Cheating and other Scholastic Taboos

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There’s a post in my department which warns “last semester, there was an instance of dual-submission and copy-right infringement. This is strictly against the university policies and, from now on, will be dealt with severely.” As a rule-breaker, I immediately suspected myself (I had use the same topic for two different classes, although I wrote unique essays) but I checked my transcripts and had straight A’s as always.
When, if ever, is it OK to cheat in school? Who does it hurt? What are the risks and benefits? What about more gray moral issues like getting a paper edited professionally? Students who have trouble writing essays, or are at least concerned about their academic success, might be asking themselves, “Should I use Copy Editing or Proofreading Services for my Essay, Thesis and Dissertation?”

Recently there was a rumor that Google would shut down all the “Essay Writing Service” websites on the internet because they have become so popular with students as a way of getting out of doing their assignments.

Although the concern is obvious – students are essentially lying to their teachers when they hand in an essay they didn’t write – the implications of Google’s actions are controversial.

These essay writing services fill a need, and fill it well. The fact that they have become ubiquitous is a testament to their popularity. Can Google (a web giant based on its own self-proclaimed motto, “we index everything”) legitimately ban sites based on ethical infringements?

Well, first of all, Google is not the moral Nazi-esque power instigating the change. They are simply a business trying to keep the support of their faithful customers. They can either listen to the up-standing citizens of the educational institutions who demand that internet services providing essay writing be banned, or they can listen to a handful of money-grubbing entrepreneurs who are providing a somewhat morally opaque solution to clients who may not necessarily be better off for it.

Not to say that paying for writing is bad. Businesses spend billions of dollars a year hiring writers to write their ads, letters, company profiles, etc for them. Good writing pays, so it’s worthwhile to get your writing done by experts. The same would seem to apply to students. After all, although writing a good essay is a challenging task, which builds character and will increase your written and oral communication, most students may not necessarily see the rewards of doing all the work themselves, especially if they get a low grade that haunts their future career opportunities.

The whole situation is a little similar to Tobacco Company controversies: Tobacco is bad for people, but adults have the freedom to use it anyway. Kids and teenagers shouldn’t use it, but they do anyway. On the general principle of “protecting youth until they can protect themselves”, efforts should be made to stop them from getting it. (It = tobacco/paid essay writing). Just because it’s there, doesn’t make it good.

A less controversial, but more delicate question is whether students should get their essays edited. Professional proofreading and copy editing, in general is marketed towards publication materials that have to be absolutely free from error. Manuscripts get proofread before publication just to catch little mistakes like typos and bad punctuation.

Copy editing and proofreading services for students can take students’ own ideas, their own writing, and show them how to improve it. Most students will check what the copy editing services have actually fixed, which helps them to realize what choices they could make in the future to write more effectively.

In one sense, this might even be better than writing it all yourself – many students are happy with their B- average and have a precise knowledge of just how much work it will take them to get there. Since grades alone give no motivation to improve, most students will keep the same poor study and writing habits without ever trying to change them. They’ll work just hard enough for their B-, then crumple the paper up and throw it away with no real sense of satisfaction.

With online editing and proofreading services, students have what amounts to a professional writing tutor. Sure, they charge, but when a student chooses to invest in his own academic career, he’s bound to take himself more seriously.

Of course, for graduate students writing a thesis or dissertation, proofreading becomes almost necessary. Having a clean, well-written document is almost as important as the research itself as a device to express professionalism. Getting your thesis or dissertation proofread by editorial experts is a great way to make sure it’s flawless.

The Conclusion? You won’t go to hell if you cheat. Cheating can get you better grades and more opportunities, and make you very successful (as long as no one finds out.) However, you’ll never actually become a better, more capable and confident person.