Cheating, Dishonesty, etc. - What You've Heard About Academic Writing...
There’s no point in beating around the bush. Example academic writing and research has a bad reputation in many circles, including university professors and the mainstream media. It’s considered cheating. It’s considered plagiarism, and the act of writing model essays is considered to be the facilitation of plagiarism. Academic writers are robots churning out the same tired essays on Hamlet and Wal-Mart month after month, year after year, for student after student.
And these are the milder complaints. As far as some folks are concerned, academic writing, research, and editing companies are undermining the integrity of academia, and single-handedly ruining the great institutions that are our colleges and universities.
Let’s take a look at some of these accusations. Not all of them make sense or apply, especially from a philosophical point of view.
Is it Really Cheating?
Cheating is when a student turns in the work of another and presents it as theirs. This can apply to answers on tests (as in the classic situation when students look at someone else’s test paper and copy the answers), and it can apply to papers of all kinds (essays, research papers, and so forth). The important thing to remember here is that cheating is an action performed by the individual who was tasked with the particular assignment. In other words, it is the student who hands in the plagiarized paper who is doing the cheating, and no one else.
Writing model academic papers, then, is not cheating. It is true that some students are going to present the model papers they receive as their own work – that is cheating, and while it is not condoned by reputable academic writing companies, we cannot pretend it does not happen. But the act of writing the papers themselves is not cheating.
If It’s Not Cheating, What Is It?
Writing an academic paper is about the creation of a model that students can use to inform their own work. That is what these things are intended to be, and just because a small percentage of students choose to use them for more insidious purposes does not affect the original intentions.
Models for learning have a highly respected place in academia. When students are learning about a new mathematical concept, they are given dozens and dozens of examples by their instructors – examples which show them how to do their own problems. Even students in more advanced science and math classes can usually bring formula ‘cheat sheets’ into their exams – notecards that contain the critical formulas they need to answer the problems on the test. That isn’t considered cheating – it’s considered an aid to learning.
But when it comes to essays, and especially research and term papers, students are rarely given sufficient (or any) examples of how to write them. Somehow, magically, they are expected to know how to do it. It’s counter-productive to how we learn, but it is the way these things are taught. That’s especially true in classes that are not English-related, such as history or philosophy classes. Somehow, students are supposed to just know how to write these kinds of papers.
Thus, academic writers fill an important gap: they provide the examples for particular kinds of projects from which students can learn, so they can do their own work. It’s not about cheating – it’s about providing an educational aid. Academic writers are like independent creators of Spark Notes; we give students something to work with when their instructors are regrettably unforthcoming in that particular area.
One final note: the reality is that much of academic writing isn’t writing at all; it’s about editing and proofreading. These are services that are regularly endorsed by instructors all over the world, and certainly cannot be thought of as cheating.
Can You Feel Good About Academic Writing?
It depends! If you focus upon the small percentage of students who misuse the models you provide, then academic writing might not be for you. Of course, one can say the same thing about lots of jobs: any given product or service can be twisted to an end that is not ethical. But if you are able to remember that your job is about helping students achieve their goals by creating customized educational aids, then how can that not feel good?