General Question

jca's avatar

Is it unethical when people sell term papers or do term papers for others, for a fee?

Asked by jca (36043points) June 13th, 2012

Do you think it’s unethical when people do term papers for others, for a fee, or sell term papers? Is it a business like any other – when there’s a demand, there’s a supply?

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51 Answers

majorrich's avatar

It is academic misconduct and can get both students expelled from any university. At a Military College (West Point, USNA, Air Force Academy) It will get you a less than honorable discharge and deprive you of your right to vote for life.

jca's avatar

I didn’t necessarily mean a student writing for another student, I meant anybody writing for a student.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

It is a breach of academic conduct for a student to buy a paper they didn’t write and use it in any way to pass off as their work. It is unethical behavior for a person to sell term papers.

gailcalled's avatar

It’s a business for the seller; it’s a serious risk and very stupid behavior for the student.

poisonedantidote's avatar

If people cant buy term papers, then chemical companies should not be allowed to hire chemists. How will the boss ever learn if others do it for him.

Obviously the kid should learn for him self, but really, its not such a big deal, life is full of cheats, short cutters and so on. Learning to cheat is just a useful skill as any.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Sure, since the students aren’t presenting original work when they say they are.

hug_of_war's avatar

Yes, because the teacher/professor/grader is working on the idea each student is preparing an original paper. It may not seem like that big a deal to some, but what if you hired someone to write something more important, like something that would end up in an academic journal?

The people who do these kinds of businesses know their work is going to be used in ways that are unethical. That isn’t just one of many possible consequences, it is the backbone of their business.

gailcalled's avatar

@poisonedantidote: That’s an original idea. I can envision the resumé, entitled,

Professional Plagiarizer” (or less eleganty, *Professional Cheate).

wundayatta's avatar

It’s unethical for the student to present work as their own that they didn’t write.

It is not unethical for anyone else to sell a student a paper they wrote. We have freedom to engage in business here and if a buyer and a seller agree on a legal product, there is no ethical breech on the seller’s part, nor on the buyer’s part.

There are some areas where a seller must qualify a buyer. You can’t sell a gun to just anyone. You have to do a background check. Except at a gun show.

Of course, in my opinion, it is unethical to sell a gun to anyone, except possibly for hunting. I do not think it is unethical to write papers for others. Ghost writing is a respectable endeavor. How many parents write papers for children, I wonder? How do you decide how much of your own work has to go into something for you to get credit for it? All very tricky things to figure out.

DrBill's avatar

it is an automatic “F” for the semester for the student, minium

bookish1's avatar

I think it’s unethical. But lots of things are legal which I find unethical.
It encourages university education to be seen as even more of a “diploma mill,” or, as I have seen it put more bluntly in French, “usine à crétins diplômés.”

marinelife's avatar

Yes, it is unethical. It is heaping people cheat. I would compare it to selling illegal drugs. That is a business too with a demand.

wundayatta's avatar

Except illegal drugs are illegal. There is no such thing as illegal term papers. They are nowhere near each other on the ethical scale.

marinelife's avatar

Helping not heaping.

@wundayatta That may be your opinion, but it is not mine. Cheating is cheating. Even if it is not illegal, it is still against the rules of all schools.

wundayatta's avatar

It is not against the rules of schools for an outsider to write and sell papers. Maybe they have something in their regs about it, but they couldn’t enforce it.

The onus is on the student. It is against the rules for a student to purchase someone else’s work and present that as his or her own. There are two separate issues here. A person who writes a paper and sells it to someone is not cheating. Who are they cheating? The school? They have no relationship with the school. The person who buys the paper? That person knows exactly what they want and what they are getting. Who is the paper writer for hire cheating?

zenvelo's avatar

The original questions has to do with ethics, not whether the seller broke a rule or law. And I say yes, it is unethical to sell a product so another person can circumvent a rule, or a requirement, or deceive another.

