Essay mills, contract cheating, and any form of commercial essay wrtiting will soon be illegal in the UK as part of the Skills and Post-16 Education bill is currently in the House of Lords and set to become law next year. It is currently a lucrative business for some; the owner of the largest British essay mill is a multi-millionaire.
Who is going to police this new crime? The university staff who grade student work – lecturers, teachers (and increasingly assistants, graduate students and even outsourced services!) will soon be at the forefront of the fight against what is increasingly become organised crime.
In the past 2 years research into detecting contract cheating has accelerated so the humble-essay-marker-turned-sleuth now has a number of helpful resources and tools. This blog post shares some recent work that I have been involved with this year:
Principle components of commercial essay writing.
Investigative linguistic research I presented earlier this year (at the European Network of Academic Integrity 2021 conference) identified six textual features of commercial essay writing. The research was based on a corpus of over 10,000 student and commercial essays scraped from essay mill webpages. Using a multivariate text analysis approach I originally developed for fake news and fake online review detection, I built a model that correctly classifies commercial and student essays with 82% accuracy. The list of principle components, with descriptions and examples can be viewed below
Checklist for detecting contract cheating
This checklist is a synthesis of experience and expertise from academics based at six higher education institutions in the UK. This resource draws on existing checklists found in academic literature and other associated documentation. This was created by the Contract Cheating Working Group for the London and South East Academic Integrity Network.
Click the images below for full interactive checklist and explainer videos.
Resources for contract cheating workshop
Below is a set of commercial and student essay extracts that can be used to explore and practice the detection of contract cheating.