Academic Ghostwriting is Plagiarism

By: Kira Paley  |  May 10, 2018
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Unfortunately, YU students are not strangers to cheating; this past academic year, multiple cheating scandals on both campuses have been brought to light, and new anti-cheating measures have even been implemented. The word “cheating” likely brings to mind an image of a student illicitly bringing information to a test or speaking to another student during an exam. There is another form of cheating, though, that haunts our institution and is rarely explicitly tagged as cheating: academic ghostwriting.

Even if you’re an English major, writing papers is usually a daunting and challenging task, especially during midterms and finals seasons. And if you’re not in a small Composition and Rhetoric class, the teacher likely does not recognize your writing style or abilities. So there’s an easy out: pay someone else to write your paper for you.

I once responded to a post in the Facebook group “Stern College: In The Know”, offering to edit a student’s essay for her composition class. I proofread the piece, marking where the grammar needed to be changed or a word was misspelled. As I presented the edited work to the student, she frowned. “I thought you were going to rewrite it,” she said. Her assumption was that “edit” meant “change”, and that I was going to rephrase sentences, add content, and perfect her thesis.

Then there are students who ask other students to write essays for them from scratch; this past week, a student offered to pay me $300 to write a political science paper for her. Less than an hour ago, a Stern student posted on Facebook asking if there was anyone who wanted to write an English paper for her. There are also people who offer to write papers for students; a few months ago, someone posted in the Facebook group YU Marketplace offering to write papers in virtually any subject for $25 an hour.

At the beginning of English Composition, and in many other classes, students receive a brief lesson on the multiple forms of plagiarism. Most students associate plagiarism with copying and pasting words from a source into their work; plagiarism, though, comes in all shapes and sizes and perhaps the most obvious form would be turning in a paper with your name on it that you did not write.

I understand that for a student studying biology, spending six hours slaving over a paper on Shakespeare or Rousseau seems superfluous, and outsourcing the assignment to another student seems resourceful. Maybe some students feel as though the only way to do well on writing assignments is through buying someone else’s work. This willingness to hand in a completely plagiarized essay, though, signifies a combination of laziness and depravity that is antithetical to the values of a liberal arts institution, and frankly, the values of any honest human being.

I’ll admit that as a writer, it was hard for me to turn down $300 for a paper that would probably not be so difficult; it’s cliche, but doing the right thing isn’t always easy. In this case, doing the right thing is simply working hard to increase knowledge and sharpen skills. But honestly, as pessimistic as this sounds, it doesn’t surprise me that college students would do anything to avoid hard work.

The majority of the students at this institution are moral, hard-working individuals with a commitment to ethics and learning, or at least that is my hope. To keep this hope alive, let’s create a culture where plagiarism is called by its name. Aside from proofreading, don’t edit anyone’s work without speaking to them about the changes. Don’t turn in work unless you wrote every single word that is not in quotations. Obviously, don’t ask other students to write papers for you. If someone asks you to write a paper for them, say no and politely explain how academic integrity is an integral value of our school and of any institution of higher learning.

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