It is as unethical as selling a product to mask drug use in drug test, or to selling an athlete a performance enhancer that is on the banned list but is not illegal by itself.

Mariah's avatar

From a business standpoint, it’s just a transaction, sure. But from the viewpoint of the student’s education, it’s unethical and stupid. The grades you receive are supposed to be a reflection of your mastery of the material. If you get a degree without actually having a mastery of material, you’re going to end up doing your job lousy, and that’s going to have consequences. Could even hurt someone if, for example, you’re studying to be a nurse. Of course it is unethical.

Aethelflaed's avatar

Yes, but pretty mildly so – definitely waaayy less so than schools treat it as. And if it’s unethical to buy a term paper from someone else, it’s the same level of unethicality to sell one.

I do think it’s fairly context specific, though. Cheating in a class that’s related to your major and/or career is more unethical than cheating in a class that really isn’t related to your life plans. If you’re planning to be a doctor, I care that you don’t cheat in your third year of medical school, but I honestly can’t give a crap if you have someone else write your paper on the economic factors leading to the Civil War for the US History class that your undergrad school made you take sophomore year. If you cheat in organic chem that same year, I’ll care, but chances are you’ll have screwed yourself over more later on when you don’t have the cash to keep it up, so I’m not worried about punishment. And it does sort of seem like people are cheating way more in unrelated basic classes than in higher-up related classes.

gambitking's avatar

Really simple answer – this is unethical. Period.

A person who sells the term paper is selfishly depriving the ‘buyer’ from growth, nurturing, learning, discipline and education for money.

Sunny2's avatar

It not only is unethical, the person who is getting cheated most, is the recipient and utilizer of the process. That person is declaring that “buying” the services of someone is as good as doing it yourself as long as you don’t get caught. The implications are damning, in my mind.
The lessons learned from writing 40 page term papers in every subject I took in grad school outweighed all the other stuff I was taught. Starting from deciding what I wanted to delve into to doing the research, to changing my point of view as I progressed and re-thinking my thesis . . .priceless. One guy I knew, wrote the same paper for each class, just changing the details for the subject of the particular paper. What a waste of time. He thought he was clever. Stupid is as stupid does.

marinelife's avatar

@wundayatta You are splitting ass hairs. The person who writes the paper for someone else to submit as their own is being a party to cheating. Therefore, what they are doing is unethical.

SuperMouse's avatar

Buying a research paper deprives the student of the opportunity to learn from the process of researching and writing the paper. @Aethelflaed, while writing that paper on the economic factors leading up to the Civil War may not appear to help our med student in their third year of medical school, the process of researching the paper, organizing the information, forming a coherent thesis, effectively backing up that thesis, and doing all the other things that make for a well done research paper, will absolutely be an asset in school and throughout a medical career. So yeah, a very good argument can be made for the ethical problem of passing off someone else’s work as one’s own.

The position that selling papers is unethical may merit more debate, but in reality selling papers is an unethical as buying. The truth is that when it comes down to it, while most would consider selling fake id’s unethical, @wundayatta‘s argument that it is merely a business transaction could apply. But couldn’t we apply that to many sketchy business transactions?

In the end I think both buying and selling term papers is unethical.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@SuperMouse Yes, it can teach them research. But so can all those other classes in pre-med and med school that assign research papers.

fremen_warrior's avatar

I postulate the following: Universal morality is a lie. A moral choice is one, with which, deep down, you have absolutely no qualms. You may try to delude yourself for a while about the choices you made, but ultimately you will know if what you did done was “moral” or not. (Yes, I am also arguing that psychopaths / sociopaths are above “normal” morality)

wundayatta's avatar

One problem I have is that if you say the seller’s behavior is unethical, then you are saying the seller has a responsibility to watch out for the ethics of the buyer. That means the seller has to get involved in the life of the buyer, and find out what they are planning to do with the paper. Suppose the buyer tells the seller they want to commission the research privately so they can understand the issue better.

