I approached the shop on Yonge Street a little nervous, uncertain of what I’d find. Chain-smoking felons? Security dogs?
I found a clean store staffed by an intelligent, personable man named Mike. I told him I wanted a run-down. He said that master’s graduates write all the essays and they have a writer for each subject, from biology to philosophy. He showed me a database on his computer screen with at least 30 names. I asked how many customers he had and he showed me a weekly schedule that appeared to show more than 25 essays per week. The price was normally $30 per page but would only be $25 per page for me since there was a promotion that day and I was wiling to wait five days. Next-day service was still $35 per page.
Mike wouldn’t answer me about whether I would be cheating if I handed in the essay as my own.
“We don’t really have that conversation here,” he said. “It’s all original work; it’s not plagiarized.”
“So, students do not receive plagiarized work but once money exchanges hands The Essay Place is no longer responsible for students’ actions?” I asked.
“I think we’re on the same page,” he said.
With that, I paid half of my $120 bill by credit card. I paid the other half later online when I downloaded the essay from their website.
I went undercover last week as a potential customer of The Essay Place in Toronto to investigate the unethical process of purchasing an essay, something that likely occurs online or at shops in university towns across Canada this time of year. I had an instructor at Ryerson University, where I’m a first-year journalism student, analyze the work for signs of unoriginality. I learned that it is an easy thing for a sleep-deprived student to do but that professors say it’s not worth the risk.
I used a real assignment due this week, an English essay based on the novel Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín. I chose that assignment partly because it asks a very specific question about the theme of the novel and demands direct quotation; it would be obvious if the writer did not read the book.
When I contacted professors explaining this investigation and asking for a willing participant to analyze the essay, a common response was to direct me to Ryerson’s Student Code of Academic Conduct, which warned that turning in a purchased essay is considered plagiarism and would result in a fine or dismissal from my program. Of course, I had no intention of turning it in.
I wanted to know more, so I called Mike and told him of the investigation. I asked whether he thought handing in another person’s work is plagiarism. “Yes I do,” he said. When I asked whether he was aware that his customers were likely doing just that, he said, “I would prefer not to comment.”
I showed my purchased essay to Dan Westell, a Ryerson Journalism instructor. Although not an English professor, he is well-versed in the writing and research capabilities of a typical first-year student. He advised me that he could tell the essay I provided was abnormal.
“I think from just reading the first paragraph that it’s more sophisticated than most first-year students would write.” What set off his plagiarism alarm was the lack of grammar and syntax errors.
The bottom line is that handing in someone’s work under your name is plagiarism. Besides, my English professor could probably tell that the essay was not my own had I handed it in. Any red flag raised would pose a risk. It’s cheating and consequences range from receiving a mark of zero on the assignment and a “Disciplinary Notice” on a permanent record to expulsion from the program.
At $35 per page, students can quickly obtain well-written custom essays. But those students could also buy some coffee, pull an all-nighter and avoid the guilt and danger of getting caught.