What is Contract Cheating (ghostwriting)?

People do it for speeches; why not assignments?

In the classroom, contract cheating is any form of cheating where a student hires another person to do their work for them. This can include everything from using an essay mill to write a paper, hiring another student to take a test for them, or paying someone to complete all or part of a project.

Contract cheating is most commonly associated with essay mills, where students pay writers to create essays for them. However, contract cheating doesn’t necessarily require a formal agreement between the parties nor does it require money to change hands.

In fact, a recent study found that money usually doesn’t change hands with contract cheating. While 10.4% of students admitted to using a professional service, 60.2% admitted to having used a current or former student. Of those who used a fellow student, only 13.2% paid for the service.

In most cases of contract cheating, it’s an informal exchange of favors or a desire to “help” friends out.

But while this practice is heavily frowned upon in the classroom, it is much less so in other areas.

For example, in book publishing, the practice is referred to as “ghostwriting.” With ghostwriting an anonymous (or only loosely attributed) author writes a book for a celebrity, who is given credit as the author.

Ghostwriting is also common with speeches, in particular in politics, and, increasingly, on company blogs and even some personal blogs.

While the practice of ghostwriting isn’t without controversy, it isn’t frowned upon nearly as heavily as contract cheating. But while the actual act may be very similar, the intent is very different.

For example, with books, there’s little expectation that a celebrity wrote the entirety of their book. If they are not known as a writer, it is widely assumed that they, at the very least, will be getting a great deal of help with their book.

Since there is no audience expectation of originality, there’s no attempt to deceive the audience. Furthermore, with ghostwriting, the person receiving the authorship credit is still very heavily involved in the work. For example, a ghostwritten autobiography is usually written by a ghostwriter working closely with the subject. This is not true with classroom contract cheating.

However, another key difference is that classroom contract cheating defeats the purpose of the assignment. An assignment in a classroom is not just work to be completed, it’s a tool that helps instructors evaluate their students’ understanding of the subject and to help further that understanding through independent work.

By turning to contract cheating, there is no way to for the instructor to fairly evaluate the student’s knowledge and give an accurate grade. Not only does it shortchange the students who did put in the effort, but it shortchanges the cheater by making their education less effective.

So while there may be venues where it’s acceptable to pay someone to write your book or your speech, the classroom is not one of them. Doing so completely defeats the purpose of the assignment.