Inside a Term Paper Mill

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Nick Mamatas is a published author. He has two novels in print, and a good bit of other stuff out there as well. So it's something of a shock when he admits, "for several years I made much of my freelance income writing term papers." Last week Mamatas published a fascinating article on his time in the term paper-writing industry. He explains what goes on in such an operation, breaks down the types of clients he worked with, and comments on the apparent legality of the practice (though it's, uh, more than frowned upon by pretty much everyone). Here's a sample:

The term paper biz is managed by brokers who take financial risks by accepting credit card payments and psychological risks by actually talking to the clients. Most of the customers just aren't very bright. One of my brokers would even mark assignments with the code words DUMB CLIENT. That meant to use simple English; nothing's worse than a client calling back to ask a broker — most of whom had no particular academic training — what certain words in the paper meant. One time a client actually asked to talk to me personally and lamented that he just didn't "know a lot about Plah-toe." Distance learning meant that he'd never heard anyone say the name.

... DUMB CLIENTS predominate. They should not be in college. They must buy model papers simply because they do not understand what a term paper is, much less anything going on in their assignments. I don't believe that most of them even handed the papers in as their own, as it would have been obvious that they didn't write them. Frequently I was asked to underline the thesis statement because locating it otherwise would have been too difficult. But that sort of thing was just average for the bottom of the barrel student-client.

Wow. The article goes on to describe the other types of clients Mamatas encountered, and even goes into detail on how much he was paid. Frankly this whole subject was news to me -- I've never bought a term paper, nor has anyone offered to sell me one. But then again, I went to college back in the dark ages (the 90's), when the World Wide Web was new-fangled and almost no one had cell phones. (We called them "car phones.")

Jason Kottke wrote about this story on Kottke.org and put up a poll asking readers if they had ever purchased a term paper. At the moment, the overwhelming majority have not (or at least won't admit it). So I'm curious: what's your experience with this issue? How prevalent is term paper buying in colleges today? Have you ever bought or sold a term paper?

(Via Kottke.org.) See also: a New York Times piece on a term paper mill which charges about $10 a page.

October 16, 2008 - 8:16am
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