I have a feeling many people here would say they wouldn’t believe the buyer. The buyer must be lying. So then, if you didn’t believe the buyer, would you refuse to sell the paper, assuming someone had approached you and offered you $500 to write a paper for them? What are you going to do? Are you going to see if the buyer is in college? Verify their enrollment in college? See what classes they are taking? What are you going to do to see if you believe the reason they say they want the paper? Are you going to turn down the $500? Seriously? What if it’s $1000? That seems to me to be a decent wage for a week’s work. Are you really going to spend a week writing that paper? What about you, @marinelife? You’re a writer for hire. Would you turn down $1000 for a paper that will take a week of work? Out of a sense of ethics?

Ok, I can see if you’re selling a stray cat or even giving it away, you might want to investigate the potential new owner to see if they would take care of the cat well. But even then, I think you’re fooling yourself. People can look like good cat owners and still mistreat the cat. I don’t think you can really find out enough. The reason why you do it is you just want to feel like you’re doing due diligence. You want to feel like you’re not putting this cat in jeopardy.

But a term paper? You think people should do due diligence on a term paper? I’m sorry but I am highly skeptical, and if you’re trying to tell me that due diligence means having a hard and fast rule of no term papers ever, then you must think I’m a total fool.

I think you guys are offering a knee jerk reaction here, and you haven’t really thought it through. You are saying it’s unethical because you want it the world to be a nice pretty place. This just is completely unrealistic, and ethics should be about the real world, in my opinion. If you take an ethical stance that is completely meaningless because you can’t actually apply it sensibly in the world, then you make a mockery of your feelings.

Please tell me what I am missing here. I don’t think it is the seller’s business to qualify the buyer—at least, not for this product. A world like that is asking for a lot of trouble. What are we going to do? Set up a registry of qualified paper buyers, like we set up gun registries? I’m sorry, but a paper is not like a deadly weapon. The harm, if there is any (and I’d like to see that documented), is minimal to none.

The responsibility for being ethical about papers belongs to the student and the teacher. In some places, it is purely on the student. Where I went to college, the teachers didn’t have to do anything, because we signed agreements to a code of honor. It was on us to report ourselves. The teachers’ jobs were to teach, not police.

I know that in some colleges, they ask the teachers to police the students. I think that’s stupid, but that’s the way it is. So then the teacher needs to evaluate the student’s work, and if they think the student didn’t do their own work, it is up to the teacher to figure that out and to evaluate the work, accordingly. That can’t be very hard. Most professors I know can tell right away.

The ethical burden is not on the seller. The seller can’t read the buyer’s mind. If you place the ethical burden on the seller, you are inviting us into a world where people are looking over each other’s shoulders all the time. Privacy will disappear and we will join some kind of Borg utopia. You go too far.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@wundayatta It makes no sense that we can’t realistically police that level of behavior, it’s then not objectively unethical. There are lots of things we can’t really police in a meaningful way, especially without larger systemic change, that we still manage to see as unethical.

Also: what the hell kind of student has $500–1000 to spend on a term paper?? Lemme tell you what, I have that kind of cash floating around to help me out on a grade, I’m just gonna straight-up bribe the teacher.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

The lack of ethics comes well before making the first sale. It starts with choosing to to make a profit from a product that the seller may or may not have written. Then it moves into the marketing angles. The seller is clearly targeting a specific market by using the term “term paper”. From a quick internet search, here is one of many rationalizations given:

If you are a college or university student, you most likely lack the time for term paper writing. Custom term papers for sale is your perfect chance to devote more time to your hobby, friends and family while your economic term paper, management term paper, history term paper, psychology term paper, etc. is being written by a professional writer. Source

Help me to understand what is ethical about that statement.

wundayatta's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer I don’t understand your statement about making a profit the seller may or may not have written. Are you saying that the people selling term papers don’t write them? If that’s the case, and they claim they are writing original research, then that is clearly unethical. But I thought we were talking about offering to write a term paper for someone else for money. If I write you a term paper, and you agree to buy it, what is unethical about that? I write you a term paper. I don’t tell you how to use it. I might suggest some uses; even some unethical uses; but I am just trying to make a sale. I don’t really want you to use it that way. Although, in truth, I don’t care how you use the paper. I just want you to buy it. It’s a good product.

