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These days, it seems as if it’s easier than ever to find someone to help you cheat.

If you don’t have the right connections or can’t find someone you trust at your school or college, you can always grab your credit card and go online, paying one of dozens of sites to write your paper for you.

These essay sites promise amazing things, claiming to be 100% plagiarism-free, able to produce high-quality papers on any subject, at any grade level and with extremely quick turnaround. However, even to an untrained eye those expectations seemed very unrealistic.

Academic writing, after all, takes time, especially at the graduate level and even with a small army of essay authors it’s difficult to imagine that they could locate experts on every single subject imaginable.

So we decided to put two of these sites to the test and see how their essays stacked up. We wanted to see not just if they could pass a plagiarism detection check, but also the quality of the work itself and whether it would likely receive a good grade for the assignment we gave them.

When we were done, the results were clear, we had spent a lot of money, but received nearly nothing of value for it.

The Test

Before conducting the test, we researched essay mill sites thoroughly and selected two of the largest, most popular sites based on their rankings in Alexa/Compete and in search engines for relevant terms.

With two sites selected, which from here on will be named simply 1 and 2 to avoid identifying them, we pretended to be a master’s-level student needing a master’s-level paper on a medical topic. For the exact topic, we found an online syllabus for a course at the appropriate level and based our assignment on one that was actually being given to students at a master’s-level class.

That assignment would be to write an informational paper on an issue of the author’s choosing related to financial issues and health policy.

The paper would have to meet the following criteria:

  1. Be written on a master’s degree level
  2. Be 6 double-spaced pages long (4 for the second paper)
  3. Include at least 5 sources in the works cited
  4. Be delivered in no more than four days.

With those instructions in mind we submitted the assignment to both sites and waited for our results.

Site 1 Essay Results (Cost: $150.00 for 6 pages or $37.50 per page)

The issues with Site 1 began even before we received the final paper. On the day the paper was due, we received an email from the site that informed us the author of our paper had experienced “personal problems” and would not be able to complete the paper on time. They asked us if we could give them two more days to finish the paper.

If we had been a real student facing a real deadline, this could have been disastrous, especially since the deadline day was a Sunday and it’s unlikely we would have had time to finish the project on our own.

The paper ended up being submitted just under 24 hours late and, after opening it, problems immediately began to emerge.

Though the paper met the requirements of the assignment in terms of length and sources, the paper was clearly not written on a master’s level. For one, there were several grammatical mistakes in the paper, including questionable and inconsistent uses of “health care” vs “healthcare” such as referring to physicians as “healthcare professionals” when the version with the space would have been a better choice.

The sources of the paper were also an issue. Though it had more than the five required sources there were no academic journals or private sources of any type. Among the sources were an article in Forbes magazine, two editorial pieces by political groups and free samples from a textbook that were available online.

The biggest problem, however, was that the paper didn’t seem to have a set topic, discussing a variety of issues and problems with healthcare in the U.S. even though the assignment called for focusing on just one. Instead, the paper, entitled “The Politics and Problems of Health Insurance” discussed everything from access to healthcare, to how new technology drives up the cost of care and more.

A plagiarism check of the paper revealed that it had a similarity score of just 11%. This is within the normal range, and, in looking at the matches found, most of the matching text was correctly attributed. However, there was one passage, approximately 40 words, that was copied near-verbatim without quotations from a WordPress.com blog that was not cited in the footnotes.

If I had been a student already suspected of plagiarism, this passage could have easily tripped alarms.

In short, the first paper cost us $150 and would have required heavy revisions and additional sources to be practical for the class. Even then, it might have drawn attention for plagiarism due to the suspect passage.

Site 2 Essay Results (Cost: $96 for 4 pages or $24.00 per page)

The second site was significantly cheaper and the process of buying and getting the paper was much smoother. The order was completed and returned on time without any problems.

However, immediately after opening, a glaring issue was found. Though we closely followed the sites guidelines on wordcount to get the correct page length (and the final paper met those requirements), the paper was only 3.25 pages long, meaning we would have had to add another ¾ of a page just to complete the assignment. Even counting the works cited, the paper was over ¼ a page short.

Grammatically, the paper was more sound, though there were several issues including missing commas and run-on sentences. Also, the paper exclusively used the word “healthcare”, indicating it may have been written by an author who was familiar with British English and was  unaware the convention hasn’t changed in the U.S.

More importantly, the content of the paper was almost unintelligible in places, meandering from topic to topic and routinely injecting opinion into what should have been a purely informative and educational paper. The paper included nonsensical and meaningless statements such as “Over the years, a number of legislation regarding the financing of healthcare have been passed” and “In conclusion, both public and private health covers are necessary.”

