Monday, September 11, 2006

Easy way out? Not really

THE NEW YORK TIMES
September 10, 2006
Outsourcing Homework
At $9.95 a Page, You Expected Poetry?
By CHARLES McGRATH
THE Web site for an outfit called Term Paper Relief features a picture of a young college student chewing her lip.

“Damn!” a little comic-strip balloon says. “I’ll have to cancel my Saturday night date to finish my term paper before the Monday deadline.”

Well, no, she won’t — not if she’s enterprising enough to enlist Term Paper Relief to write it for her. For $9.95 a page she can obtain an “A-grade” paper that is fashioned to order and “completely non-plagiarized.” This last detail is important. Thanks to search engines like Google, college instructors have become adept at spotting those shop-worn, downloadable papers that circulate freely on the Web, and can even finger passages that have been ripped off from standard texts and reference works.

A grade-conscious student these days seems to need a custom job, and to judge from the number of services on the Internet, there must be virtual mills somewhere employing armies of diligent scholars who grind away so that credit-card-equipped undergrads can enjoy more carefree time together.

How good are the results? With first semester just getting under way at most colleges, bringing with it the certain prospect of both academic and social pressure, The Times decided to undertake an experiment in quality control of the current offerings. Using her own name and her personal e-mail address, an editor ordered three English literature papers from three different sites on standard, often-assigned topics: one comparing and contrasting Huxley’s “Brave New World” and Orwell’s “1984”; one discussing the nature of Ophelia’s madness in “Hamlet”; and one exploring the theme of colonialism in Conrad’s “Lord Jim.”

A small sample, perhaps, but one sufficient, upon perusal, to suggest that papers written to order are just like the ones students write for themselves, only more so — they’re poorly organized, awkwardly phrased, thin on substance, but masterly in the ancient arts of padding and stating and restating the obvious.

If they’re delivered, that is.

Read the rest of the story here.

12 Comments:

Blogger Doug & Dara said...

Today I saw an ad on Craigslist. The student was looking for someone to write a paper on ethics. This was a nice bit of irony. Later in the day the ad was taken down.

Another time one of these outfits posted an ad looking for a writer. They stated that this was not illegal. No, you won't get arrested for it, but does it make it right?

What I am looking for is to hire someone to grade my papers. This is my first time teaching PR Writing. I am a good writer and good PR practitioner. I also am a good teacher when it comes to the other courses. I just struggle with this one and trying to figure out how to teach writing. If they're seniors, shouldn't they already know the difference between active and passive verbs? Do I work on style of the writing or simply the form of the various written pieces? Writing always came naturally to me and I don't remember learning the basics. Now it seems I have to teach the basics, plus the specifics for the industry.

10:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doug & Dara --

yes, college seniors ought to be able to write a grammatically correct sentence...but a lot of mine can't either.

What I'd be tempted to do in your situation is to require the students to take their assignments to your college's writing center before turning them in. At my school, it's possible to have the staff in the writing enter confirm that a student has brought their paper in for review.

Of course, your students -- especially the ones who missed 7th grade English and can't spell -- will whine and complain. Once upon a time, I'd have pitied them and let it slide. No more. I've lost patience with college students who seem to believe that learning how to write a complete sentence is beneath them. I'm also thinking about investing in a rubber stamp -- "PROOFREAD".

9:01 AM  
Blogger Mike M. said...

Jesus, this is offensive. What sort of slug is too lazy to write a five page paper. Never mind so stupid and illiterate to turn in the sort of dreck that was returned in this story.

But, that being said, if the quotes from the NYTimes are accurate, and I'm sure that they are, the people buying these papers are getting what they deserve. I could write a better paper on the first two topics off the top of my head -- and I haven't read Huxley or Orwell in 30 years. But these people should receive failing grades for this sort of mishmash, and at $30 - 50 dollars, that's all they will ever get, I suspect.

But the lack of ethics, and work ethic, is also appaling. When I was in college, I would have never even considered turning in someone else's work and trying to pass it off as my own. The thought would absolutely never have crossed my mind. One wonders what kind of employees, or worse, what kind of professionals these morally defective people will make.

12:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Prof, Check out the New York Times article about parents looking on facebook to see if the future roommate is good enough for their little precious.

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/13/education/13college.html?ref=education

I find this very scary. When do the students actually have a chance to grow up?

10:27 AM  
Anonymous Becky said...

Harpers had an excellent article on this a few years back as well, where I believe the author went to work for one of these companies.

2:34 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

I think it's funny...you write a post about a truely egegious practice and look what pops up on your google ads.

8:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pretty sad. If people put the effort and time into writing that they put into seeking out ways to avoid having to write, we'd all be a lot better off.

To any high school students who read this blog: Figure out how to write a good paper before you leave HS. (On the same note, don't spend all your time worrying about the SAT essays, either.) Take the harder English and History classes, and work with your teachers to get better. Don't settle on getting a B. Figure out how to make an A.

Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be a gifted writer or thinker to produce a good paper. It's a skill that can be learned, just like any other skill. And being able to consistently churn out an A-quality paper is one of the most valuable skills you can have going into college. It pays dividends time and again; often times, I've found the difference between an A student and a C student in a given class to be writing ability.

8:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you seen this professor? He is cool enough to carry this off:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ceJFtpICvoA

This is one way to raise your student evaluations.

4:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To anonymous:

Your encouragement of proper writing is something I agree with, as well as with your encouragement to proofread.

However, I did note a typo (enter for center) as well an error in agreement ('that a student has brought their paper in for review'), mixing singular and plural. I know a comment on a blog isn't an essay for marking, but it does raise the issue of register; many university students don't understand there is such a thing as 'formal writing', as almost all of the writing they have ever done has been in an informal register.

Anyone can make mistakes, even those of us who grade the work of others. I know professors with zero-tolerance rules (which, given the capricious nature of the 'rules' of English grammar, means a crap shoot as to what rule to follow. Split infinitives? Stranded prepositions? 'Between' vs. 'Among'?)

Everyone has his or her own pet peeves; it's probably best to let students know of these in an effort to increase their awareness of them. Truly illiterate students need help, which all universities should provide, although the quality of help can be uneven.

If anyone is interested in an investigation of the injunction against passive voice, and how its biggest critics are its biggest users, here's an article from Language Log:
http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/003366.html

4:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It gets better (/worse). McGrath quotes some of the writing on Huxley from one of the purchased papers. But the but he quotes contains lines swiped from an online Huxley study guide.

9:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"but the but"? Hmm. By that, I meant "but the bit."

(Thanks for blogging, by the way! I enjoy what you do here.)

9:28 PM  
Blogger goodman said...

Without a base, an article cannot be written. This is why we have chosen search as the base for this beautiful article of ours.

5:39 AM  

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