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In recent years, an egregious form of plagiarism has been on the rise: contract cheating, the practice of engaging a third-party to complete assignments. Even worse, this particular form of cheating has been notably hard to catch.

Despite lack of proof, teachers have an increasing awareness of contract cheating.

In an informal poll, we asked U.S.-based educators about contract cheating. A professor at a Research 1 public university in the United States notes:

“In the last couple of years, I have noticed some students turn in papers that displayed compositional abilities well beyond what they’d shown in weekly informal writing. I have no material evidence, but I suspect that they are hiring ghost-writers for their major assignments.”

In discussion with other teachers about contract cheating, Leslieann Hobayan, a Creative Writing Lecturer who also teaches composition at Rutgers University states, “I had students do a lot of in-class writing so I had a sample of how they actually wrote. So when the take-home assignments showed differently, I had evidence.”

Hobayan adds, “These days, my impression is that contract cheating is more prevalent--and to state the obvious, it sucks.”

Educators are an ingenious and nimble tribe, ready to respond to the unexpected, sidestep peril, and think on their feet so that students are ensured safety and learning. Educators, armed with strategies for teaching writing--have continued to evolve with strategies to mitigate plagiarism within the classroom.

So what are teachers doing to mitigate contract cheating on class assignments?

We asked a number of secondary and higher education teachers for their boots-on-the-ground tactics to fight back against contract cheating.

These are the tactics they shared:

  • Include an Academic Integrity statement in your syllabus and require students to sign an anti-cheating pledge, creating a culture of integrity with your classroom.

  • Assign in-class writing as a baseline writing assessment at the beginning of the term, to which one can compare a student’s later work.

  • Make your assignment unique--focus on essay prompts that would not be replicated outside of your classroom, such as incorporating personal experience or topics based on classroom discussion. Doing so would sidestep using canned assignment topics, easily found for sale. Unique assignments make essays difficult to write for an individual outside of class.

  • Limit word count and page limit requirements--this could prevent students from “fluffing” content.

  • Allow for late assignments--cheating usually arises out of desperation.

  • Assign oral presentations in lieu of papers, or in addition to papers to display knowledge of the writing assignment content.

  • Have students write proposals of intended assignments as well as multiple drafts.

  • Have students write multiple drafts and do peer and self review in class, making the writing process transparent. It’s unlikely a student will pay an essay mill to write multiple drafts of an essay.

At Turnitin, we salute teachers who are using their individual wits to enforce academic integrity. And we hope this resource adds to your growing toolkit to deal with contract cheating. Deep thank you to the generous teachers who contributed to this list.


Want to address contract cheating at your institution? Learn more about Authorship Investigate.