freshman year of college, I was tempted enough to actually download a paper with the intention of turning it in as my own work. It was midterms time, and I was taking six classes. Plus, this paper had me completely stumped. Found a free essay online that fit the assignment and downloaded it. The day I was to turn it, I began to have second thoughts about cheating. I decided to read the whole essay and see if it ease my conscience. The first two pages were good and on-topic (they were the only two pages I had previously read). Starting with page three and running to the end on page seven, it started meandering and getting really personal. If I had turned it in, I would have been admitting to being gay, hateful of my parents, and spent two pages ranting against every organized religion. I skipped class, wrote my own essay, and took the penalty for it being poorly written and a day late.

Moral of the story for me: I am a lousy cheat, and I will never pull a stunt like that again (and I haven’t, either!).

I never bought a paper, but I did, um, ghostwrite a couple of Lit. compositions for one of my suitemates. It’s not that she couldn’t have easily written them herself, she was very smart, but she was also both very rich and very lazy. I, on the other hand, read for pleasure, generally enjoy writing, and was broke, broke, broke almost all the time.

I was never sure where I stood on the legality of that. I mean, from one angle it was simply a freelance writing assignment: she offered to pay me $XXX to read books A, B & C and write a 20 page paper comparing and contrasting their themes. Writing to someone’s specifications isn’t illegal. Of course, I knew that her intent was to hand the essay in as her own work. So I was knowingly helping her commit the crime of plagiarizing. On the third hand, this wasn’t a military academy or other school with an honor code that would require me to rat on her.

I dunno if the teacher suspected anything – as I said, the girl was bright enough and well spoken enough to have been able to write essays of the same quality as I did – but nothing was ever said to my suitemate about it.

Mine do. Jeniuses.

I’ve never used anything like that. People who do should be flunked, no second chances. Maybe even suspended for a semester. I bet it would slow down considerably if there more dire consequences. My classmates are mollycoddled enough as it is, what with late turn-ins with no grade penalty (I mean really, if I can raise my daughter, care for my mother and still work and go to school while turning everything in on time, unemployed (or under-employed) teens and twenty-somethings with little or no responsibility ought to be able to get stuff in on time) and curves and what-not.

Here’s what happened with a couple of repeat offenders:

At campus one: Student forged name on another student’s quizzes after that student dropped the class; plagiarized an essay and a midterm; got reported; failed automatically and got suspended from taking any courses there in the next semester.

Campus two: Student plagiarized; I was feeling generous and said she could rewrite it; she plagiarized the rewrite and then the research paper; got reported; they put a hold on all her stuff until she agreed to go and talk to the authorities about what she had done and what further action they would take.

My sister is a Remedial English Comp instructor at a handful of community colleges in the Chicago area. She’s had her share of young adults who plagiarize works, and upon being caught/disciplined protest that they weren’t told it was against the rules not to. When she mentioned this to her Dean, she was told that anyone who has made it “this far” (I don’t know how far CC Remedial English Comp is) should already know.

Perhaps there is a need for an introductory workshop for academic ethics?

In my sister’s case, she caught people who handed in papers that, save a few homonymous keywords, had nothing to do with the research topic, and people who in class argued the exact opposite of the written thesis. Another event involved a kid who was actually kicked out of the school because of a report plagiarized in her class. About nine months later she ordered a pizza delivered to her apartment, and sho nuff the genius made the delivery. He wasn’t too thrilled to see her, but it didn’t go beyond a tense transaction and a street door slam.

Last year, by SO said some of his classmates got caught in an engineering english course for plagiarizing a paper on…get this… plagiarism. I don’t know what the penatly was, but I know the students didn’t fail the course automatically. Whatever punishment they had was not made public.

The year before that, I was in a lab course in which we had six labs to complete over twleve weeks, and the pairs of students rotated though them. There were three lab times assiciated with the course. Apparently some students were dumb enough to think that if their friends did Lab 1 in the first week, and they did it 4 weeks later, that the TA would NOT notice if the same report was handed in. As I heard it, 10+ students were caught, some of them having taken only enough time to change their names on the front page (the first person caught forgot to change the date). The TA and lab coordinator sat down and went through ALL the labs handed in, highlighting same passages. Some were COMPLETELY highlighted.

Each student caught automatically failed the lab portion of the course, and therefore failed the course as well. One student was not punished, as it appeared that while she did provide her paper to her boyfriend so he had an idea what to do, she didn’t know that he and his roommates and friends intended to just pass it around and submit it as theirs. I felt so bad for that girl. AFAIK she is still with him, but there must be a HUGE breach of trust!

Plagiarism is wrong, and you have to be incredibly stupid not to think you’ll get caught. If you found it on Google, or from another person in the same class, odds are the profs will find it too!

My uni takes that very seriously, as do all of my professors. In fact, my Introduction to Mass Communication professor cut and pasted the entire academic dishonesty section of our student handbook into her syllabus. My psychology professor won’t let us keep any of our assignments – we’re allowed to look at the grade, see what we missed, and then we have to hand it all back in. If I want a copy of my work, I have to keep it myself.

A grad-student friend of mine recently had a homework assignment due. A classmate turned in an elaborate solution to the problem. The professor found the identical solution on the MIT website, of all places. Since the student solved the problem differently in class, the professor assumed the answer had been plagiarized, and graded him accordingly. Which was a zero, and the guy will be lucky to pass the course.


Wow! I can’t believe that behavior like this does not result in automatic failure of the course, at the absolute minimum. Given the amount of time most colleges and universities spend impressing upon students the unacceptibility of plagiarism, there is absolutely no excuse, and i tend to think that an obvious case should result in expulsion from the institution.

Last year i caught a student whose final paper was just a bunch of paragraphs that he had cut-and-pasted from three different websites. He failed the paper and the course, got a mark on his permanent academic record, and had to take an extra course in his final semester of senior year in order to graduate on time.