The history of dissertation writing services since 1990
Table of Contents
Essay mills, term paper mills and custom academic writing services are amongst the most controversial and often most vilified elements of the education system today. All referring to the same services that allow students to pay a fee to have a writer create a customised essay or dissertation that is of a certain academic standard, they are not a part of the education system as they operate outside of academic institutions, which tend to dismiss their services as "contract cheating" (Major, 2002; Shepherd, 2008; Chakrabarti, 2012). However, their services are, according to many reports, utilised to a far greater extent today than they have ever been before (Matthews, 2013). Despite this, there is very little comprehensive research into the British custom academic writing industry and most of that available is in the form of media pieces rather than academic research or investigative studies that move beyond the controversies and ethical issues that tend to be widely associated with the industry as a whole. This study is designed to fill that gap and offer a comprehensive insight into the industry's recent history in addition to its current prevalence.
There are actually several definitions of 'essay mill' available and they largely depend on the perspective of the individual who has compiled them. For example, on Wordvia (2014), an online dictionary, an essay mill is defined as a service that "...helps students who seek to buy essays and other written homework and to pass off this ghostwritten work as their own." However, this is not entirely accurate as it not only projects a negative image onto a term that reinforces it with an opinion but many of the leading British custom essay and dissertation writing services available stress that work is not to be handed in as a client's own work. For example, the UK Essays (2014b) website addresses the use of work by stating that "The service we offer is 100% legal, very legitimate and won't make you a cheat... it is a valuable teaching aid and no more akin to cheating than a tutor's 'model essay' or the many published essay guides available from your local book shop". As such, the definition given in academic work, research and media articles often tends to be underscored by an innate bias that immediately clouds the reader's judgement and gives no sense of the history behind it.
The history of custom dissertation writing services, or essay mills, can be traced back to the 19th century where they began as an American phenomenon (Stavisky, 1973). Located within fraternity houses, they were designed to help the brothers achieve the grades they needed to pass their courses and achieve their potential via the practice of sharing term papers or having students complete work for their peers to hand in as their own (Stavisky, 1973). However, this practice evolved and, by the 1970s, custom writing business were established to capitalise on the need for essays and many of them were located in buildings near college campuses so as to promote maximum availability for students willing to pay for custom work (Pemberton, 1992). However, Pemberton (1992) adds, the industry evolved from its bricks and mortar format in the early 1990s as that particular business model become outdated with the advent of the Internet, which offered significant accessibility and logistical advantages for those individuals and companies who looked to provide students with custom written essays for a fee. It is for this reason that this particular study will focus on the history of custom dissertation writing services since 1990.
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Although there can be little doubt that the modern history of custom dissertation writing services began in the 1990s, there are many issues that an in depth examination of that history can shed light on. For example, there are questions as to whether the accessibility offered by the Internet has led to the rise of the industry or whether there are other factors that have brought about change. The recent press coverage that the industry has received suggests that there has been an exponential rise in the industry since the turn of the Millennium as a result of a range of factors. For example, Brady and Dutta (2012) state that there are hundreds of sites online offering a wide range of academic custom writing services, with some based within the UK and registered with Company House whereas others solely exist in cyberspace, meaning that it is difficult to determine exactly where they are located and, as a consequence, whether they are reputable. Indeed, a quick Internet search for "custom dissertation writing services" reveals more than two million results so this suggests that the industry is extensive. As such, there is a distinct need to assess the services available in order to determine the causes of and reasons for change. Any historical examination of the custom dissertation writing industry can therefore provide an insight into multiple elements of it and this research project will be the most comprehensive assessment of the UK industry as a whole to date.
Research Aims and Thesis
In order to explore the history of custom dissertation writing services since 1990 effectively, it is necessary to establish research aims that are able to guide the process of completing the dissertation from the start of the research process to the drawing of effective conclusions. As the topic selected is relatively broad and can incorporate numerous elements of an interesting and often negatively perceived niche industry, it is also necessary to use aims in order to focus the study and ensure that it is narrow enough to offer a useful insight into it. As such, the following four aims have been formulated in advance:
- To determine how far the custom dissertation writing services available have expanded over the past twenty-four years
- To discover the reasons why the industry has evolved in terms of why people use the services available and how custom dissertation services have responded to the demand.
- To examine the way in which the press coverage of the industry has documented its history, particularly with reference to the ethics of such services and the controversies that have subsequently been discussed.
- To analyse the development of the custom dissertation writing services available in order to gage how far the future of the industry itself will be a prosperous one.
These aims effectively narrow the focus of the title, which is otherwise too broad to make any significant analytical discoveries and would instead suggest a more narrative approach. All four will be kept in mind during the research and writing processes so that accurate conclusions may be drawn relating to each one. With this in mind, the thesis of the study will ultimately be that the custom dissertation writing service available to students has expanded significantly between 1990 and the present day, as has the press coverage of the industry. However, it has undoubtedly evolved in order to provide a valuable service to the growing number of students that require help and guidance rather than as a result of the compulsion of those students to cheat, as is suggested by numerous negative articles and studies that have been published in recent years.
The methodology that will be used to explore the aims and prove or disprove the thesis within this dissertation will be comprehensive and incorporate three distinct facets. The first method of research will be a literature review. This particular method will be used in order to determine the historical background of the custom dissertation writing industry in line with the established dissertation topic. It is vital to determine the historical context of the industry in order to determine how far it has changed since 1990. This particular method will provide the research for the first chapter, although a slightly different method will be adopted for the second chapter.
