I get a fair number of questions from writers wondering whether essay mills are legitimate freelance markets. My response: Caveat writer. Big time.
What's an essay mill? A website where customers can buy term papers, research papers, and/or dissertations, and writers can (theoretically) be paid for writing them. There are scores of these sites online--EssayWriters.net, Eduwriters.com, BigPapers.com, Buyaresearchpaper.com, 4termpapers.com, Custom-Writing.org, to name just a few. Sometimes, a single company will own multiple URLs.
Essay mills advertise for writers online or in venues like Craigslist, promising easy work and good pay. Some, such as Essaywriters.net, even claim to offer bonuses. Especially if you're an aspiring writer looking to build credits, you might be tempted. But there are reasons to think twice--and then to think again.
- It can be a pain in the ass. Many essay mills, such as Academia-Research.com, promise writers flexible schedules and the ability to pick and choose which orders they take. The flip side of this is that they typically allow purchasers to demand almost unlimited editing and revision. For instance, Customwrittenpapers.net promises "free unlimited revisions." And StandOutEssay.com, in its pitch to customers, describes its process thus: "Normally, the process starts with regular research, continues with planning, crafting a rough draft and then writing, re-writing, and editing until the customized paper meets your expectations."
What this means for writers: anything you write may come back to you multiple times for changes and revision (and remember, your customer will be a student too lazy to write his or her own research paper, who very likely knows way less than you do about the subject of the essay). This is time for which you get no extra money, because you're usually being paid on a per-page or flat fee basis. Hour by hour, what looks like attractive pay can work out to a pittance.
- You could lose copyright. Some essay mills claim copyright on all papers written for them--essentially, it's work-for-hire. Given that you're writing for others and may never want to use the work yourself, this may not be a big concern for you--still, it's something to be aware of.
- Payment is not guaranteed. Complaints about essay mills abound, most centering on money. Writers report slow payment, non-payment, and non-communication when they question or complain. Here's a typical nonpayment complaint involving Essaywriters.net. These nonpayment complaints focus on Academia-Research.com.
(Customers also report bad dealings--Scamessays.com and Essayscam.org are just two of several websites devoted to discussing customer problems with essay mills. I have no sympathy. As cheaters, it's only cosmic justice if they get cheated themselves.)
- It won't count as a pro writing credit. Many sites claim to customers that their writers are BA's and PhD's, but in practice, they are likely to be much less selective. You yourself may turn out an impeccable research paper, but you'll be working alongside a lot of people whose writing isn't up to professional standards, or who aren't above borrowing their source material from someone else (many of the complaints at Essayscam.org involve papers written by people whose first language clearly wasn't English, or papers later discovered to be partially or wholly plagiarized). More than that--although they aren't illegal, essay mills are widely recognized as disreputable. Which brings me to my final--and most important--point:
- It's ultra-sleazy. Your customers will be college and high school students too lazy to write their own papers. Essay mills don't want you to believe this, of course, and try to dodge such criticism by claiming that the papers they provide are only templates on which the students can model their own work, or that they're providing academic resources the students can cite in footnotes, or that they don't condone cheating and instruct their customers not to use the essays dishonestly.
Here's a typical disclaimer, from Bigpapers.com's terms of sale: "Custom written papers by BigPapers.com are to be used for research purposes only...BigPapers.com does not endorse nor tolerates any form of whole or partial plagiarism or any activity that will facilitate cheating." Or from Custom-Writing.org's Terms and Conditions: "Custom-Writing.org presents a prototype work that is intended to be used for further research." OxbridgeEssays.com, which claims to hire only students or graduates of Oxford and Cambridge, explains itself thus: "Our service is dedicated to supplying model answers to client’s academic questions, and in this we consider our work no different at all from private tutors who guide students to the model way of answering a question, often by writing-out such an answer just as we do." They also claim to "strictly require of our clients that they never submit our work as their own." I'm sure their customers treat that stricture with the respect it deserves.
My favorite is the evocatively-named EssayCheat.net's delightfully weaselly rationale for why using its service is not, in fact, cheating:
Take, for example, a lecturer who sets a nice easy essay question: ‘Who was John F Kennedy?’. Most students will use Google to search for initial information on this topic and they will find some 7.6 million answers to their question. The process of reading through these answers is not cheating. However - if the student takes one of the answers and hands it in, passing it off as their own work, then without doubt, they are cheating. In fact, there are many more subtle ways they could use their material to cheat - rewording a website they found, rearranging words, citing the source but relying too heavily on the material - and so on. But they could also use the material as a guide and write their own, original answer to the question set. In the same way, a student who orders a custom essay can use the essay as a guide and can write their own original answer to the question that has been set for them. They can even do their own research.
Uh huh. But if they could do their own research, they wouldn't need to buy a paper, now would they?
Disclaimers are all very well. But the bottom line is that people who buy from these services are not looking for templates or footnote material or guidance--they are paying others to do work they should be doing themselves, and passing that work off as their own. Essay mills are almost universally condemned--and not just by colleges and universities whose harried instructors fight ongoing battles against plagiarism and cheating (see, for instance, Plagiarized.com). In 2007, Google banned ads from paper-writing services, adding essay mills to its blacklist of unacceptable ad content, which includes, among others, ads for anabolic steroids, ads for escort services, and ads for illegal drugs and drug paraphenalia.