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Term paper ghostwriting has become big business

By George Hammer, associate professor of education, Baruch College, New York City.
Published January 1976

In submitting this article to University Affairs, the author wrote: “Since this academic fraud is widespread in the United States, Canadian educators may want to take steps now to prevent it from spreading across the border”.

What was once a cottage industry of individual craftsmen who did term paper ghostwriting to order at home has gone the way of the hand loom. Ghostwriting term papers has become big business, with a mass-produced product and slick marketing techniques. Although a few traditional craftsmen continue to accept “assignments, research, writing any topic” through discrete advertisements in culturally oriented publications, such as, Saturday Review and New York Review of Books, the modern ghost sells his wares through a mail order catalogue. The purposes of this paper are to illuminate this academic fraud and to propose means of controlling it.

How to buy term papers by mail

To develop a case study on the growing industry of term paper ghostwriting, the writer answered an advertisement in a student newspaper at the university at which he teaches. “ACADEMIC RESEARCH LIBRARY”: the headline in white letters on a black background was eye-catching. The copy underneath offered: “Thousands of Topics. $2.75 per page. Send for your up-to-date, 176-page, mail order catalog of 5500 topics … Enclose $1.00 to cover postage (1-2 days delivery time)”.

The catalogue of Research Help, Inc. (as the company will be called here) came by return airmail and revealed the accouterments of a well-managed, service-oriented business – credit acceptable on Master Charge and BankAmericard, office hours including a half­-day on Saturday, and the logotype “Nation’s Most Extensive Library of Research Material”. The so-called library consists of 5,500 “catalog papers”, mass-reproduced term papers that sell for $2.75 per double-spaced page. If a customer cannot find a suitable in-stock paper in the catalogue, made-to-order model can be had at $5 per page in the field of education ( $6 per page for technical areas, which are considered to be business, economics, law, science, and medicine), written by one of “a staff of professional writers who compile , original research on most topics”.

Thus, a 20-page term paper, if carried in stock and if no special services are required, costs $55. The same paper, if written to order, costs $100 in education and $120 in a technical field. In a period of inflation, students may not find these prices extravagant, especially since “most papers include references at no extra cost”. Besides, satisfaction is assured by a “money back guarantee that the catalog description accurately describes the essence of the paper”.

Apparently no assignment is beyond the capability of Research Help’s super-scholars. Custom-made research is usually completed in 16 days. A rush order can be had in 1 to 15 days at $1 extra per page. If this does not enable a student to fulfill his scholarly duty on time, Research Help asks the customer to call in the order by telephone. The ultimate ser­vice, “theses assistance”, must be discussed over the telephone rather than ordered on the handy, enclosed “order form for original research”.

The quality of the product a student gets for his money is good, apparently good enough to take in hundreds of college teachers across the country. A sample page included in the catalogue was satisfactory in grammar, style and content. Nevertheless, an omnipresent danger threatens the student who uses ghostwritten term papers. The writer found several recent examples at his own and at other local colleges, where two students in a class handed in the identical paper with predictably unhappy consequences. Therefore the writer queried Research Help, Inc. about this potential “very embarrassing situation” and received prompt reply by signed letter. Research Help answered, “If someone from the same school orders it we let them know and they make their own decision as to whether to purchase it or not”.

When it was called to the attention of Research Help that the sample page in their catalogue referred to a California journal that would not be available in libraries in the writer’s area, they responded, “References on pre-written research would have to be deleted by yourself and others substituted”. The writer asked, “Is it possible to use only references from books and journals that are included on a particular reading list?” Research Help answered, “In the case of an original research you could supply the reference list and we could try to do the work from the list provided”.

Students interviewed in strict confidence by the writer revealed that the practice of buying ghostwritten term papers is widespread. No one student interviewed was unaware of the practice; every student could relate several examples of which he had direct knowledge. It became apparent, however, that the incriminating nature of an investigation int fraudulent use of term papers would prevent the gathering of sufficient data from which to draw quantitative conclusions. Yet the following case study, drawn from interviews with students, describes a typical example. The facts are actual.