The second element of the methodology will build upon the general literature review but with a narrower focus. It will adopt a case study approach, looking specifically at UK Essays, one of the leading companies in this particular niche industry at the present time and one that has been in operation for more than a decade (UK Essays, 2014a). Although this case study will not cover the entire period between 1990 and the present day, it will facilitate the examination of the growth of the industry and the changes that it has experienced over the past decade. This is a key element of the methodology because of the value it will add to the analysis. : "...although case studies and histories can overlap, the case study's unique strength is its ability to deal with a full variety of evidence - documents, artifacts [sic], interviews and observations beyond what might be available in a conventional historical study" (Yin, 2009, p. 11). As such, the second chapter will expand upon the research in the first chapter and examine the topic to a far greater depth. However, both the literature review and the case study will draw upon a wide range of sources in order to ensure that they are as comprehensive as possible.
Books, journal articles and newspaper articles will be examined. In addition, website pages will also be used in order to narrow the focus down in the case study. Further, there will be a concerted effort to locate blog posts and opinion pieces that offer an insight into custom dissertation writing services from within. However, this particular somewhat broad means of researching subject matter does introduce serious limitations into the process. For example, such a search for information will be time consuming and it is anticipated that it will yield several sources that are unreliable. As such, it will be necessary to schedule enough time to perform comprehensive research and vet all potential sources for reliability and credibility before using them in order to minimise the limitations as far as possible. In addition, despite the fact that a wide range of source types will be examined, it is anticipated that the number of sources available will be limited and many will be biased against the custom academic writing industry. If this is the case then it will be necessary to draw upon all reliable sources for information but utilise the facts of individual articles rather than taking the opinions given as truth.
The third element of the methodology will be an examination of primary sources to assess how far the use of such services has increased since the 1990s, thus evaluating the extent to which the industry has progressed over the last twenty-four years. It will adopt an inductive approach, meaning that the facts will be allowed to speak for themselves rather than being moulded to fit pre-determined hypotheses (Mouton & Marais, 1988). The articles that will be analysed via this method will be predominantly taken from newspapers with a number of features of each article being assessed. For example, the assessment will look at the reasons given for use of custom writing services, the types of people that employ such services and the extent to which the industry has expanded. The articles will be taken from several different years over an extended period of time and the evaluation will incorporate articles both for and against the use of such services in order to ensure a balance of opinion is achieved. It is anticipated that the articles will reveal why people use such services and whether those reasons have evolved over time, thus commenting on a further element of the history of custom dissertation writing services.
As a result of the methodology employing three distinct elements in order to address the topic fully, the dissertation will adopt a three chapter structure. The first chapter will examine the historical background of the custom dissertation writing services available since 1990 via the literature review method. The second chapter will be a case study that examined UK Essays in order to gain a better insight into the industry. The third and final chapter will be an inductive primary source review that will focus on revealing the controversies and ethics of custom essay writing in order to determine how attitudes towards and the use of such services has changed over time. The ultimate aim for this particular approach is to gain an insight into the history of custom dissertation writing services in order to deduce how far the industry has expanded, increased in popularity and changed in terms of its clientele since 1990. In effect, it is examining the history of the custom dissertation writing industry from a different perspective to that offered by the literature review of its historical background and the case study of UK Essays. It is anticipated that, by examining the history from several perspectives, a more comprehensive image of the history of custom dissertation writing services since 1990 will be presented.
Chapter One: Historical Background
The history of custom dissertation writing services may date back centuries to American colleges and universities (Stavisky, 1973) but the transition point between the original services offered and the new industry that exists today occurred much more recently. In fact, the 1990s was a pivotal decade for the development of custom dissertation writing services with new technology facilitating the restructuring of essay mills to adhere to an e-commerce model and therefore enabling far greater numbers of students to discover and access them (Lathrop & Foss, 2000). By establishing custom academic writing services online, the predominantly American companies (Dickerson, 2007) that operated in the niche prior to the transition from bricks and mortar companies to online businesses were able to embrace the advantages that the Internet had to offer and take their services to whole new audiences. Hinman's (2005) assessment of how the Internet has impacted upon the moral lives of individuals and communities, for example, stresses that the advent of the Internet in the 1990s closed the distance between students and their peers, thus allowing for the establishment of academic communities. However, he also points out that it has facilitated the rise of term paper mills, or custom dissertation writing services, as a result of the removal of distance and the introduction of a far greater level of accessibility than ever before (Hinman, 2005). In effect, the migration of custom dissertation writing services onto the Internet changed history and, in doing so, altered the landscape of education as a whole.
There are numerous sources available that focus on the prevalence and history of essay mills in the United States but very few are as authoritative as Dickerson (2007) on the topic. Although his work does concern American universities and term paper mills, the points he makes can also be applied to the online business model as a whole and offer an insight into the development of custom dissertation writing services in the UK. For example, it is argued that the embracing of technological advancements has had a knock on impact on the industry in that product differentiation began to occur in the 1990s with many companies expanding their services to help students with niche tasks like statistical analysis and several sites offering custom written work to individuals located around the world instead of being limited to one specific geographical location (Dickerson, 2007). There are two points of note here. The first is that the online presence of custom dissertation writing grew significantly, replacing the availability of generic term papers as the primary mode of obtaining assignments, and the second is that there was major growth of the reach of such services thanks to the global audience that the Internet could help companies to access. Both points are major areas of change, being key elements in the history of the industry and its evolution from the early 1990s onwards.