The paper did cite several journals and, when passed through a plagiarism checker, came back with only a 4% similarity score and all matching text being in the works cited. However, the paper would have required both extension and significant revision to be a viable paper for the course.

Conclusions

When it was all said and done, neither of the two papers were acceptable for their intended purpose. Both were written well below master’s level, contained multiple errors and failed to meet the criteria of the assignment in several ways. Though both did well on plagiarism detection, one still had a passage in it that would cast suspicion on anyone who turned it in.

To make matters worse, neither of these papers were cheap. At $100 and up for a relatively short assignment, likely one of many in that course, it’s clear that anyone who purchased this paper was seeking a final product they could turn in, something neither paper came close to providing.

Though both papers avoided appearing to be significantly plagiarized, it’s clear that these services are not shortcuts to turning in high quality work, especially at a graduate level. To turn either of these papers into a successful assignment likely would have required as much work, if not more, than simply writing the project from scratch.

So while these services may be able to avoid plagiarism detection, they are clearly not a shortcut to a good grade—and are highly unethical.

At the end of the day, there’s still no substitute for hard work and good writing.

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Written by Jincy Kornhauser at Pearson Tutor Services

In real life, we are wise to avoid “making a scene”—calling attention to ourselves with striking visible behavior that turns strangers in our immediate vicinity into an audience whether they want to be or not.

When writing a narrative essay, though, making at least one scene is vital. A scene is a sequence of events unfolding in “real time.”  A scene doesn’t sum up events: It shows them, moment by moment.  Most successful narrative essays are neither all-summary (telling) or all-scene (showing).  If a narrative contains no scenes, then the story it tells will seem far away and not very involving; if it is one scene after another with no summing-up parts, it will usually exhaust readers, who will, at some point, begin to wonder what all these events add up to.

When you are assigned to write a narrative essay, and you’ve chosen a particular event in your life to narrate—a particular turning point or otherwise truly memorable event—your next job will be to decide which parts of the story should be summed up and which should be rendered as scenes.

For example: If I decided to tell the story of my earliest interaction with someone from another culture, I might tell about the time I went to summer camp and met a Russian child whose father was an ambassador. This was during the Cold War, when our two cultures virtually never interacted, so meeting this girl was a real shock. I might describe the scene of our first meeting, giving my first impressions; I might then tell (in summary form) about how this girl interacted with others, and the trouble she had making friends; I might focus then on the turning point, the moment when I realized we had a lot in common, and I’d describe that moment in detail, including what was going on at that time and where we were, and what we said. Then I’d sum up the meaning of the story for me and explain why it has lingered in my mind all these years.

Do you see that the heart of the narrative would be the turning point?  It would be a scene, and it would take up more space in the essay than the rest of the story.  The scene would show the essence of the story—and my reason for telling it.

Suppose, on the other hand, I were writing a narrative about being a writer having my first experience of rejection. I might begin with an introduction explaining that I’m an established writer of short fiction—that I’ve been writing for a number of years and have been published in numerous magazines and journals. At the end of my introductory paragraph, I might say something like “While my early stories were eagerly snapped up by literary journals, I can honestly say that my career as a successful writer truly began when the New Yorker rejected one of my stories.”  (Do you see that this last sentence alerts the reader that I’m about to tell the story about that particular rejection?)

In my first body paragraph, I might talk about the story itself and my high expectations for its success; I might describe putting it into the mail and beginning to count down the days until I heard back from the magazine.

In my second body paragraph, I might zero in on the morning when that envelope came through the mail slot of my front door: I might show myself drinking coffee and eating breakfast—a particular breakfast, like pancakes or whatever—and chatting with my husband, etc., and then I hear the small thud of the envelope hitting the floor, and I run to the door.

In my third body paragraph, I might show myself opening up that envelope and reading, in disbelief and crushing disappointment, a form rejection slip from the magazine that I hoped would launch my nationwide career.  Note that these two paragraphs together would constitute a scene.

In subsequent paragraphs, I’d take the reader through my reactions/responses to this disappointment. At some point I’d show myself realizing that the magazine was right—that the story really wasn’t all that good—that I had become complacent. I’d show myself determining to do better. In my last paragraph, I might bring the reader up to date with my subsequent successes, and I’d end with remarks on the importance of failure in making ultimate success possible.

When mapping out your narrative essay, probably the most direct way to decide what should be rendered as a scene is to rummage through your own memory banks.  You’ll find that the important moments in that story—the scenic moments—will have left behind a wealth of detail, sensory or otherwise.  You’ll remember the weather, the scent in the air, the song that was playing in the background, the exact look on someone’s face…  Let those memories guide you as you fashion your narrative.

So:  When telling your story, identify the heart of that story, and present it as a scene.

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