Academic cheating is not new or particularly inventive. There are, all in all, only a few ways to misrepresent your grasp of information.

Of the available options, contracting ghost writers, or paying someone to do another person’s coursework, has long been the most difficult to detect and eradicate because catching it relies at least in part on a sense of teacher intuition—that something about the turned-in work doesn’t quite align. However, if a student starts out using academic pinch hitters or invests in personalizing the material, even teacher intuition can be blunted.

Add to that the reality that, even when it’s suspected, ghost writing is one of the more difficult forms of malfeasance to prove. Unless it’s outright, undebated plagiarism, a charge of “I think this is not your work” can be slippery to make stick.

How to fight back against contract cheating

A recent survey from Turnitin, the company that’s helped thousands of schools detect and deter plagiarism, underscores the points about the prevalence of ghost writing in academic communities, as well its difficulty to substantiate. According to the survey of more than 1,000 higher-education instructors in the U.S. and Canada, nearly one in three (32 percent) suspected a student of turning in work that was done by someone else. Two in three said they may not act on those suspicions due to “insufficient evidence.”

(Next page: Ways to wipe out contract cheating)

About the Author:

Derek Newton is a writer based in New York City who’s written about education for The Atlantic, Huffington Post, and other publications. He served as vice president of the progressive think tank, The Century Foundation.


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