Academic writing: what I will and won’t do

11 05 2013

Plagiarism is not just copying someone else's work - it also includes getting someone to do the work for you!I have written about this before, but you know what’s been annoying me recently? Dodgy ‘academic writing’ projects.

Just this week I was contacted by someone who asked me to help them with a college assignment. Before accepting the project, I messaged the buyer to ask for more details about the project, since they were pretty vague about they really wanted; I was also suspicious that they probably wanted me to write the thing from scratch. Funnily enough, the buyer didn’t message me back and the project offer expired, so it seems my suspicions may have had some grounding.

Just to make things absolutely clear, here’s what I WILL do for students and academics, and here’s what I WON’T do.

What I will do

  • Copy-edit draft versions of a paper that the author has written themselves
  • Proofread final drafts of a paper that the author has written themselves
  • Take an author’s notes or early draft and advise on paper structure, formatting, referencing (etc.) in accordance with the house style of the submission journal or academic institution
  • Write an abstract based on the author’s manuscript
  • Co-write a manuscript article for a peer-reviewed journal submission provided I am either named as a co-author or credited in the acknowledgements.

What I won’t do

  • Write an assignment for a student from scratch (this includes anything that is going to be graded or count towards a qualification)
  • Rewrite an article or manuscript that someone else has written

Why won’t I write or rewrite academic assignments?

The answer is very simple: it is CHEATING.

Contrary to seemingly popular belief, plagiarism is NOT JUST about copying paragraphs from books, or recycling the work of a friend taking the same course in another class – there’s more to it than that. I checked the plagiarism policy of my alma mater, the University of Warwick, and here is what it said:

…‘cheating’ means an attempt to benefit oneself or another, by deceit or fraud. This shall include reproducing one’s own work or the work of another person or persons without proper acknowledgement.

If an assignment or article passes Copyscape or similar ‘anti-plagiarism’ software tests, it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been plagiarised – it just means that it probably hasn’t been copied verbatim from published work. However, if YOU did not produce the work yourself, you cannot say it is yours. It’s like someone pretending to be you in an exam, or stealing someone’s bank details so you can pilfer their account. Let’s get this clear – asking someone else to write something that you intend to submit as your own, original work IS plagiarism. And plagiarism is WRONG.

What REALLY worries me, is the number of people who think that this practice is OK.

Students

I have lost count of the number of times that a student has asked me to write an essay for them. It truly baffles me. I worked bloody hard for my degree. I EARNED the right to be called a Bachelor of Science by doing all my own research, writing all my own essays, studying REALLY hard, and sitting my own exams. Cheating never even crossed my mind because, actually – you know what? – I wanted to be GOOD at my subject! I wanted to KNOW about biology, to UNDERSTAND science, to PROGRESS my future career with my intelligence and skill! Why would you even BOTHER going to university or college if you don’t want/can’t be bothered/don’t have time to do the work?! I do understand that some people have difficulties structuring an essay, or with spelling and grammar and that is why I do offer a second pair of eyes to check work for errors. Editors serve a genuine purpose; so-called academic writers merely fuel dishonesty.

Academics

I had a quick flick through the scores of profiles of providers on Freelancer.com who claim to be ‘professional’ academic writers and boast about how they can improve student grades with their ‘well-researched, plagiarism-free content’. First off, that ‘professional’ tag really makes me feel sick. Professional? It’s anything but! Many of these people also claim to have bachelor degrees, Masters’ or PhDs. They could be lying, of course (and I suspect many are), but – vis a vis my comment above – I just don’t understand why anyone who has studied for and passed a qualification of any sort would want to be accomplice to a student cheat. It’s not even well paid (see below)! Unless of course the only way these so-called academics got their degree was through cheating themselves…

Essay writing agencies

A quick Google search for essay writing companies came up with LOADS of companies offering this service. The sheer number seriously blew my mind – and, my god, they’re so cheap! From as little as $15 USD, students can receive a ‘standard quality’ assignment within a few days!