If you want to submit it as your work, that’s on you. I don’t care what you do with it. Once you buy it, it’s yours and you have all the rights to it. It’s not my job to tell you what to do with it. And we, as a society, don’t want me making that my job, I don’t think. No matter how unethical you might think it is, we can talk all day about that. You might jawbone me into ceasing and desisting from this work. But I don’t think you want me trying to find out what people do with the papers I write, even if I suggest they should be used as term papers.

@Aethelflaed It doesn’t help to argue about ethics of things you can’t change. It is a waste of time. We need to focus on things we can do. We need to focus on making students responsible for their work. We need to dry up the demand for term papers, by getting students to do their own work. By getting rid of a grading system that has a dubious relationship to the product it purports to create. The whole system is wrong.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@wundayatta It doesn’t help to argue about ethics of things you can’t change. By this logic, all of us on Fluther should just stop talking about things, because the discussions don’t lead to change.

majorrich's avatar

There are some who would argue ‘It’s only unethical if you get caught’. For very large universities TA’s (graduate students) are very often the ones grading the papers of underclass term papers. The classes are too large for anyone to get accustomed to a student’s style of writing to see a wild swing of a purchased paper. On the other hand, My son is going to a smaller school where the student ration is much smaller, the instructor is likely to be the one grading the paper and there is a much higher probability that a change of style will be noticed and questioned. In High school, it’s anybody’s guess how papers get graded. That means you need to get the same contractor to do all of your papers for the same class for the entire grading period. We are talking massive amounts of cash now. It looks like we all pretty much agree it’s not a good idea.

jca's avatar

@majorrich: As someone who has never sold a term paper nor purchased one, I have no idea what they cost. However, I remember in school that each class (undergrad) would have a few, “minor” papers each semester, and one major one at the end. So if a student needed help with one major one, it would not necessarily be “massive amounts of cash.” If a student paid someone on his own level (in other words, not a PhD candidate) to do a paper for him, for a relatively minor fee, let’s say $100, or even less, it’s a relatively affordable purchase.

For someone to write a term paper and type it, it may be a few hours work, and $100 or so is not a bad job for a kid or broke person who is capable of doing a decent job.

bookish1's avatar

@majorrich: I caught about 5 college students cheating just last semester. Because I recognized that the writing they submitted was clearly not their own. It can be done.

majorrich's avatar

Massive cash would be having the same contractor write all of their papers so the style would be consistent. For an English class, the cost could be significant. Academic misconduct dilutes the value of the degrees we who did our own work earned. Well done @bookish1

SuperMouse's avatar

@wundayatta That means the seller has to get involved in the life of the buyer, and find out what they are planning to do with the paper. That’s a joke right? Just to see if anyone reads your posts? Come on now, do you really think that anyone with the intelligence to write a research paper worthy of cash payment is stupid (or naive) enough to think the buyer is buying it for the love of learning? That premise is ludicrous. As @Aethelflaed points out, college students are notoriously broke and most have easy access to the internet and as a bonus a college library with lots of research databases and faculty reference librarians. Not to mention that If they are so gung ho about learning about a subject these digital natives would have the ability to, I don’t know, Google it.

The bottom line here is that anyone who hires themselves out to write term papers (something I believe @marinelife would never stoop to doing), knows what the paper will be used for and knows what they are doing is unethical. This is common sense type reasoning and does not require getting involved in the life of the purchaser. But what I find most illogical and inconsistent about your argument is that three posts down you say it is unethical for the term paper seller to pass off the work of others as their own. What is the line of reasoning that says it is unethical for the term paper seller to pass off others’ work as theirs, but not for the buyer? That seems nonsensical.

