Caslon Analytics elephant logo title for Essay Mills note
home | about | site use | resources | publications | timeline   spacer graphic   Ketupa



& intellectual

related pages icon



related pages icon




section heading icon     essays

This page considers 'term paper mills' or 'essay mills'.

It covers -

It supplements the more detailed discussion of plagiarism (including plagiarism detection services) and diploma mills.

It also supplements the exploration of online education.

subsection heading icon     introduction 

The online plagiarism industry involves -

  • commercial services that facilitate appropriation
  • consumers
  • services that facilitate identification of plagiarism.

Businesses that provide essays (or even sit exams for students) have been active in Europe, the Americas and elsewhere since at least the 1880s.

Electronic publishing via the net has, however, enabled the emergence of online 'term paper mills' - an online payment of around US$40 gets an essay on the subject of your choice from vendors such as SchoolSucks, Essay Mill, Bignerds, Lazystudents ("if your professor can have a research assistant, why can't you?") and The Evil House of Cheat.

Those mills are an illustration that the net does not necessarily result in disintermediation.

Maureen Roszkowski's page points to around 75 other mills, although the aptly-named seems to have gone offline.

Kenny Sahr, proprietor of, claims that "they're the only ones besides casinos or porn really making money on the Internet".

subsection heading icon     size and shape 

The number of such sites is uncertain, although there have been suggestions that around 90 mills were active in the US in 1998, up from 28 during the preceding year.

The industry appears to be volatile and shares some of the characteristics of the ISP and adult content sectors, with most traffic going to a few high profile sites and small operators entering the market each year only to disappear after a short time. What appears to have been the Australian site with the highest profile - - is now offline.

Some of the sites were established up by students on a quasi-commercial basis, essentially as opportunities to swap papers with costs being offset by advertising.

Others appear to have a more commercial orientation, with consumers paying on a per-item or annual subscription basis for access to papers that have been provided by other students (usually for a small fee).

subsection heading icon     economics and marketing 

Per item charges range from about US$10 per paper (average four pages with five citations) to around US$10 per page for a longer document.

Some sites will provide a customised text for a higher fee, reminiscent of the 'ghosting' of dissertations, magazine articles and books popular in the US last century - John F Kennedy's first book, for example, is now considered to have involved substantial "assistance" and Ronald Reagan famously quipped about his autobiography

I hear it's a terrific book! One of these days I'm going to read it myself

Most of the sites charge a premium for online delivery.

As with the adult content industry, the site operators will bill the user's credit card using an innocuous corporate name.

The quality of the content varies but, overall, appears to be low. Schoolsucks' proprietor Sahr reportedly quipped that

It doesn't say on the papers 'A plus' or 'A minus' or anything. In fact, I think a lot of them stink.

Many jurisdictions prohibit the sale of papers that will be improperly submitted as a student's work. Most commercial sites accordingly feature disclaimers indicating that the text should be used only for research purposes and not submitted as a student's own work. thus claims that

It can be quite difficult at times coming up with ideas for termpapers or essays. Students are oftenly struck with a case of writer's block. Thinking for hours and hours to no avail. Your final grade could be based on the essays and termpapers you have to write through the course of the semester. For those who have had trouble writing them, they can be in jeopardy of failing the class.

At, we provide students access to hundreds of free termpapers in addition to essays in thirteen categories, covering hundreds of topics. All have been submitted by high school and college students who would like to help struggling peers. The intent of these papers is not for you to plagiarize from them, but to act as examples of how you might want to go about writing your own.

Jared Silvermintz of Genius Papers commented in 2002 that

the way we want people to use this is as a research database. But as far as how it's actually used, I'm sure there's a ton of kids using it for plagiarism.

A spokesperson characterised it in 2006 as "a peer-to-peer study group"; presumably someone will soon tag such sites as Web 2.0. delightfully wraps itself in the flag in warning that

During the last 5 years, the American research industry has become infested with low-quality, fraudulent, foreign companies seeking to make a quick dollar by deceiving unsuspecting customers in the United States. These bogus Web sites from Pakistan, Romania, Ukraine, and the Phillipines use their suspiciously low prices and false promises to lure American students into their traps. You should never have to worry about receiving a low-quality, improperly-formatted, outdated, recycled, plagiarized paper with countless errors in spelling and grammar. In contrast, our professional, AMERICAN writers produce new papers on an individual basis, so our research materials are unique, original, technically precise, and up-to-date. The information below explains why you MUST AVOID all foreign sites, subscription sites, membership sites, free sites, and database sites.

UK-based Elizabeth Hall Associates gained attention in 2002. The Guardian reported that Hall responded to an email inquiry with news that

I would be very happy to write a series of essays for you, and complete the final year of your degree. I am sending to you my charges, which you may notice have risen since beginning [sic] of the year.

I offer you absolute confidentiality and in no circumstance would I reveal to anyone our contract. You need not worry that the authorities would discover the work was not your own. In some cases I can, if felt necessary [sic] that the work I am writing might be seen as above the grade that could be attained by the student, actually build in material which I know is incorrect, so that the grade achieved does not cause any alarm or question around the authorship ...

Some students have achieved first-class degrees through my writing for them and they have not in any way or at any stage encountered any query from their tutors or institution.