There are further sources that suggest that the custom dissertation and essay writing industry expanded in the early 1990s. Bartlett (2009) concurs with Dickerson about the expanding global scope of essay mills from the 1990s onwards, highlighting the ability of individuals to type keywords into a search engine and immediately order an essay no matter where they are in the world. It does not matter where the company is located either because the entire transaction became digital with the transition from physical businesses to virtual companies. Scanlon and Neumann (2002) also performed a study that examined the rise in the industry, focusing on the availability of dissertations and essays and, although they noted that their prevalence had not been studied sufficiently by 2002, they found that the Internet had had a major impact on the way in which students approached their work over the previous decade. The key was the use of the Internet and the accessibility that had been introduced as a result, thus reinforcing the idea that the change of business model had precipitated massive growth in a short period of time. However, in examining incidents of plagiarism rather than the custom dissertation writing industry as a whole, Scanlon and Neumann (2002, p. 382) argued that the "...frequency of plagiarism using the Internet followed the same pattern as did conventional forms". This suggests that, although the custom dissertation writing services available had expanded quite significantly by that point, patterns of cheating had not. McCabe and Bowers (1994, p. 9) agree, arguing that "...it appears that cheating at selective institutions had remained relatively unchanged in the last 30 years...". Both of these perspectives do not note a correlation between the rise of custom essay writing services but they do identify a major growth in their reach. As such, the implication is that the industry progressed quickly in the decade between 1990 and 2000 but the education system did not necessarily keep up.
Further studies in a similar vein to those of Scanlon and Neumann and McCabe and Bowers were conducted later and maintained a focus on the UK's higher education system. A study of contract cheating by Clarke and Lancaster in 2006 actively examined the reach of online services but did so in a slightly different way. Instead of examining companies that were registered in the UK as British businesses at the time, they studied the use of an American site called Rent-A-Coder, through which individuals could ask writers for bids before entering into a contract with them to complete the work (Clarke & Lancaster, 2006). They successfully identified a number of bid requests where British students were hiring writers to complete assignments:
RC has posted for several different courses at a UK university and some from other universities around the same geographical area. Hence RC appears highly unlikely to represent a single student. It is more plausible to consider that RC is acting as a 'middle man' of some kind to other contract cheaters, or is perhaps a non-originality agency (Clarke & Lancaster, 2006, p. 10).
This discovery within the analysis notes that the Internet had played a vital part in expanding the availability of individuals who would be willing to complete assignments for students. The study therefore demonstrates that, by 2005, custom essay services were easily accessible to anybody who chose to ask for help. Although very limited in its scope as a result of the fact that it concentrated on a freelancer website instead of a specialist service, it also demonstrated that students from anywhere in the world could access freelancers who purported to be qualified enough to complete academic assignments for British universities. Of course, this study is problematic in that it does not reveal any useful information about specialist custom dissertation writing services but it does contribute significantly to the body of knowledge available about the history of the industry as a whole. Not only does it highlight that the demand for custom essay writing services had increased but also shows that it had become a global industry that did not necessarily contain reputable companies that provided a valid and effective service that could be relied upon to deliver high quality work.
There are numerous other studies that suggest that the custom dissertation writing services expanded after the turn of the 21st century. For example, a 2001 report in Educause noted that the global traffic to essay mills exceeded 2.6 million hits per month, with some sites reporting profitability from their first day of business (Groark et al, 2001). This level of traffic also included the essay and dissertation databases that already contained pre-written papers rather than custom written material (Groark et al, 2001). This was a staggering number of hits given that the paper mills had only been online for a decade or so, although it should be noted that there were not figures to separate the databases from the custom dissertation services at that point in time so it is impossible to tell just how popular one is versus the other. However, the academic world did begin to distinguish between the two in the early 2000s when essay mills began to generate negative attention and therefore saw the establishment of solutions to the use of database essays.
Roberts (2008) pointed out that the advent of essay mills online had led to the development of software that was designed to detect instances of plagiarism, thus rendering those that could be found on databases easily susceptible to detection if used incorrectly and therefore noted a decline in their use from 2000 onwards. For example, Hannay (2004) attributes the rise in anti-plagiarism software to the growth of essay databases, noting that Turnitin is one of the most widely used. Established in 1996, Turnitin is a program that scans essays in comparison to books, articles and online sources to determine whether it is plagiarised or not, although it does not identify original work and so does not detect where custom dissertation writing services have been used (Hannay, 2004). This was a further turning point in the history of custom dissertation writing services as it effectively heralded their dominance over essay banks. It should be noted that Turnitin and similar programs are still relevant for assessing the work of students. Indeed, Oxford and Cambridge only invested in the service in 2008 (Shepherd & Tobin, 2008) so this acknowledges that the industry is still developing and that universities still feel the need to take action. Custom essays and dissertations, however, were not as susceptible to detection as they were written from scratch by qualified researchers and therefore did not plagiarise existing work and nor were they available online in full text (Roberts, 2008). This is a point that is made repeatedly in the literature concerning the development of the custom element of the industry (Matthews, 2013; Smith, 2012; Chakrabarti, 2012) and one that has encouraged the growth of custom services since the turn of the 21st century.