There are always going to be people who are going to make unethical choices. There are always going to be people who are going to take the easy way out by cheating. That doesn’t make it ok. The challenge of enforcing a rule doesn’t make the rule any less valid.

BTW, I would guess that you have already figured this out, but some of your classmates in college cheated, even after signing the code of honor. Some did not get caught, and never turned themselves in.

wundayatta's avatar

@SuperMouse I’m not joking and I don’t know what to tell you. I think it has something to do with world view. I think there are people who believe they can know other people’s lives simply by using circumstantial evidence. They try and convict people with no further evidence needed. I see that a lot around here and it saddens me.

The people who write term papers for others, are not responsible for where those term papers end up. They have no ethical responsibility to anyone. It is a free market, and that is what is important here, in my opinion. They may well be enabling other people to cheat—according to the rules that some academic institutions use, but that really, truly should not be their concern.

Academia, is not their concern, and should not be their concern. Academia needs to watch out for itself. It is not God, and it has no reasonable expectation that others should watch out for it, and we, as a society, should try to give it a free ride. Academia needs to be accountable for itself. We have no business meddling in its affairs, and that’s what people who believe the sellers are unethical are doing. You are buying into a system that you do not fully understand. You buy into it because it is all you’ve ever known and I seriously doubt that many have investigated the merits or theory of academic evaluation systems. Most people just accept it without question, and expect everyone else to support it, too.

That’s not wise. Academia and academic evaluation is a house of cards. It needs to be pressured by cheaters. It grows massive and slothful. If anything, people who sell papers are doing the system a favor. It should happen more often. Because it is opening up a festering wound—which is the overall corruption of academic evaluations systems in toto.

So I am quite serious. This is an issue that reaches very deeply into the hidden underpinnings and basic assumptions about academia.

As to saying apparently opposite things—that is quite possible, or perhaps you didn’t understand me. I do not think it is unethical for a seller to sell a paper. I do think it is unethical for a student to submit work that is not theirs.

WIth regard to the issue cheating in my career—I never cheated. I didn’t have to. College was pretty easy for me. I don’t know anyone who cheated, either. It was pretty rare at my school. Either most people felt no need to do it or there was a lot of hidden cheating. My bet is on the former, and from what I have read about this, codes of honor work. They certainly did where I went to college.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@wundayatta They’re targeting people who are trying to cheat. They aren’t marketing to people wanting to learn about the subject, because all those people who just want to learn can read all the stuff already written on the subject. Even if, once or twice, someone wanted some paper for non-nefarious reasons, they’re still making their bread and butter off of cheating.

wundayatta's avatar

@Aethelflaed But not their cheating. And indeed, they may not even consider it cheating.

It’s illegal to shoot off fireworks in my state. But not in all the surrounding states. If I go to Delaware to pick up something, should the fireworks seller ID me? Question me as to where I plan to use the fireworks? Follow me to make sure I don’t take them home?

In my state, it is illegal to purchase liquor from anyone but a state store. When I go to a NJ liquor store where the liquor is cheaper, should the store owner card me and refuse to sell to me when he sees where I’m from? Should she query me as to where I plan to drink the liquor? Follow me to see whether I attempt to take the liquor home?

Is it unethical for any of these people to sell to me? And we’re talking about laws here. There is no law against selling term papers. Yet you (and others) are saying it is unethical. Just because the universities and colleges don’t like it. As if their rules hold some higher moral authority than the state.

I think you have a misplaced sense of priorities and ethics here. I’m not sure why. It clearly isn’t a very consistent standard, unless you think the fireworks sellers and liquor sellers are unethical, too. If you do think that, I have no idea what ethics means, other than you have some kind of idealized view of the world that bears no relation to reality and to what is possible. If our ethical systems are idealized in that way, I don’t think they mean anything. They have to be related to reality and to what is possible, or else we can’t use them to make any useful decisions. Ethics are nothing, if not useful. To put them in fantasy world takes all meaning away from them.