Hall charged £40 per hour to write essays for undergrad degrees, £45 per hour for Masters courses and £50 per hour for PhDs, with an extra £10 per hour for texts needed within five working days. Students were asked to sign a disclaimer acknowledging that "any material provided by Elizabeth Hall Associates [is] on the understanding that it is a guidance model only".

By 2006 the fees appear to have increased and the business was boasting that

EHA is the Premier UK Ghostwriting Service with clients worldwide, specialise in customised one-off academic writing not detectable by anti-plagiarism software.

Competitor Oxbridge Essays, launched in 2005 to provide model essays, dissertations, covering letters, CVs and revision notes by Oxbridge students and graduates, ingeniously offered a sponsorship scheme for students. They will spend time each month writing about areas of academic interest. For a £5,000 per year sponsorship a student will guarantee to carry out £4,500 worth of work and will receive £500 as a gift. A 2,000 word model essay will apparently earn the author between £500 and £700.

A Universities UK spokesperson reportedly commented that

Oxbridge Essays claim that students pay hundreds of pounds for model answers which they then do not submit as their own work. We think that claim, along with similar claims made by other essay websites, is absurd. Plagiarism devalues the efforts of students who work hard to achieve their degrees. It also damages the student who commits plagiarism, as they will not benefit from the research and learning experience.

The company indicates that its terms & conditions unambiguously oppose plagiarism. Clients are advised to check with their institution whether they need to reference use of Oxbridge Essays.

Some students have presumably decided not to bother going through the charade of "subcontracted learning" and have simply purchased illicit degrees from real or fake universities.

subsection heading icon     detection services 

Detection services are explored in the discussion, elsewhere on this site, of plagiarism.

Most of those services involve teachers submitting electronic versions of student essays to an institutional or commercial database for comparison with a collection of 'reference' documents. Some services include comparison with journal articles, conference papers and other documents that have been published on the web. That publication includes items that are freely available and items held behind commercial/institutional firewalls (eg on a subscription basis).

Some marketing claims are problematical. Most services appear to be effective in detecting exact matches but falter when the source document has been modified. The greater the modification, the more difficult it is to detect a copied paper.Some services also report false positives, for example confusing legitimate quotation with appropriation of an existing paper or publication.

Academic uptake of plagiarism-detection services has been reflected in the growth of services that claim to provide custom-written papers.

One for example, under the image of a student saying "Damn! Now I'll have to cancel my Staurday [sic] night date to finish my essay before the Monday deadline", shrills

We Provide A-Grade Essays and Term Papers That Are:
• Custom-written on your specified topic
• Completely non-plagiarized
• Written by our experienced writers
• Delivered before your deadline
• All that for just $9.95 per page

subsection heading icon     regulation 

Regulatory issues have at least three aspects -

  • consumers using essay mills services in breach of institutional guidelines
  • misleading advertising and non-delivery of services
  • misuse of an author's work

In August 2005 US graduate student Blue Macellari sued R2C2 (operator of the, and services) for unauthorised sale of a paper that she had published on her personal site in 1999.

She charged R2C2 with copyright infringement, consumer fraud (falsely claiming to own the copyright), invasion of privacy and potentially damaging her reputation by implying that she had submitted the paper herself.

subsection heading icon     offline

Term paper mills - and more broadly cheating by students - have been assailed as a peculiarly modern phenomenon, one of unprecedented severity or a reflection of a broader 'cheating culture' discussed in contemporary jeremiads such as David Callahan's The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong To Get Ahead (New York: Harcourt 2004) and Student Cheating & Plagiarism to the Internet Era: A Wake-Up Call for Educators & Parents (New York: Libraries Unlimited 2000) by Ann Lathrop & Kathleen Foss.

They are replete with laments such as -

The individualism of the '60s turned toxic as it was stripped of its initial liberating purposes and as positive '60s values like social responsibility - which had counterbalanced the new individualism - lost traction in popular culture. Young people became more cynical and materialistic. The nation drifted without a strong sense national purpose - stuck, it seemed, in an intractable malaise

Those claims are problematical, given indications that students have sought to avail themselves of 'shortcuts' where available in the past and that cheating has been entrenched in 'best & brightest' institutions such as the US West Point military academy. Student misbehaviour is not restricted to online mills.

In 2005 the NSW Board of Studies for example, which is responsible for secondary school examinations, announced that it was considering legal action against tutoring colleges accused of accepting up to $5,000 from students to write course work assessments.

In 2004 it disciplined 34 students for passing off other people's work as their own, including stripping five secondary school students of all marks in a subject. The Board commented that buying work - from a tutor or peer - is "not widespread", although it is unclear whether much misbehaviour is simply undetected.

In 2008 a UK court sentenced Jerome Drean and Elnar Askerov to nine months imprisonment, suspended for two years, after Drean took £20,000 for posing as Askerov. Drean had sat an economics exam at the University of York in Askerov's place, using a false ID card bearing his own photo but Askerov's name. Both pleaded guilty to "conspiracy to defraud".

icon for link to next page    next page  (exam mills)

this site
the web


version of March 2008
© Bruce Arnold | caslon analytics