Further, Page (2004) argues that the availability of custom essays and dissertations in the late 1990s and early 2000s led to a completely different problem for universities to deal with. Whereas essay mills were perceived as a manageable problem, their rise in the early 1990s caused a change of attitude in the second half of the decade when universities in the UK and United States became aware of the problem of cyber-pseudepigraphy, or the "...deliberate ascription of false authorship to a piece of writing" after purchasing it online (Page, 2004, p. 429). Page does not discuss the extent to which this was a problem or the prevalence of it in universities during that particular period but his analysis does suggest that it was a growing problem and therefore presents the idea that the industry had grown significantly since going online and had also continued to expand. Although the industry has attracted criticism since the beginning of its existence, the perception of this problem has increased that significantly. It is a vital point to acknowledge when discussing the history of the custom dissertation writing industry because, although it does not necessarily relate to a specific innovation or development, it references the evolution and growth of the industry as a whole and the attention it attracted as a result.
The analysis discussed here is by no means chronological but it does provide an insight into the development of the custom dissertation writing services available online since 1990. As such, it provides an effective analytical account of the history of the industry. However, it is also necessary to look at the very recent history of the industry too. For example, the emphasis of such companies has very definitely moved onto providing essays as a study aid or research resource and therefore, despite the continued expansion of the industry, the focus of such services has altered over the past few years thus marking a new point in its history (Daily Mail, 2010). Although many reputable and legitimate companies have always stressed this, newspaper articles and studies of the industry are at pains to examine the promises made by the companies operating within the niche as much as the services they offer. This may not seem like a major point but it does demonstrate that the industry has had to respond to negative press in order to ensure its credibility within the marketplace. As such, the enhanced level of press coverage and focus of universities on the custom dissertation writing services available have served to identify a level of popularity and use that has given the industry credibility as a legitimate force. Unfortunately, the rise in coverage has also led to a rise in online ghost companies that exist in cyberspace only (Brady & Dutta, 2012) and so undermine the legitimacy of the industry. However, this has led to a further problem that has been well documented - it is impossible to determine how large the industry is and the extent to which it has grown in recent years. Many of the articles concerning the custom dissertation writing industry since 2010 has been published in newspapers rather than journals so the speculative figures used cannot necessarily be relied upon to be accurate. It is certain, though, that the industry is flourishing and has experienced an upward trajectory since the beginning of the 1990s that does not look set to wane at any point.
This chapter has provided an overview of the history of custom dissertation writing services since 1990 based upon the articles and books available that discuss the issues associated with their rise. Although there are few sources that relate solely to the UK, this can be attributed to the fact that the growth of the custom dissertation writing industry was a global phenomenon that was not restricted to a specific locality or demographic group. The Internet meant that such services became available to everyone and therefore it is difficult to cover a specific nation. However, despite this issue, the literature review has revealed numerous ideas and statistics that confirm that the historical narrative associated with the services is complex but demonstrates that it is characterised by growth, technological developments and responses to the demands of the client base. However, in order to delve further into the history of such custom services, it is necessary to examine a case study related to the industry, particularly considering that many of the services available are not open to or cooperative with researchers, journalists and academics who may be investigating them. The ensuing chapter will discuss UK Essays, a company that is based in the UK and prides itself on being transparent and accessible, in order to fill in gaps that the absence of published analysis may have left in relation the British industry.
Chapter Two: Case Study - UK Essays
In 2008, Lancaster and Clarke listed 158 "essay ghost writing sites" as a part of their investigations into the custom dissertation and essay writing industry in the UK (Matthews, 2013). This offers an idea of the size of the industry at the time, although the list was by no means exhaustive because keeping track of all of the services available is considered to be extremely difficult at any given time given the expansiveness of cyberspace (Brady & Dutta, 2012; Shepherd & Tobin, 2007). However, one of those counted was UK Essays, one of the established market leaders (Matthews, 2013) with the added benefit of being a registered company in the UK with a physical location (UK Essays, 2014a) in addition to its online presence. UK Essays therefore provides an excellent case study to test the ideas discovered in the literature review in terms of how the age of the Internet has enabled custom dissertation writing services to blossom.
UK Essays was founded in 2003 by Barclay Littlewood (UK Essays, 2014a) so it was not one of the earliest companies to be established online in the custom dissertation writing niche, with some being launched in the late 1980s (Dickerson, 2007). However, neither is it one of the newest companies in the market and so has developed a reputation and a renown that can be assessed in terms of the recent history of the industry. Indeed, it began as a one man business venture but had expanded to the extent that Littlewood had founded a company, Academic Answers, just four months later (UK Essays, 2014a). Furthermore, an article in The Times suggested that, just two years into operation, UK Essays was estimated as worth £200 million, although the same article disputes this figure and notes that some companies in the industry tend to inflate such figures in order to gain positive advertising and encourage a media-friendly image (Matthews, 2013). Although there is nothing to suggest that the figures given were inaccurate, the exponential growth of All Answers (the company name was changed in 2009 - UK Essays, 2014a) and the companies that come under its umbrella has been reinforced by recent figures. In 2012, UK Essays reported being commissioned for approximately 11,470 custom essays and dissertations and that approximately 75% were ordered from UK IP addresses (Matthews, 2013). This particular element of the company's history and the statistics presented certainly demonstrate how far UK Essays has grown in a little more than a decade. There can be little doubt that its online presence has facilitated such development. Regardless of whether Matthews (2013) was correct in his observation that the value of the company may have been overestimated for marketing purposes in 2005, it did draw attention to its presence. This suggests that the marketing strategies of and attitudes towards custom dissertation services have slowly evolved over time.
