Profiling the international academic ghost writers who are providing low-cost essays and assignments for the contract cheating industry

Thomas Lancaster, (2018) “Profiling the international academic ghost writers who are providing low-cost essays and assignments for the contract cheating industry”, Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society,



Students have direct access to academic ghost writers who are able to provide for their assessment needs without the student needing to do any of the work. These ghost writers are helping to fuel the international industry of contract cheating, raising ethical dilemmas, but not much is known about the writers, their business or how they operate. This paper aims to explore how the ghost writers market their services and operate, based on observable information.


This paper reviews data from providers actively offering contract cheating services available to the public on, a low-cost micro outsourcing site. The search term write essay is used to identify providers, finding 103 Gigs from 96 unique providers. Visible information, such as provider marketing, advertised services, pricing information and customer reviews, is analysed.


The results demonstrate that bespoke essays are readily available to students at a low cost. The majority of providers operate from Kenya. Revenue calculations indicate a price point of US$31.73 per 1,000 words, below the cost of traditional essay mills, but show that these 96 providers have generated around US$270,000 of essay writing business between them.


This study affords a look into a complex and established industry whose inner workings are normally kept private and for which little published information currently exists. The research adds to what is known about the extent, location and operation of the contract cheating industry.

Student Union Support For Stopping Contract Cheating Is Growing

Do students think that we should “defeat the cheat”? Or should we “excel with integrity”?

It’s really great to see Students Unions getting on board to share the message that cheating is wrong.

Here’s a video discussion which originally formed a live broadcast on Facebook between Darren Clarke, Student Union President at Staffordshire University and Dr. Thomas Lancaster. This was recorded as part of the 2nd International Day of Action against Contract Cheating.

At the end, you can see Darren give his whiteboard declaration showing his support for the campaign.

We’re encouraging more Student Unions to support events like this. They don’t have to be timed with the International Day of Action (which was also Global Ethics Day). Getting students involved in saying no to cheating is really having a positive effect on academic integrity.

Rethinking Assessment By Examination In The Age Of Contract Cheating

Lancaster, T. and Clarke, R., 2017. Rethinking Assessment By Examination In The Age Of Contract Cheating.


In this age of contract cheating, where students are paying and using third parties to complete their work, there are many educators who are advocating a return to assessment through tests and examinations. The standard argument is usually that the level of examination security is such that the student alone is being tested and that an external body cannot be used to provide unacknowledged support for this process. Some academics seem to be have the view that the traditional type of assessment by examination is valued by employers more than coursework. However, opponents of assessment through examination note the restrictive form of this type of assessment, that many examination papers focus mainly on recall and memory and that examinations provide little opportunity for students to develop extended arguments and portfolio pieces. Assessment through examination does not seem to be the sole solution to contract cheating.

This paper builds on previous work, mostly published in the form of presentations and blog posts, that looks at the methods of contract cheating that have been used in an examination setting. It includes examples of student contract cheating requests used in an examination scenario, including several taken from a collection of over 30,000 contract cheating requests developed by contract cheating detectives during their investigative process. Examples covered demonstrate susceptibilities in the way that many examinations are set and invigilated. These are vulnerabilities that leave exams open to external cheating and which need to be closed. An issue is particularly noted with examinations taken online and outside of a traditional supervised environment. Even within an invigilated examination, external support can be provided through new technologies, including smartwatches, cameras and earpieces. These allow a student to communicate to someone hired through a contract cheating process and operating outside of an examination room.

The paper argues that assessment needs to continue to evolve to ensure that this is secure, fit for purpose and ensures that a student who is cheating cannot receive a qualification that they do not deserve. It is stated that the use of mixed modalities of assessment is necessary to ensure academic integrity and authentic assessment now needs to be at the forefront of this process. Practical considerations for academics setting examinations are discussed in the paper to ensure that good practice is fed back into the classroom. |