The “ghost” behind the academic writing

Friday, 17 July, 2015

Rachel, a student in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne, was motivated to contact a writer to finish a case study she was struggling with. “The due day is getting closer, but I still have no idea about how to structure it, and I don’t want to fail. If I fail, It will cost me thousands of dollars to re-enroll the subject. So expensive!,” she said.

Paying for ghostwriting is not rare. Last year, the Sydney Morning Herald revealed that more than 1000 students from 16 universities paid a Sydney-based agent named “Mymaster” for the ghostwriting service.

Amanda Trevisanut, a Doctor of Culture and Communication at University of Melbourne, defines ghostwriting as collusion, one of the academic misconduct behaviors.

Right now, the agent website is shut down. However, paying for ghostwriting still widely exists.

More than 10 million results will come up in just 0.35 seconds when you search the phrase “essay writer Australia” on Google.

The ghostwriting service covers all sorts of the common homework in colleges and universities, including essays, reports, case studies and article critiques.

Detailed introduction of ghostwriting process is provided on the websites of these agents. Place the custom order online, provide personal details and the specific requirements for the assignment, and the ghostwriting process will start.

The progress can be traced by contacting the client service staff online via several ways (live chat, e-mail, or phoning). The staff play a role as an inter-media in the conversation between the student clients and writers. They deliver the special demands, feedback and suggestions from student customers to the writers, while transferring the writer’s questions on assignments to students.

After processing the order, clients can receive the e-mail with the finished draft and a plagiarism report via Turnitin, one of the websites which checks the similarity of academic assignments. At this stage, the free modification service will also be offered. “We can correct the part where the clients do not satisfy with according to what they want free of charge, if they fail to pass, they will receive a full refund.” said Sara, one of the client service staff of the ghost writing agent.

Some agents decide the prices according to the level of degree, grade and number of words. On average, an undergraduate essay with 1000 words is worth 135 dollars, 150 dollars and 170 dollars depending on the levels of pass, good and distinctive. Postgraduate essays will be 10 dollars higher in each level. A PHD essay is 15 dollars more expensive in each level.

“Assignments of different degrees are handled by the writers with different academic levels, the higher level that the writers have, the more expensive that the essay will be,” explained Sara.

Some agents even take the duration into account to determine the price. It’s cheaper if you have more time until the deadline. A standard essay with 4 pages and 1000 words will be paid 175 dollars in 6 hours, but it’s just 80 dollars if you have 10 days until the deadline.

All the ghostwriters have a tertiary education background in native universities. “All of them are current students or graduates with at least master degree and excellent grade in their universities, some of them even work as tutor and teaching assistant. So they are very familiar with the local education system and the demand of assignment. It would secure the quality of essays in the ‘pass’ level at least,” said Sara.

These ghostwriters major in most of the disciplines include business, engineering, art and communications. “They are just in charge of the academic area that they are familiar with, and we definitely arrange the writer in the same major with client to write the essay for them.” said Sara.

The personal details of ghostwriters are protected by the agents. “We have signed the confidentiality agreements with all the writers, that is the reason why clients can just contact the writers via us.” explained Sara. “The release of their real identity will ruin their reputation and make they lose job, it is also unbeneficial to our student clients.”

Good payments are the main reason why the ghostwriter can be choose as a job. “The applicator should be current student who study in master or PHD at least, the week salary for them will be 600 dollars,” is written on the recruitment notice on the website of one of the agents.

“That salary is really much higher than mine!” said Alex. She is doing a part-time job as a waiter in a Japanese restaurant, and she works 20 hours every week from Monday to Friday. Her wage is 10 dollars per hour. What she earns in total is just 200 per week, one third as much as the salary offered by agent with academic ghostwriting service.

Some ghostwriters even work independently after having an experience of writing for agent. Cici is a PHD student in one of the top universities in Queensland. She has been working as a ghostwriter for 5 years. In the first 3 years, she worked for an agent. “Writers should share the remuneration with agent, normally, they can just be assigned 30% to 50% of that,” she said.

Right now, she works as a individual writer and receives 140 dollars per thousand ghostwritten words. Through the introduction of friends, she has accumulated a stable group of customers. The process of ghostwriting is nearly the same; the only difference is the clients can contact the writer directly.

“There are three to four months of rush period of essay writing every year, it is around the mid-term and the end of semester. At the moment, quite a lot students will contact me and ask for a ghostwriting,” said Cici. During the rush period, every week she wrote about 5  essays, half of the assignments being more than 3000 words each.

Cici defends the job and describe it as a student helper.

“What I do can help them to graduate on time,” she said. “Meanwhile I can also earn some living fee.”

However, she also knows that students would face severe punishment if the ghostwriting came into light.

“They will fail and cost thousands dollars for re-enrollment, some of them may be even sent back to their countries. That is the reason why I take this job seriously, and I always try best to assure the assignment quality. Last year, all the student I serviced passed,” acknowledged Cici.

As for why students can pay for ghostwriting, Amanda thinks it is because collusion is much harder to discover, compared with plagiarism.

“Plagiarism can be detected by Turnitin, but I don’t know if there are any suitable approaches or tools can detect the collusion like ghostwriting. Even sometimes I can suspect it from the different writing style and quality of different assignment, but it is just a speculation without enough evidence,” explained Amanda.

Amanda also attributed the problem to the “degree to immigration” bond.

“Some international students, they come here just for a permanent resident identity after graduate instead of learning knowledge. However, pass the courses is still too challenging for them,”she said.

After the “Mymaster” cheating scandal, some Australia universities have taken action to crack down the ghostwriting problem. On 13 April 2015, the vice-chancellor of the University of Sydney announced to establish a university-wide taskforce on academic misconduct. The University of Newcastle announced it had issued 24 fail grades, two expulsions and eight suspensions in March.

“Anyway, ghostwriting is a terrible dishonest behavior, so please stop paying for the service,” Amanda warned students.

Some interviewees’ names changed for legal and anonymity reasons.