Essay mill disclaimers are a joke – it’s time to get serious on cheating
Philip M. Newton is director of learning and teaching at Swansea University Medical School. Michael Draper is an associate professor in legal studies at Swansea University
This is a sample essay on “the advertising used by essay mills”.
This is a reference work only. It must not be used as your own work, even partially. You cannot submit this work for academic credit; that would be cheating. Contract cheating, in fact.
We have to put this disclaimer here because the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld a complaint about the advertising used by an essay mill in the UK.
That’s right. The ASA upheld a complaint from the Quality Assurance Agency about the advertising used by an essay mill. The ruling supports the conclusions that we arrived at in a paper last year, in which we found that there was a profound mismatch between the advertising used by essay mills and the “small print” deployed in their terms and conditions.
The QAA made a complaint to the ASA and the ruling was returned last week, referring specifically to one site.
The site is one of thousands that offer to write bespoke “custom essays” and other assignments for students in return for a fee. They can, and do, produce essays on anything. They’re quick and cheap. This phenomenon is part of the concept of “contract cheating”, wherein students get someone else to do their work for them. Yes, you can buy essays on…contract cheating.
In this case, the advertising used offered guaranteed grades and a money-back guarantee if the work did not meet the standard. It was partly on this basis that the ASA concluded that the site gave a “misleading impression…that consumers would be able to submit purchased essays as their own without repercussion”.
This misleading impression is potentially harmful because students underestimate the penalties imposed by universities for the use of an essay mill.
The site’s “fair use” disclaimer about not doing so was buried at the bottom of the page. This is standard practice for essay mills, along with guarantees that work is “plagiarism-free”.
Will this ruling eliminate contract cheating? No. Will this ruling fundamentally change the behaviour of essay mills? No. However, is this ruling a positive step? Yes.
There is no simple, single solution to contract cheating. There are a number of other things that need to be done, many of them contained in a formal guidance document from the QAA released last year.
We need to improve the assignments that we use in higher education. We need to educate students and staff about academic integrity.
We also need to change the law. Historically, it has been hard to identify a law that specifically targets providers of contract cheating services, but we think we have come up with one, if any lawmakers are reading.
This is a step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go.
*Welcome to the Disclaimer Zone. Well done for getting this far; this is where the disclaimers used by essay mills currently live. In keeping with that principle, this is not really an essay!