by Karen Hollingsworth Gardiner, Academic Integrity Initiatives

What is Contract Cheating?

Contract cheating is the dishonest academic practice of intentionally seeking work done by someone else and submitting it as one’s own, and according to Sarah Elaine Eaton of the University of Calgary, it is on the rise across the globe  — a “black market for academic work [that] is vast and little understood.” Eaton reports that a quick Google search for “Canada” and “write my essay” resulted in over 47 million results. My own quick Google search for “United States” and “write my essay” returned over 170 million options, with “Alabama” and “write my essay” returning over 3 million.

Contract cheating is different from copy-and-paste plagiarism, where sentences or paragraphs are copied from a source into a student’s paper, and the more frequent types of plagiarism, like patchwriting, failed paraphrasing, and sloppy citation or documentation. While all are wrong and should be addressed, contract cheating is more insidious because it involves intentional, rather than inadvertent, cheating. It usually involves paying someone to complete unique, custom-written work for a specific assignment (often a black-market cheating service, an online paper mill, a peer, or a relative), though pay isn’t required.

This practice is clearly unethical and wrong on many levels — not the least of which is that it undermines student learning the entire concept of “earned” degrees  — but it is also surprisingly prevalent. According to a 2013 Turnitin white paper, 7% of students self-report contract cheating, with a much larger 23% reporting that they know a peer who purchased assignments.

Whiteboard Event

On Wednesday, October 18, two A&S programs joined forces to raise student awareness about contract cheating and take a stand against the fraudulent practice. The Office of Academic Integrity Initiatives and the A&S Academic Honor Council held a whiteboard event in the Ferguson Center as part of the International Center for Academic Integrity’s 2nd International Day of Action against Contract Cheating.

During the event, student justices from A&S partnered with justices from Honors College, HES, and Education to talk with fellow students about contract cheating and distribute information. Students were also invited to take a pledge against contract cheating and to write a whiteboard statement declaring why they won’t do it. Photos of the students were then posted to Facebook and Instagram using the ICAI’s hashtags, #defeatthecheat and #excelwithintegrity, to show the world UA students want to help solve the problem of contract cheating.

ICAI held its first international whiteboard event in 2016, with 32 colleges and universities participating in the US and abroad. That event generated over 20,000 whiteboard declarations posted to social media, with over 35,000 countable impressions. This year’s ICAI whiteboard event involved 68 colleges and universities, and preliminary results indicate a large increase in whiteboard social media posts and an even larger increase in impressions (over 1,175,000 countable impressions with #defeatthecheat and 1,250,000 with #excelwithintegrity).

UA students contributed 25 whiteboard posts to this effort, declaring “I don’t contract cheat because . . .” Some of our favorite responses were “I want to earn every A,” “cheaters never win,” “I like knowing my hard work paid off,” “it’s not worth it,” and “my grade is MY grade!” (See all UA contributions on the A&S AHC Facebook page.)

Global Essay Mills Survey

AHC justices also invited students to participate in an international survey on contract cheating. The GEM (Global Essay Mills) survey asks college students from all over the world about their awareness or use of “paper mills.” The survey is anonymous and will help researchers better understand how to prevent contract cheating and promote academic integrity on college campuses everywhere. The survey is open until the end of December 2017. Please encourage your students to participate.

More Information

You can also find good information on contract cheating and strategies for countering cheating culture and preventing and detecting contract cheating at A&S’s Academic Integrity website. Of special interest, there, is a link to the ICAI’s Institutional Toolkit to Combat Contract Cheating, which offers common-sense advice. For instance, what if parents stopped asking about grades and asked about learning instead? And, what can we do to help our students buy into academic integrity?

Combatting contract cheating involves educating everyone: parents, students, faculty, administrators, legislators, and accreditors. We all have a stake in this fight.


Dr. Karen Hollingsworth Gardiner is a professor of English and the coordinator of Academic Integrity Initiatives in the College of Arts and Sciences.