The services offered by UK Essays have also evolved several times since 2003, with a proprietary software management system being developed in 2004, marking and proofreading services being added to the custom writing options in 2010 and system upgrades that have enabled payment in multiple currencies in 2012 being amongst them (UK Essays, 2014a). These advancements correspond to the observations and analysis that has been presented by academics and critics. For example, the addition of marking and proofreading services denoted an expansion of services in line with the structural framework that appeared as a result of the establishment of the industry's operations online according to Dickerson (2007). Similarly, the option to make payment in multiple currencies offers proof of the expansion of the client base since the turn of the Millennium (Matthews, 2013; Smith, 2012; Bartlett, 2009), although it is not clear whether such a change was made in order to accommodate international students at British institutions or to enhance the appeal of the company and its services to students enrolled in institutions overseas. Once again examining the statistics that Matthews (2013) provided, and specifically the fact that 75% of all essays were ordered from UK IP addresses, there seems to be a balance between the two groups of students, thus suggesting that the accessibility of the site has resulted in a much larger international student client base. Either way, it suggests that there has been significant expansion of the groups of people looking for help, including those studying a diverse range of topics with a diverse range of skills but all of whom need to capitalise on the services available. This would not have been possible prior to the creation of the online custom dissertation writing industry and demonstrates that said industry has rapidly expanded in the last decade or so.
The case study of UK Essays is also useful for examining the ethical considerations that have repeatedly been analysed within the press in recent years. This is relevant to the history of custom dissertation writing services because of the way that companies have been represented over time, and more specifically how representations have evolved. For example, the labels of "contract cheating" (Major, 2002; Shepherd, 2008; Chakrabarti, 2012) and "institutional plagiarism" (Martin, 1993, p. 36) are often used in relation to custom dissertation and essay writing companies but references to UK Essays are unable to substantiate such accusations as a result of the maintenance of a rigid stance against plagiarism. For example, in 2008 UK Essays was featured in a BBC article that equated to purchasing custom work for plagiarism but the company asserted that it was simply there to help (Coughlan, 2008). The same claims were repeated to the University of Nottingham's magazine, Impact, in 2010: "UKEssays.com is simply a search engine for academia, we find and explain all of the appropriate sources, and put them into a model answer format... the student can see how they should respond to the question, and secondly they can then take the references that have been used and explore them themselves" (Stott, 2010). It also formed the basis of the message conveyed in a 2011 article in The Telegraph, which discussed the structure of the business as well as the usage of the bespoke essays purchased:
...unlike other companies, we are happy to publish our address, and we are happy for students to visit us; we have got academics in-house. Nor do we condone plagiarism. It's made very clear to clients that we don't supply essays; we give model answers around which they frame their ideas. We see it as no different to a lecturer pointing students towards a document in a library. As far as we know, 99.9 per cent of customers use our products correctly (Middleton, 2011).
Although critics would question the use of the phrase "as far as we know", there is a commitment to helping students rather than facilitating plagiarism underlining the presentation of the company as an ethical business. All three articles emphasise the idea that UK Essays does not condone or support plagiarism, instead encouraging individuals to do their own work using the essays and dissertations ordered for reference. Nowhere is this contradicted because, unlike other companies, no representatives have undermined this stance to undercover journalists acting as potential clients. This is one constant in the history of UK Essays and therefore marks the company out as unique. It also demonstrates that it is possible for custom dissertation writing services to evolve in line with consumer demands whilst maintaining an ethical core.
The case study of UK Essays outlined here undoubtedly supplements the literature review by providing evidence that the points made within the sources cited in the previous chapter do have relevance within the British custom dissertation writing services industry. It also provides a valuable insight into how the company fits within the industry at the present time in addition to how quickly it has risen to occupy that space. The rise of UK Essays has been nothing if not meteoric given its origins a little over a decade ago. However, it provides a typical example as to how legitimate businesses in the niche market can achieve and maintain a high level of success whilst refusing to abandon its ethical stance. There is one weakness inherent within this case study though. It fails to take the reasons behind such growth into account because this cannot be examined by looking at one company or the history of the industry, even though it is an important factor in terms of defining the impact that historical events, changes and shifts have had on individual companies and the industry as a whole. As such, it is necessary to examine primary sources in order to deduce the reasons why the industry has experienced such radical growth in recent years.
Chapter Three: Custom Dissertation Writing Services, Controversies and the Reasons Behind the Growth of the Industry
Having examined the history of the custom dissertation writing industry from 1990 onwards via a literature review and a case study of UK Essays, it is possible to draw the conclusion that the availability of services in this particular niche has expanded exponentially, with reputable services available to those looking for help. The e-commerce model has undoubtedly changed the industry in a positive way as well as in a negative way that could see those looking for help failing to find what they need despite paying individuals to complete work for them. However, it is now necessary to ask questions as to why this change has occurred over time, thus taking the analysis within this study to a greater depth. Given the extent to which the industry has changed, it is of paramount importance to find out the reasons behind that and, in order to do so, this chapter will examine primary sources like newspaper reports to discern the reasons given within such pieces.
