Ghostwriters, Inc.—Makeshift
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Academic essay mills employ ghostwriters to deliver quality homework for a living

— Ghostwriters, Inc.

08. Copycats Dispatches

You were tempted, admit it. You were 21 and A) overwhelmed, B) exhausted, or C) lazy. With a bit of money to spare, why not pay someone to write a university essay for you?

If you gave in to this thought and commissioned a custom essay for a UK university, it’s possible you have John Duncan to thank. As an academic ghostwriter, John says he wrote hundreds of essays over a five-year career.

“In terms of scope, I did pretty much everything,” he recalls—geography, law, nursing, philosophy, business. John could write and deliver whatever you wanted at any level of higher education.

Originally, John needed to find a way to keep living in Guatemala. So under the name of his ex-girlfriend, who had a master’s degree, he went back to writing university essays—a sort of ‘ghostwriter squared’-type equation. He excelled.

“I know what professors are looking for. To get a first at British universities, you need to write with a degree of arrogance as if you know the subject inside out.” It’s something John would have been embarrassed to do if the piece had his name on it.

John ended up writing as many as 60 master’s theses. In the peak months around the end of a term, he earned USD 10,000 in a month. Hilariously, he once wrote a piece analyzing the different types of plagiarism and whether commissioning someone to do your own assignment should be considered cheating. Very meta.

Those who benefitted from his work never knew John. He communicated with an online middleman putting student needs in the hands of anonymous scribes across the world. These middlemen assure it’s not stealing ideas but rather an “academic resource”.

Four years left John exasperated—not with the ethics of the work (“The students have their own consciences to appease”) but with the unwillingness to call the work what it is.

“The way the essay mills get around it is by claiming these pieces they’re selling are only to be used as a resource. I got sick of the hypocrisy that they know their product is not being used correctly, but no one is ever going to prove that.”

A simple Google search produces hundreds of companies like John’s former employer, to whom you can submit the criteria for your assignment (product type, subject, grade required, length, deadline) and receive an instant quote. One site spit out a price of USD 900 for a 2,000-word, master’s A-level economics paper in seven days. The site assures the work will be original and plagiarism-free—and that you’re not cheating.

Copyright and data protection laws (which differ slightly by country) safeguard essay mills from having to divulge commissioning of pieces. Thus, universities who wish to combat the activity would find it difficult. Most students feel too embarrassed to come forward. So thousands of top grades from top schools continue to emerge from a grey economy of talented writers who don’t officially exist.

John, for his part, now writes fiction under his own name.



Chinese manufacturers open their information—to those they can trust

— Gongkai

08. Copycats Dispatches