Dissertation Title: The history of custom dissertation writing services since 1990
Custom dissertation writing services seem to have attracted extensive coverage in the press in recent years, becoming a featured topic of discussion at least once a year as newspapers and online media outlets perform their own research into services that provide "contract cheating" (Major, 2002; Shepherd, 2008; Chakrabarti, 2012). Defined as services that provide students with the ability to purchase an essay or dissertation that is custom written for them by an expert, custom dissertation writing services operate outside of the educational mainstream and are often perceived as immoral companies that facilitate cheating by allowing students to hand in work that is not their own (Wordvia, 2014). However, this is vehemently denied by companies that operate in the niche (Stott, 2010; Middleton, 2011). For example, UK Essays, a market leader in the field, asserts that "...if you buy one of our model answers and use it as a learning aid, it's no different from using journals, newspaper articles, question-and-answer study books or, indeed, the past paper answers that your own tutor may hand out in lectures or seminars... it is a very powerful learning resource that can be catered to your own topic." (UK Essays, 2014). As is evident here, there is some distance between the official statements of the companies in question and outside sources that analyse the way in which custom essays are used. Indeed, the dichotomy that exists between the media reports on the industry and the assertions made by the companies themselves has arguably grown in scope since the 1990s, thus making the history of the industry and the way in which it has changed over time an ideal topic for close examination.
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The history of custom dissertation writing services since 1990 is an important area of study for a number of reasons. Firstly, it offers an insight into trends in education and the way in which that particular sector has changed in recent years. Secondly, it also provides a means of identifying its limitations. Finally, as a service in its own right, custom essay and dissertation writing services tap into cultural and consumer trends. All three points provide the rationale for a comprehensive study into the custom dissertation writing services and serve to explain the need for research that can answer questions as to how and why such services are important at the present time.
Aims and Thesis
In order to ensure that the research topic is addressed and comprehensive and credible conclusions reached, it is necessary to establish several aims prior to beginning work on the dissertation. Each aim will help to maintain control over what is a broad topic that could otherwise make it extremely difficult to maintain an innate focus on the recent history of the custom dissertation writing services available. Four aims have been established for the project:
· To determine how far the custom dissertation writing services available have grown in number and in scope since 1990
· To discover why people use the custom writing services available and how both demand and the industry have changed as a consequence.
· To examine the press coverage of the industry in terms of how it has documented its history and the ethics of using the services available.
· To analyse the development of the custom dissertation writing services available so as to understand how far the industry will prosper in the future.
The aims outlined here are highly focused, establishing a theme surrounding the way in which custom dissertation writing services have progressed and been perceived by external sources since 1990. Following this particular line of enquiry, the thesis of the dissertation is anticipated to be that the custom dissertation writing services industry has expanded significantly between 1990 and 2014, as has the level of press coverage that it has attracted during that time. However, despite the negative coverage that many media outlets have provided individual companies with, the industry has evolved and can be said to provide a valuable service to the growing number of students that require help in order to understand and pass their degrees rather than facilitating a greater level of cheating.
There is a range of sources available concerning all aspects of the custom dissertation writing services available, from the historical background of the industry to the modern complaints and controversies surrounding it. Taking the former first, there are significant studies of essay mills in the USA, many of which examine the origins of the industry and therefore provide an insight into just how established they are in the academic sector. For example, Stavisky (1973) traces the early history of essay mills and identifies them as local services that were located specifically at colleges and universities. Of course, times have significantly changed and further important sources note the impact that technology has had on custom dissertation writing services. For example, Lathrop and Foss (2000) and Dickerson (2007) both identify the transition from bricks and mortar to e-commerce business models as pivotal in the development of academic writing services, concurring that this particular advancement actually helped to facilitate the growth of the industry by allowing it to reach a much larger audience. Hinman (2005) takes this argument further, stating that the creation of the Internet in the 1990s has compromised the morals of communities in addition to removing barriers that previously may have limited the accessibility of essay mills and custom writing services. All four sources are vital in informing the degree to which the Internet has changed the scope and reach of the services available but two further studies offer a slightly different perspective. Scanlon and Neumann (2002) and McCabe and Bowers (1994) suggest that the accessibility of custom dissertation writing services may have expanded but that such growth does not correlate to patterns of plagiarism and cheating, neither of which has actively risen since the start of the 1990s.
