Students who think they can beat plagiarism detection software by paying an internet ghostwriting service to produce bespoke essays may want to think again, writes Phil Baty.
An experiment at Loughborough University, in which students bought essays from internet services that write one-off pieces of work to order, found that they were of poor quality, sometimes riddled with mistakes and unlikely to earn more than a third or lower second-class grade.
Charles Oppenheim, Loughborough's professor of information science, who led the experiment and marked the essays, said: "As well as breaking the rules on cheating, students who use these services are taking a big risk because they are clearly not getting value for money."
In the trial, carried out in conjunction with BBC Radio Four for broadcast on April 15, Professor Oppenheim gave students a genuine title, "Does UK copyright law provide an adequate balance between the needs of rightholders and users?", and told them to buy a 1,500-word essay. He confirmed that all the essays produced were bespoke, adding that off-the-peg work was more easily picked up by anti-plagiarism software.
The lowest-marked essay was by Essays-R-Us ( www.essays-r-us.co.uk ), which charged £205 and produced work that barely scraped a third, with 42 per cent. Professor Oppenheim said the essay had basic errors and suffered from "appalling" English.
The site says: "Essays-R-Us is a unique service of ready-made and tailor-made essays and research facilities for both professionals and academics." But customers are warned: "We accept no responsibility for any inaccuracies that may arise from time to time."
The essay from Papers4You ( www.coursework4you.co.uk ) was not much better.
The website boasts "a small team of professional writers" who hold "at least a masters level degree", from "top UK universities" such as the London School of Economics and Birmingham University. It says its papers "are usually 70 per cent-plus standard". Professor Oppenheim gave the essay 54 to 55 per cent - a moderate lower second class degree standard.
The best essay was delivered by Degree Essays UK ( www.ukessays.com ) , part of Academic Answers Ltd, which is registered at Companies House. The service described itself as "the best essays and dissertation service in the UK" and said its essays were "guaranteed to be of a 2.1 or a first class standard". However, Loughborough gave its essay 56 to 58 per cent - a lower second.