One of the most prevalent reasons given for the massive growth of the custom dissertation writing industry is the rise in international students in British universities. This was the topic of an article that appeared on the BBC website in 2008. UK Essays had reported to the BBC that demand for essay writing services had increased sharply as a direct result of demand from overseas students who had enrolled in British universities (Coughlan, 2008). This is reinforced by the statistics within the article itself, stating that in 2007 UK Essays had 1,683 overseas customers and yet had helped 725 customers in January and February alone in 2008, which represented a threefold increase (Coughlan, 2008). These statistics denote a major increase in a specific type of customer in a very short period of time, specifically international students within Britain, and therefore suggests that there is an enhanced demand for custom dissertation writing services based upon the evolving composition of universities rather than a change in attitude amongst students. This is also reflected in the article, and specifically the diametrically opposed stances adopted by universities and custom academic writing companies, or UK Essays in this case:
Universities have accused essay writing firms of fuelling plagiarism.
But a spokesman for UKEssays.com says the rise in demand is caused by universities recruiting students with inadequate English language skills.
"It's another example of universities turning into businesses. They're happy to get the fees from overseas students - but they don't provide enough language support," says Jed Hallam, spokesman for the essay-writing firm (Coughlan, 2008).
Coughlan's perspective has been reinforced by recent articles in the press that have examined the recent drop in international student numbers in the UK. Howson (2014) notes that the 2013 drop in international student numbers was the first one for 29 years, thus lending credibility to the point that the numbers of international students has grown alongside the custom dissertation writing industry and thus the former may have contributed to the latter. However, Howson (2014) also points out that overseas students are often not made to feel welcome by their host institutions, being treated like a number with few dedicated facilities to help them whilst institutions are happy to take the higher fees payable for tuition. According to newspaper reports on education and careers, this is not a new issue either. Indeed, an article in The Guardian makes mention of language barrier issues in 2005. Hoare's (2005) article note that, whilst students from abroad have to pay full tuition, it is left to the students to develop their own language skills by participating in the wider community. The implication is that universities do not necessarily provide the services that they should to ensure that all international students are capable of communicating effectively and also to make sure that they are culturally comfortable. The lack of lingual and cultural integration can affect international students' learning and educational development in both lectures and seminars. Both factors may certainly contribute to international students turning to custom dissertation writing services for the help that they lack within their chosen institution.
This perspective is supplemented by blogs that have been written by industry insiders as well as news articles that provide interviews with those who work for reputable companies. For example, an American writer who had worked for custom dissertation writing services reinforced the points made by Coughlan and Howson by stating:
Students who come to American universities from other countries find that their efforts to learn a new language are confounded not only by cultural difficulties but also by the pressures of grading. The focus on evaluation rather than education means that those who haven't mastered English must do so quickly or suffer the consequences. My service provides a particularly quick way to "master" English (Dante, 2010).
This quote offers credibility to the idea that the education system is fundamentally flawed and fails to offer help to foreign students that are seeking a better academic experience in addition to a better quality education. However, it also points out that the problem extends beyond the UK. If there are uniform issues with learning English in the United States and British universities, particularly in terms of a focus on results and significant cultural differences, then it stands to reason that custom dissertation writing services would experience growth in their recent history because of the need to bridge that problem gap somehow. There is undoubtedly a gap that needs to be addressed by institutions although this, in itself, does not offer proof that the same can be said of the UK. However, Matthews (2013) does because he ascertained that more than half of all of those students disciplined for some form of cheating in UK universities were international students and also that "...the high fees paid by international students and the need to write in English (if this is not their first language) create greater incentives to cheat". Of course, this observation is not solely concerning custom dissertation writing services but it does reinforce the ideas espoused in Coughlan's article that the increase in international students and the pressure placed upon them has led to a higher demand for help and, consequently, also to the expansion of the industry in question. When this is added to the figures from UK Essays that suggest a threefold increase in international student customers in the first two months of 2013 alone (Matthews, 2013), there can be little doubt that the increased numbers of international students until 2014 and the way in which they are treated by UK universities led to a major rise in the custom dissertation writing services and therefore has impacted upon its recent history.
However, the rise of international students is not the only reason given for the rise in custom dissertation writing services. The pressure placed on all students has also been cited as a reason. A response to Chakrabarti's (2012) article about the prevalence of contract cheating was published on The Telegraph's website and addressed the ethics of using such services alongside the reasons why students may choose to use them:
There is a legitimate use of custom written work, too. Lecturers know this - all over the World, every day, past papers and example answers are handed to students for them to follow, and it is no different. But perhaps the most important conclusion in all of this is that students have a need for extra support. If this were not the case, our business would not exist. The question universities should be asking themselves is not, "how can we stamp out cheating?", but "why do our students feel the need to turn elsewhere for help - what are we not giving them that they need?" (Pooorey, 2012).