All of the sources that relate to the historical background of the custom dissertation writing services available provide a comprehensive background against which changes to the industry as a whole can be identified. However, there are other articles that discuss the use of such services that also demand scrutiny, many of which are published by newspapers and online media outlets. For example, a BBC report by Coughlan (2008) provides statistics that point to exponential growth within the industry following the turn of the Millennium, such as 1,683 overseas customers making purchases from UK Essays alone in 2007 with 725 customers placing orders in January and February alone in 2008. This statistic clearly identifies a real need on the part of international students and a huge rise in a short period of time, both aspects of which demand further scrutiny. This need is also reinforced by both Howson (2014) and Hoare (2005). Both articles assess the plight of international students, acknowledging that their increase in numbers has perpetuated growth within the custom dissertation writing services available but also that the picture is far more complex in that many are simply left to find their own way in British education rather than being offered support by their host institutions. Dante (2010) supports this idea but from an American perspective, thus suggesting that accessibility to such services helps to mediate that issue. Of course, there are other sources that project a more negative perspective, such as Wright and Cortbus (2014) and Martin (2012). Both side of the argument will need to be assessed in full in order to determine which is more appropriate in the context of this study.
The scope of this research topic is relatively broad and may incorporate numerous elements as a result of the selected title. However, it is imperative that it is not too narrow in nature as a result of the fact that there is limited investigation into the topic at the present time. The role of this dissertation is to bridge the current literature deficit and provide a comprehensive and credible study where there is currently none. As such, I feel that it is vital to allow the research to lead the dissertation rather than the other way around. However, the scope has been established via two distinct points - the first is the fact that the title determines a limited date range and the second is the aims that have been put in place. Both elements serve to ensure that it will be a balanced examination of the custom dissertation writing industry that will fill the current gap in literature without providing a study too broad that it cannot be deemed useful in enhancing scholarship at the present time. It will be difficult to achieve the correct balance but it is anticipated that the comprehensive methodology and research design will negate issues related to the scope of the work that may otherwise arise.
Research Design and Methodology
The framework that will govern this study has been designed specifically with the nature and expansiveness of the research topic in mind. As such, it will incorporate three distinct elements. The first is general historical analysis that will be constructed upon a comprehensive literature review in order to determine the context of the dissertation. The second method is a case study that will focus on a specific element of the industry. This is a vital element of the research because it enhances the value of the study, allowing examination of the industry in greater depth via observations that can be applied to facts beyond the limits of historical study (Yin, 2009). However, the third element of the methodology is a study of primary sources that will enhance the depth of the research to a greater degree. Adopting an inductive approach that allows the information derived to speak for itself instead of being framed to suit a specific thesis (Mouton & Marais, 1988), this element will be presented in the form of an evaluation of newspaper, magazine and Internet articles concerning the custom dissertation writing industry since 1990. Whereas the previous two methods will require an examination of secondary sources like books and journal articles that have a more academic tone, this method will examine more informal and often opinion-based sources that will provide an insight into why the industry is controversial and why it has grown in recent years.
It is anticipated that there will be several limitations to the study that must be considered in advance. The first is that it is believed that secondary sources will be limited as it is not a topic that has inspired significant analysis, although it is believed that there will be numerous primary sources available online. Where necessary, these will be used to fill any research gaps that appear, although a comprehensive search will be performed prior to the composition of the study. A further limitation may be present if negative opinions significantly outweigh those with a positive perspective. This will also be addressed via a comprehensive search to ensure that the views presented are balanced and address a wide range of points on both sides of the argument.
This dissertation will adopt a chapter based structure in order to ensure that all aspects of the research question are answered fully. It will feature the following sections:
· Introduction - This section will introduce the topic, providing a brief insight into the custom dissertation writing services industry alongside the research aims, thesis and methodology of the dissertation.
· Chapter One: Historical Background - This chapter will establish the historical origins of the custom dissertation writing industry, introducing the evolution of the earliest essay mills into the comprehensive services available today as well as how far their use has changed.
· Chapter Two: Case Study - This chapter will focus on UK Essays, its ethos and the press coverage that it has attracted since its founding in 2003. It will bridge the gap between the historical background of the industry in the first chapter and the broader examination of the controversies surrounding the industry in the final chapter.
· Chapter Three: Controversies and the Reasons Behind the Growth of the Industry - This chapter will adopt a more analytical approach, examining the media coverage of the industry more closely as well as the way in which academia has changed in recent years in order to identify why the industry has grown and ask whether it will continue to do so.
· Conclusions - This section will examine the analysis in relation to the aims, identifying the main elements that the dissertation has noted and testing the thesis as a consequence.
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