How do they get away with it?! Some proffer a disclaimer stating that the essays provided are not to be submitted as students’ own work, but to be used for ‘research purposes only’ or to ‘help students with essay structure’. Pah, come off it! EssayTyper.com, a website that automatically creates an essay on your chosen subject using Wikipedia says, “EssayTyper uses a patented combination of magic and wikipedia to help you write your essay – fast! That said, please don’t ever try to use this legitimately. The magic part is not real… and that’s plagiarism.” Still, I wonder how many kids have turned in homework using this ‘handy’ tool?!

Cheating dialogueSome companies openly convince students that it is not cheating to submit an essay that they have not written themselves. I posed as a student needing ‘help’ and logged into the Live Chat function at essayforme.com to ask if I could buy a biology essay.  “We would be glad to do it” said ‘James’. But isn’t it cheating? “No it is not. The paper is 100% custom written and never again used or sold”, I am reassured.

Elsewhere on the same site, a banner tells me, “Don’t waste your time! Order top paper [sic]!”, and “rest assured that you will get non-plagiarized paper [sic] written from scratch according to your instructions.” Essaysprofy.com says “our main aim to help students in getting good grades [sic].” (Incidentally, the grammatical errors in the companies’ own websites don’t inspire much confidence!)

In response to the FAQ “Is this plagiarism?”, Write-my-essay-for-me.com even asserts that “Plagiarism involves the theft of somebody else’s work. You hire us to write original work for you, and that is exactly what we do. There is nothing plagiaristic about our service.” What?! Yes, plagiarism involves theft of someone else’s work, but that’s not all! Even using someone else’s work WITH their consent, and passing it off as your own IS plagiarism and WILL get you in trouble if you are caught!

Are you a student who has used, or considered using an essay writing service? Why did you do it? What results did you get? Did you feel bad about it?

Are you a writer for an essay writing company? How do you justify your role?

Do you work for a university or college and help to tackle plagiarism issues? What are your thoughts on essay writing services?

I’d love to receive comments on this matter – am I the only one who understands the real definition of plagiarism?





Transferring Knowledge in the Horticulture Sector

1 05 2013

Horticultural Development CompanyI’m currently one month in to a three-month full time contract as a temporary Knowledge Transfer (KT) Manager at the Horticultural Development Company (HDC), while a colleague is on a secondment to DEfRA.

HDC is a division of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB), a non-departmental governnment body that collects levies from farmers and growers in the UK in order to fund research into the industry. My role as KT Manager is to translate the research produced from the field veg projects that HDC funds into meaningful outputs that provide value for money for levy payers. In plain English, this means that I help turn science into practice – something that is of course right up my street!

Things I have been working on include:

  • Editing and proofreading field vegetables research projects
  • Producing posters (like these ones on post harvest disorders of peas and beans; see below)
  • Producing factsheets to help growers make positive changes in growing practices, based on HDC-funded research – currently working on a factsheet on carrot storage, and another on farmland birds
  • Writing press releases on newsworthy research and development
  • Writing articles for the next issue of Field Vegetables Review (to be published September 2013)
  • Publicising events and field veg news in the HDC Weekly Email and on the HDC website
  • Liaising with the University of Warwick and Syngenta to promote the HDC Pest Bulletin and Pest Blog
  • Publishing the monthly Brassica Research News newsletter
  • Writing HDC Research Update articles for the British Onions Producers Associations (see below), and the Brassica Growers Associations
  • Workig with Crop Protection experts to publicise the SCEPTRE project
  • [more to be added!]

When my contract at HDC is finished, I’m really looking forward to getting involved in more knowledge transfer projects, so please contact me for a discussion on how we can help each other.

Post harvest disorders of peas

Post harvest disorders of peas – (c) Horticultural Development Company/PGRO

Post harvest disorders of beans

Post harvest disorders of beans – (c) Horticultural Development Company/PGRO

British Onions newsletter April 2013

British Onions Newsletter – (c) British Onion Producers Association








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