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?

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Now now, NOW Magazine!

10 05 2011

First of all, sorry that I haven’t written anything for a long while, and sorry that my second blog, focussed solely on freelancing, hasn’t yet properly materialised! After learning that I was to be made redundant from the publishing company I work for, I was all set and ready to freelance full time – but then, out of the blue (and annoyingly, just after I’d had a batch of business cards printed up!), I was offered a permanent job with a med comms company that was too good to turn down! I start my new job on Monday, so things have been quite manic trying to wrap up my old job amidst an unusually hectic social calendar! Freelancing has taken a back seat for now, but I will try to get the blog back on track again!

Anyway, back to the subject of this blog post.

If you’re a Facebook user, you’ll notice that the adverts that appear on your pages are quite often cleverly targeted to whatever you have been writing about on your Wall. Over the last few weeks, I’ve attended two hen parties and was a bridesmaid at my friend’s wedding, so of course the ads on my Facebook page have been all related to rings, dresses, cakes and wedding photography. Then, just yesterday, a friend posted, “Health kick has begun! 15K run and only one chocolate bar consumed today!” Ever since I congratulated her on her efforts, I’ve had sports and dieting-relating ads appear on Facebook – and it’s one of those ads that I want to talk about today because it’s got me rather riled!

The offending advert is this one; “Cheryl Cole Loses 19lbs”. Even without clicking the link, the advert has got me mad – Cheryl Cole is TINY and I rather suspect that the advert text is not only misleading but also factually incorrect. Intrigued, I decided to click the link in the advert, and was directed to a NOW Magazine article that discusses how between them, the 5 members of British girl band Girls Aloud allegedly lost 36lbs in weight. Weirdly, the article doesn’t mention “these 2 old diet tips” proffered in the advert, though the page is loaded with miracle diet-related Google ads, and even more oddly, the NOW article was from 2006!

Immediately getting on my soapbox, I wrote to NOW Magazine and pointed out the many inaccuracies and misleading titbits quoted in the article.  For starters, the Facebook ad claims that our Cheryl lost 19lbs in weight; the NOW article says she lost 14lbs. More seriously, I felt that NOW Magazine were glamourising Cheryl and her bandmates’ unnecessary weight loss (and it is at this point that I should point out I don’t know if the figures quoted are even true or not!). According to the article, 5 ft 3 in Cheryl has gone from 9 stone to 8 stone, and suggests that the higher weight was unhealthy. In fact, for Cheryl’s height, both 9 stone and 8 stone are well within the “healthy” Body Mass Index (BMI) bracket.

Even more worrying were the weight loss figures quoted for her bandmates Sarah Harding and Nadine Coyle, both of whom have reportedly lost 7lbs. However, at 5 ft 6 in and 5 ft 5 in respectively, both Sarah and Nadine’s starting weights were at the lower end of the “healthy” BMI bracket, and their alleged weight loss has now put them in the “underweight” category. Despite this, Nadine Coyle is reported as saying that she still feels she has “curves” – which we all know is magazine-speak for “fat”. This is not something that I feel a woman’s magazine should be promoting!

Though it is 5 years old, I am shocked and appalled that this article was even published in the first place. Many people, especially young girls, look up to Cheryl Cole and the other members of Girls Aloud, and it’s easy to see how these impressionable groups could be led to believe that 8 stone or less is “the perfect weight”, especially in the absence of any explanation of the Body Mass Index – a measure of how your weight is relative to your height. The article also fails to mention that many secondary factors can be attributed to weight – genetics, metabolism, muscle to fat ratios and gender, among other things, can all affect your weight and alter what an individual’s ideal weight should be.

The thing that angered me most about the article was not even the article itself, but rather the way in which I was made aware of the it – through a targeted Facebook advert that was presented to me on the grounds that I congratulated my friend Jenny on her running achievement and chocolate-avoiding will power. It appeared to me to be part of some highly unethical pay-per-click marketing campaign in which young Cheryl Cole fans would see the ad and think, “OMG! If Cheryl Cole needed to lose 19lbs then what does that mean for me?! What can I do about it?! Oh look, there seems to be a Google advert, conveniently placed directly underneath this article, that promotes a miracle diet cure! I’d better try it!” And just like that, NOW Magazine earns a few pence from the ad click, and another teenage girl becomes deluded – or anorexic, eating only rocket salad and balsamic vinegar, just like Kimberley Walsh.

But there’s a twist in this tale! I immediately fired off a complaint email to NOW Magazine and was surprised when, not less than a few hours later, I received a reply that said,

From: Now online
Sent: 10 May 2011 16:34
To: Lisa Martin
Subject: Re: Complaint about Facebook ad article link

Dear Lisa Martin
We do not have any Facebook ads and this article, as you say, is 6 years old so we are perplexed by your letter.

What Facebook ads please? Do you have a grab of one?

So I sent a screen grab and replied,

Hi,

Well I’m somewhat comforted to learn that you don’t seem to know anything about this Facebook advert (though I still think the article is terribly written, even if it is 5 or 6 years old!), but please find attached a screen grab of my Facebook homepage (as of 5pm today) with the offending “ad” on the right hand side. The link directs to your article at http://www.nowmagazine.co.uk/celebrity-profiles/diets/230337/girls-aloud-s-diet-secrets/1/.

Would appreciate an update!

Thanks,

Lisa

NOW Magazine sent a brief reply saying, “Will let you know. This is very odd”.

Very odd indeed! What’s going on here?!








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