A Personal Point about Plagiarism

The life of an editor is (almost) always interesting. One gets to read in a vast array of fields and about a vast array of topics in those fields. Ideally, one has the privilege of witnessing the development and distillation of a considered or evidence-based opinion on the part of one’s client, and often both.

Photo by Surface on Unsplash

I say ideally because I have become aware of how many postgraduate students and even academics pay other people, so-called ghost writers, to do the course papers, literature reviews, methodological designs, and sometimes the entire research project for them. Just this week I respectfully declined what could have been a lucrative project with what appears to be an agency when I pointed out that where I come from, what the agent was asking me to do would be considered unethical: I am not registered for that course at that university. I suggested that if the student felt inclined, he or she could approach me directly on Upwork, and I would be willing help the student better articulate his or her answers to the questions posed in the course handout. I pointed out also that the question paper made it clear that a student paying someone to complete the question paper is as about as close as one gets to plagiarizing.

Here is why it not a good idea to have a ghost writer write your dissertation, thesis, or paper for you:

  • In the long-term, the value of the piece of paper you receive is scuttled: Being awarded a degree allows others to assume you are adept at sifting through, processing, and distilling information (text and data) and possess and can apply those skills in order to come to considered or evidence-based opinions that will set a course of action. Some of you with a ghost’s piece of paper are going land responsible positions, positions that affect and influence many people—powerful positions: public service, executive status, government. If you have not taken the time and trouble to learn the skills involved in sifting through, processing, and distilling information to reach a considered or evidence-based opinion, you will flounder, and your followers will flounder with you. Using a ghost writer in an academic context is setting yourself up to fail.
  • A second reason is that as it becomes more and more evident that students employ people to read their degrees for them, when they flounder at what they are assumed to have mastered, the worth of the piece of paper for those students who actually earned their degrees is also devalued.
  • A third reason rests on the degree to which the practice is fraudulent. On a deeper level, we reveal ourselves in how we write, in the words we choose and the way we put our sentences together as well as what we choose to address and how. If someone else writes a student’s paper, chapter, or entire dissertation, there will be a notable incongruence between how the person awarded the degree presents in person and what he or she claims to know in writing.
  • The final and perhaps most important reason is that the graduate with the voice of ghost has also done him or herself out of an opportunity to become empowered. Having someone else process and give voice to the distillation process means you have never taken up the challenge of developing your own voice. If you are going to be counted among those who made a difference in this world, you need to have a voice, your own voice, not the voice of a ghost.

That said, the story has a beautiful ending. Just hours after respectfully declining the offer, I received a literal flurry of invites from students who are willing to earn their pieces of paper but were needing help with learning how to think like a researcher, distilling and articulating their understanding of others’ considered and evidence-based opinions, and writing their own understanding (and considered and evidence-based opinions) up in their own voices, or just simply needing a trained eye to make sure they had not missed something.

And so, my faith in the next generation is restored. Let’s hope those students who actually earned their degrees and took up the challenge of developing their own voices are the one’s appointed to responsible positions because there is an awful lot to be reconstructed going forward, and it is going to take a generation who can think clearly and voice their considered opinions.


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