This particular perspective offers significant criticism of British universities and the way in which they operate in terms of offering individual students support. It also draws attention to significant hypocrisy within the education system in that model answers may be provided to students by lecturers but that is not considered to be cheating. This begs the question, on an ethical level, as to why paying for model answers to be provided is deemed to be cheating whether the student in question uses the work appropriately, and therefore as a guide, or not. It highlights the shades of grey that blur the boundaries between seeking help in a responsible manner and consciously cheating. Although ignoring this latter point, Brady and Dutta (2012) concur about the issues that may be presented to students as a result of university culture since the turn of the Millennium. For example, they state that rises in tuition fees will increase the pressure on students to get a good grade in order to enhance their career prospects but also point out that university bosses blame politicians and the financial crisis for the exertion of such pressure in equal measure:
University bosses blame the financial crisis for raising the stakes in higher education, making many students willing to do anything to secure good grades - or just to stay on their degree courses. A number of experts claim that Tony Blair's flagship policy of increasing access to higher education has left thousands of young people starting university without all the practical and intellectual skills required (Brady & Dutta, 2012).
This quote hints at the desperation of students to succeed but also notes that many do fall behind and so need help to be able to get back on track. Although the article does not state that there is no help available for students at their place of study, this is implied by the fact that they are turning to custom dissertation writing services and therefore offers credibility to the notion that the innate weaknesses of universities, particularly the lack of a support network at some institutions, has also contributed to the rise of the industry.
The newspaper articles that deal with the custom dissertation writing services available also present a further reason as to why such services have grown in popularity whilst expanding the industry as a direct result - the attitude of students and how the willingness to cheat has increased in recent history. For example, Smith (2012) argues that students use custom essays and dissertations to avoid the risk of relying on their own ability and brands those who use such services as "dishonest". A further article describes the students as "lazy" and asserts that the final grade is more important than learning (Sunday People, 2010). Wright and Cortbus (2014) tap into this perception of individuals that use custom dissertation writing services, featuring a case study in their investigative report about the current state of the custom dissertation writing service as of the summer of 2014 and it does point to the same desperation that Brady and Dutta (2012) highlight. However, it is framed in an entirely different way, specifically in relation to the attitude of the individual student that was interviewed for the piece: "I did feel guilty about it for a while - all my friends have had to work really hard for their grades. I know it's cheating and wrong. If my parents knew, they would be devastated. I'm also worried that I'll be tempted to do it again for my dissertation next year" (Wright & Cortbus, 2014). The emphasis is on the fact that she passed her course and whatever guilt she may have felt passed quickly as a result of the outcome. However, this statement is very misleading as a result of the way it is presented. It immediately moves on from the fact that desperation to pass had been the catalyst for the subject seeking help from custom essay services and instead focuses on the fact that she handed in the work as her own. This is an isolated case and is not balanced with an account from an individual who felt the same way but used the work appropriately and handed in an original essay completed by the student rather than the service. As such, it does not offer proof of a wholesale change in attitude by the student body but rather an incident that cannot be taken as contributing to the growth of custom dissertation writing services in any significant way.
There are some articles that look beyond simple laziness or an unwillingness to work towards a degree though and they do offer a more credible argument as to how and why some elements of the student body have helped to fuel the growth of the custom dissertation writing industry in recent years. For example, Martin (2012) states that "Short-cuts like buying essays seem all the more natural when higher education is increasingly presented, and marketed, as a commodity for those with access. When the university experience is conceived as a consumable good... then the option of buying a term paper fits squarely within the value system of that institution". This particular assessment points to a much larger cultural issue that goes above and beyond a handful of individuals' laziness. It accuses British society of becoming caught up in the wider commodification of daily life, meaning that anything can be bought. Of course, it is stressed by the reputable companies that the essays and dissertations purchased are only to be used as guides but this does not account for the attitude that degrees can be bought and requires a certain degree of trust that Martin indirectly suggests is misplaced. A cultural change may account for a certain level of orders from such services but, in most cases, it appears to be more plausible that students simply need help and have turned to outlets that can provide that, thus accounting for their exponential growth.
This chapter has undoubtedly been able to supplement the knowledge that the investigation of the history of custom dissertation writing services has yielded. The analysis has effectively determined that the custom essay writing industry has grown on a huge scale in recent years because of a distinct need within the student population. That need is primarily related to the need for help that cannot be obtained from universities. Although it is not possible to speculate on the reasons why higher academic institutions do not offer support and help at the present time because of the differences that exist from university to university, there seems to be a lot of pressure being heaped onto students to achieve specific grades with deficits in terms of available help. This is particularly magnified in the case of international students and there are articles which do not focus on custom writing services that reinforce this perspective, thus lending it a greater degree of credibility as a reason behind the growth of custom dissertation writing services. There is significant evidence for the rise of international students and the problems they face being a factor that contributed significantly to the evolution of the industry and also a lack of help for all students in universities, but the final reason that is present in analysis of the industry has not been found to be credible. The idea that students are lazy is speculative and is too easy a conclusion to jump to in the absence of any further explanation, especially when news reporters are attempting to sensationalise the story to entertain readers. In effect, the history of custom dissertation writing services has been fundamentally impacted upon by the demand for academic solutions to a range of problems and determining these root causes is a vital element of this study.