A case study of term paper fraud

A professor in a class in education has assigned a term paper on the culturally disadvantaged learner, and William Student sets out to fulfill the requirement. The locus of William’s search for information is not a library, but the Research Help catalogue, which contain seven pages of listings in the education section, giving descriptions of almost 250 term papers. Examination of the listings indicates that eight papers deal explicitly with the assigned topic and many more contribute to it in part or peripherally. Among the promising candidates for purchase are the following:

Schools and the Disadvantaged Child. A study of the characteristics of inner-city children and how the schools are failing to meet their needs. Suggestions are listed for improved educational programs. Bibliography 27 pp.


Minority Education in the Public Schools. Focuses on the teacher-student relationship. Calls for many changes including more teachers from minority groups and more emphasis on different cultures. Bibliography. 7 pp.


Culturally Disadvantaged. Discusses some characteristic problems, the group’s educational needs and programs and remedies to help these students. Footnotes, Bibliography. 7 pp.


How the Public Schools Have Failed to Meet the Needs of Minority Students. Argues in favor of the Black Community controlling its own education system. Footnotes. Bibliography. 7 pp.


Headstart Program. Discusses the origins and purposes of the program. Contends that poverty can be eliminated through education. Footnotes. 15 pp.

William Student, in his way, is doing research for his assignment. The descriptions of available papers are read carefully to discern the implications of each word and descriptive phrase. William tries to determine the point of view in each paper. In the end, his choice is based upon size. He purchases the item listed last above because it is 15 pages in length, 5 pages more than asked for in the assignment. It is William’s practice to hand in papers that exceed by a modest amount the length specified by his instructors in order to confirm their opinion of his eager scholarship.

William is confident in his choice because his professor has many times referred enthusiastically to the Headstart program. While William fills in his Master Charge ac­count number for the purchase of $41.25, he considers how desirable it would be to include a few cogent sentences and well chosen foot­notes from another paper on Black dialect which “argues that dialects limit the child’s ability to acquire the type of knowledge now taught in the schools”. Spending an extra $27.50, however, merely to excerpt a· few paragraphs from a 10-page paper seems unconscionably profligate, and William feels that his purchase, which already exceeds the required length, is sufficient evidence of his scholarship.

William’s assessment of the situation is accurate. His professor will be enthusiastic about this group of sophomores who do careful library work and possess literate writing styles that he feared had vanished from the halls of higher education. The professor will have reason to be pleased: four students in this class besides William are submitting purchased term papers so that the cost of the literary output the professor will evaluate is over $150.

How to wipe out term paper ghostwriting

It is not the purpose of this paper to analyze student cheating vis-a-vis the social-political­-economic climate. The intention here is to describe the circumstances and to offer means of’ eliminating a practice, which, while participated in by relatively small numbers of students, has a debilitating effect upon student morale and the body academic. A prominent recommendation of students who were interviewed for this study was that professors discuss the ethics and responsibilities of learning with students. Let students know that you are aware, as they are, of temptations to lessen academic pressures and indicate your conviction that they will act with responsibility. Make certain that your assignments have valid learning purposes, which are understood by students, and can be completed satisfactorily by a student who puts forth honest and reasonable effort.

Know your students, the quality of their thinking, and their literary style. When a term paper is far superior to other evidences of a student’s work, an informal discussion of the student’s research sources and of his substan­tive analysis is recommended by many professors. When students learn that their intellectual efforts are open to scrutiny, they are less likely to use ghostwritten research. University administrators can enhance faculty efforts to eliminate academic fraud by clearly stating in the college catalogue the action that will be taken against students who submit ghostwritten term papers and by treating violations with firm administrative resolve.

The best ways to put large suppliers of ghostwritten term papers out of business are to prevent them from using the mails and to outlaw the commercial preparation and dissemination of such materials. Initiate a campaign through your professional organizations and enlist the support of governmental officials to introduce appropriate legislation. Only a concerted effort of all concerned persons can wipe out the huge and harmful practice of academic ghostwriting. The effort is needed because ghostwriting strikes at the core of the educational process and, thus, at the heart of a free society.

George Hammer is associate professor of education, Baruch College, New York City.

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