Is Ghost-Writing the New Face of “Plagiarism” in Academia?

Is Ghost-Writing the New Face of “Plagiarism” in Academia?

Anxious to get ahead in today's forbidding labor market, college students have begun cheating on a heretofore unknown scale.

I first started in the college ghost-writing business five years ago when most students were still soliciting papers through Craigslist. Back then, it was not an efficient or reliable system for the student or the writer.

Many of the deals I negotiated fell through.  Sometimes I wrote the paper and never got paid.  The market was filled with unscrupulous writers who took a hefty “deposit” from a desperate student – and promptly disappeared.  It was buyer – and seller – beware.

By contrast, the new web sites are functioning for the most part as highly effective middle-men.   Three years ago, as an experiment, I signed up with one of the most flamboyant sites, known as  It’s based in Montreal, Canada and makes no secret of its ambition to subvert school policies. Its colorful home page tells students not to worry: “We can make your papers go away.”

Most of the site’s thirty writers are top-notch PhDs.  Some, like me, are long-time professionals with two or more decades of writing experience. We even have our resumes and career highlights listed on the site – but with our names removed.

And trust me, we do deliver.  In just four months, I wrote more than eighty major term papers – most of which received grades of A or A-.  With an average student workload of two term papers per class, that’s the equivalent of writing forty classes worth of student papers.  Four other writers contributed an equal volume of papers; together we supported roughly 160 semester classes between us.

Assuming an average work load of 4 classes per semester, we effectively subsidized an entire semester of paper-writing for 40 college students — no small number.

Who are these students?  You’d be surprised:  They’re not lazy under-achievers at all.  Most are better than average students, and some are true “brains.”   Many have regular jobs or family responsibilities but still attend college close to full-time.  They are pressed for time, and trying to do it all.  And they are looking for an edge

Another group is comprised of younger foreign-born students for whom English is their second language.  They cannot write as well as they think — and they resent it.  They see ghost-writers balancing the scales in a highly competitive system in which they can’t afford to be mediocre — let alone fail.  And many come from wealthy backgrounds — and can afford to pay big bucks, when needed.

A study of academic cheating at Fordham University largely confirms my anecdotal experience.   It found that the average GPA of academic “cheaters” was surprisingly high:  3.41.  By contrast, the average GPA of non-cheaters was just 2.85, close to a full grade lower.  I had extensive interactions with my student clients while I was writing papers for them.  Many told me that my paper-writing helped them focus on the classes that mattered most to them – their “core” courses — and to get top grades.

Academic cheating of this kind is far more widespread than schools seem to realize. Three-quarters of undergraduate students cheat at some time in their career, according to surveys.  That may not seem so surprising.

But there is a difference between cheating “on the margin” — copying a classmate’s previously submitted paper or getting last year’s exam answers – and cheating as a way of academic life.  Some cheaters have established a semi-annual budget to pay a stable of ghost-writers, semester after semester, to write their papers.  This is not just cutting corners – it’s an attack on the very core of academic life.

It’s not that professors are completely oblivious. They constantly warn their students not to engage in “plagiarism” – which, strictly speaking, means copying the work of others and passing it off as your own.

In fact, many teachers do run their students’ papers through sites like that can verify whether the content is original.  That surely serves as a deterrent against some students that might simply cut and pasting material from the Internet, hoping that no one will be the wiser.

But the problem with ghost-writing isn’t “plagiarism” in the narrow sense.  Everything I wrote for my students was 100% “original” – and easily passed those web-based tests.  Many teachers don’t seem to care enough to investigate, even when they suspect that a marvelous-sounding paper they just read displays just a little too much erudition and flair to have been written by one of their students.

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