It's the night before a paper is due and you haven't even cracked open a book yet. Do you grovel to your professor, asking for an extension -- knowing you will forever be branded a slacker? Or do you just suck it up and hope for the best? Several Web sites are hoping to take advantage of these moments of weakness by offering essays at the touch of a button.
Of the more than 70 turn paper "mills" that have sprung up on the Internet in recent years, most advertise themselves as a new electronic repository for down-loadable college papers. Literally thousands of essays are available on a wide variety of topics -- most written by college students for specific classes. And while most of the sites claim to be a source for ideas, not plagiarism, names like Cheater.com and Cheathouse.com suggest otherwise.
The Web's nefarious possibilities are no secret to college students, or professors for that matter. Nyeema Watson, a senior at Rutgers University in New Jersey, says she has never used a turn paper "mill" personally, but most students know they exist. "Unless your professor is willing to go look for (plagiarism), you can go to a Web site and take someone else's paper off there verbatim," Watson says.
A recent study conducted by Donald L. McCabe, a professor of organizational management at Rutgers's Newark campus, shows that 80 percent of students surveyed from the Who's Who Among High School Students admitted to having cheated. A similar study conducted by a team of professors found that three-quarters of the 2,000 students surveyed at nine large public institutions had admitted to one or more serious instances of cheating on tests or written assignments.
Some of the old tricks: Writing answers to the test under the brim of your hat, knocking on the corner of the desk to indicate multiple-choice answers and bringing in a crib sheet loaded with answers. ("Students have perfected the art of using small fonts," Watson says.) But now professors are catching on, targeting the World Wide Web as a major source of academic dishonesty.
Central Washington University history professor Kenneth Munsell claims he can finger a paper that's been taken from the Net, just by entering a distinctive sentence into a search engine. "The Internet is not really a good place to plagiarize from," he says, "You can find it."
Jan Koenen agrees. As a teaching assistant and masters student at the University of Minnesota, Koenen says checking a student's Internet source is a lot faster and easier than going to a library and finding a particular book. Not only that, both Koenen and Munsell say they usually know a student's writing style well enough to detect plagiarized work.
To nullify the possibility of cheating, Munsell says most professors require students to draw from class lectures or pre-approved sources when writing an essay. "Most professors shape assignments to the books you are reading, and class lectures," Munsell says. "So those standardized things you can pick up off a Web site don't work."