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Take Note, Cheating Students: Expensive 'Essay Mills' Don't Produce Grade-A Work

Economist Dan Ariely decided to test the quality of four "essay mills." As it turns out, they turn out pretty sloppy copy. iStockphoto hide caption

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Thanks to Andrew Sullivan's The Daily Dish, I discovered this post — "Plagiarism and essay mills," by economist Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University — and the author of, most recently, The Upside of Irrationality.

Airely and his colleague, Aline Grueneisen, decided to test the quality of essay mills, "companies whose sole purpose is to generate essays for high school and college students."

They asked four essay mills to produces papers — "for a university level social psychology class, 12 pages long, using 15 sources (cited and referenced in a bibliography), APA style, to be completed in the next two weeks" — on this topic:

When and why do people cheat? Consider the social circumstances involved in dishonesty, and provide a thoughtful response to the topic of cheating. Address various forms of cheating (personal, at work, etc.) and how each of these can be rationalized by a social culture of cheating.

For between $150 and $216 per paper, they got "gibberish."

A few of the papers attempt to mimic APA style, but none achieve it without glaring errors. Citations are sloppy, and the reference lists abominable — including outdated and unknown sources, many of which are online news stories, editorial posts or blogs, and some that are simply broken links.

In terms of the quality of the writing itself, the authors of all four papers seemed to have very little grasp of the English language, or even how to format an essay. Paragraphs jump bluntly from one topic to another, and often fall into the form of a list, counting off various forms of cheating or providing a long stream of examples that are never explained or connected to the "theses" of the paper.

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