Think back to your school days; were you the student who actively shielded your work from the prying eyes of your classmates during a test? Or perhaps you shot an occasional furtive glance over your peer’s shoulder in the hope of enlightenment? What we’ll all remember is that copying was frowned upon if not subject to outright punishment. At the Advertising Standards Authority we’ve recently been scrutinising ads in the education sector with concerns around plagiarism a key concern.
Academic achievements can play a significant part in shaping our future prospects. It’s perhaps unsurprising then that an entire industry has sprung up around helping students get ahead. Help books and study aids, online forums and mock exams are ubiquitous resources and tools.
But there are other tools available to the modern student. Enter the ‘essay mill’.
Essay writing services are companies that sell ready-made essays to students. We’ve received complaints about ads for these services, including from The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), challenging whether they are misleading. Specifically, concerns have been raised about whether the ads make sufficiently clear the risks associated with submitting purchased essays and, indeed, imply that students can hand an essay in as their own.
We’ve formally investigated two essay writing companies this year, All Answers Ltd trading as UK Essays, and Thoughtbridge Consulting Ltd. In both cases, our published rulings set out why the ads were likely to mislead.
Phrases such as “Get the grades you need and achieve more today! … GRADE GUARANTEE”; “Get the grade you ordered first time”; “Plagiarism Free”, and “…. the first company in the world to offer you guaranteed 2:1 and 1st class work” all added to a misleading sense that students could submit purchased essays as their own without risks.
Both companies argued they merely provided model answers for students to use as a learning exercise and resource to start from when writing their own work for submission. We weren’t swayed by that argument.
We considered the ads gave an overall impression that students would be able to submit the purchased essays as their own, particularly because of the anti-plagiarism and grade guarantee claims. Moreover, we considered they misleadingly implied that doing so was without risk and that all grades were guaranteed when that was not the case.
Why does this matter? Our advertising rules require that ads are truthful. That’s a simple but important tenet. We should be able to trust the ads we see and hear and that means not being misled as to the nature of an offer. Ads across media, including online and in social media, should be responsible and treat consumers fairly.
We can’t, of course, speak on behalf of the academic community but imagine that standards matter in this arena more so than most. Educational institutions and examination boards place an emphasis on the rigour and excellence of their learning and assessments. Within that, the integrity of a student’s body of work is paramount. Plagiarism is a cardinal sin.
There are, of course, wider concerns about essay mills that extend beyond how they are advertised. Broader disquiet and misgivings about these services is doubtless something the academic sector is grappling with. But while essay mills are allowed to advertise we’ll play our role in making sure they don’t copy previous misleading claims.
About the Author
Matt Wilson is the Senior Media Relations Officer at the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Matt’s role is to communicate and promote advertising self-regulation and the ASA’s role through media relations.
If you've enjoyed this blog post, make sure you read our past blog about esssay mills: Milling Around: Why an increasing number of of students trying to submit plagiarised work?