This dissertation is an example of the work produced by our professional writers
In conclusion, the history of custom dissertation writing services since 1990 is multifaceted, complex and has been impacted by a number of factors that have arisen during the course of that period. The transition of physical essay writing services into an e-commerce business model has undoubtedly encouraged the evolution of the industry and has brought with it enhanced features like accessibility and instant communication. However, it has also brought an almost wholly negative approach to the industry despite the positives that are evident in the business models of the most reputable firms in the industry, like UK Essays. As such, the history of the industry has been a somewhat difficult topic to examine as a result of its inherent complexity. However, the research that has underpinned the analysis within this study has facilitated the drawing of several conclusions based on the findings of the literature review, case study and primary source analysis. It is necessary to examine the findings in line with the aims established early in the research process in order to assess how far each one was achieved.
The first aim was to determine how far the custom dissertation writing services available have expanded over the past twenty-four years. The dissertation certainly achieved this aim, proving that the services available have expanded in numerous ways since the 1990s. For example, the size of the industry is greater than ever before because of its availability online and therefore its accessibility to a global audience and larger client base. The number of services offered is also higher than ever before, as the case study proved. UK Essays, for example, offers essay, dissertation and marking services, amongst other services, to ensure that it is a one stop site for a student's every need. As such, it can be said that the industry has evolved to meet the demands that have been placed on it, taking full advantage of technology in the process. However, the expansion of such services has not always been a positive development. Although UK Essays is a reputable and registered company, there are many that are not as a result of the same factors that led to the expansion of the legitimate custom dissertation writing services. With this in mind, it is difficult to say just how far the industry has expanded since 1990.
The second aim was to discover the reasons why the industry has evolved in terms of the use of the services available by students and how custom dissertation services have responded to the demand, particularly since the turn of the Millennium. This aim has also been achieved during the course of the analysis. The explanation attached to the previous aim touched upon it but the case study of UK Essays in particular highlights the fact that custom dissertation writing services have responded to the demands placed upon them by a changing marketplace as well as the needs of individual customers. Having introduced service after service to accommodate customers and ensure that they are getting the help they need, legitimate companies like UK Essays have gone from strength to strength throughout the course of their histories. In effect, the industry as a whole has been forced to evolve to remain both relevant and successful and the increasing numbers of students that use them pay testament to that. The discovery of reasons as to why students use such services also contributes to the knowledge that has facilitated the achievement of this aim. The third chapter revealed that the lack of support in universities, the skills of international students, the lack of facilities for overseas students and, to a degree, a cultural change within society have all exacerbated the demand for and use of custom essay and dissertation writing services. The analysis did dispel the media generated myth that students were just lazy though, although it is doubtful that this will be sufficient to challenge the stereotypes that have been built up over time.
A third aim established prior to the start of research was to examine the way in which the press coverage of the industry has documented its history, particularly with reference to the ethics of such services and the controversies that are so often highlighted. The analysis in every chapter of this dissertation has incorporated press articles and so has revealed the level of media bias that exists towards the industry as a whole. However, chapters one and three drew upon controversies relating to the industry and the ethics of using custom dissertation writing services in order to highlight how it has been represented. The version of history that is presented within the articles is skewed and, in many cases, is heavily biased so it has been necessary to assess each article and take factual information to contribute to the historical framework established in the analysis. In effect, the press has provided an alternate history in many ways. However, that does not detract from the fact that the articles are valuable sources for assessing the growth of the industry over time.
The final aim was to analyse the development of the custom dissertation writing services so that predictions could be made in reference to the future of the industry itself. This has been accomplished on a number of levels, noting that the development of such services has been rapid and has required the strong management of legitimate companies in the custom dissertation writing niche to embrace change and enlarge the business model as and when necessary. Although it is difficult to assess what students may want or need in the coming years as a result of the weaknesses identified within institutions at the present moment in time, the e-commerce model that most custom dissertation writing companies use allows for a degree of flexibility that will ensure the market leaders can continue to evolve. Indeed, UK Essays has demonstrated a propensity for evolution that has allowed them to maintain their status at the head of the industry and no doubt will continue to do so.
Several limitations were identified within the methodology prior to research beginning and it is necessary to address those in order to determine how far they impacted upon the study. One of the limitations identified was the amount of research material available for the dissertation and this was certainly an issue throughout. Although an Internet and newspaper archives search did reveal numerous news sources for analysis, the vast majority of them were innately biased and so it was necessary to be very careful when deriving snippets of information from them. However, despite the availability of news articles, opinion pieces and blogs, there was very little information available in the form of journal articles, books and other similar academic sources. This did prove to be a problem and may have undermined the literature review in particular had the methodology not taken the possibility of this weakness into account. The case study has compensated for this particular issue and helped to negate it as a limitation. In addition, all sources were vetted for credibility and authority to ensure that could contribute appropriately to the overall conclusions drawn.
In conclusion, this dissertation has ultimately been able to prove the thesis that was established in the introduction. In examining the history of custom dissertation writing services, the analysis has determined that the industry has expanded significantly between 1990 and the present day, although it has undoubtedly achieved a progressively greater level of interest and press coverage as a consequence. Despite the negativity that so often surrounds the custom essay and dissertation writing industry, the evolution of the services available and the establishment of reliable and reputable companies online have ensured that the e-commerce model that was established in the 1990s is today able to provide a valuable service to the growing number of students that require help and guidance. Those students do not have a compulsion to cheat and are not lazy, as is suggested by numerous negative articles and studies that have been published in recent years. They do, however, need help to address the deficit in support that is offered to them and this is why the strengthening of the industry in recent years will continue to provide those that need it with a comprehensive and effective service, which will no doubt evolve in the future to accommodate client requirements.
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