Maybe as a form of idealism—as some kind of guide or wish about the world you want to live in—such ideas about shall we say “proto-ethics” might be useful. But if it is not implementable in a policy and behavior that can be applied in a consistent and fair way, then it seems to me it worse than having no ethics at all. I suspect that the reason why there are no laws against this kind of thing is because most of the people in the world understand this at some level.

jca's avatar

This morning I was pondering this question as I thought about another issue which I think is similar. I was thinking about how, about ten years ago, I worked with this girl who was discussing men cheating on their wives. She said she felt that if she fooled around with a married man, she’s not doing anything wrong, because he took the vows, she didn’t. I know many people feel like when someone fools around with a married person, both parties are in the wrong. I agree with my former co-worker. I feel like I didn’t take the vows. I feel the same way with the term paper issue. The issue is between the student and the learning institution. The term paper seller is a third party, not necessarily a guilty party, though.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@wundayatta If the liquor seller and the firework seller were targeting only or overwhelmingly people from out of state, then yes, they would be being unethical (which, incidentally, the firework sellers the state over from me are doing, and yes, I think they’re unethical for it, though in a ‘I just can’t give a shit’ kind of way). Just because something is unethical doesn’t mean we have to put huge amounts of time, energy, and regulation into trying to stop it. Sometimes, it just means that you don’t get to say how you’re somehow off the moral hook without me giving you the side-eye.

wundayatta's avatar

All right. Side-eye received. Did you notice my raised eyebrow? ;-)

SuperMouse's avatar

@wundayatta you have tried and convicted me on charges of arrogance because I believe in God, does that sadden you?

The people who are selling term papers for profit have put themselves in a position where they are intimately involved in academia. They are making their living off of academics. To say academia is not their concern makes no sense. Of course it is of concern, it is their bread and butter! No matter how philosophical you want to try to get and how wonderful cheating is for opening the “festering wound” that is academia, buying and selling term papers is unethical.

wundayatta's avatar

@SuperMouse It does sadden me that you see the world the way you do. But I am out of arguments, so there’s nothing I can do to change that.

SuperMouse's avatar

@wundayatta you are confused. Using your standard as a guide, it should sadden you that you think you know much about my life based on circumstantial evidence and that you try and convict me on charges of ignorance with no further evidence.

Strauss's avatar

Any form of plagiarism, that is, passing someone else’s work for your own, I see as unethical. As far as a college paper, it is even more so. When one submits a term paper, the implication is not only authorship, but also that the student has completed and verified all the necessary research. The reason for the paper is scholarship.

Dachia_PhD's avatar

I think we have two different points of view here, or we should. As a professional writer who often contributes written material to magazines and newspapers both online and off, I love to research and write. I also have a business as a personal assistant and virtual concierge. In that capacity, I help clients with any number of tasks- marketing and online presence of business, putting together a small event, or medium or large. Reminding clients of special dates and maybe having something to sent to somebody for the client. I was hired by a friend to write a report extolling the benefits of exercise facilities at work. As this was something I really believed in, I was happy to write it. Regular people do ask for reports. I happened to know what this one was for because she is a friend… but I don’t ask everybody. Some clients are repeat/long-term and some clients need one thing and are never heard from again. A friend of mine has a brother who is a professional writer and did quite a bit of ghost-writing for a famous author. And so what? There is nothing unethical on my part. What they do with it is their business. And once they pay for, they own it… not me.

zenvelo's avatar

@Dachia_PhD Welcome to Fluther, but you kinda missed the point. You have the right to being paid for your work product as a professional writer. But the whole question isn’t about private reports or articles; it’s about schoolwork in which the individual is supposed to show their own ability to write. In that case paying you to write it would be unethical.

Strauss's avatar

@Dachia_PhD Welcome to the collective! I would agree with @zenvelo on this point. There is definitely an ethical line between what you do, even “ghost-writing”, and paying someone for schoolwork.

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