Two weeks until finals and Cassy is stressed out. Three exams and two papers are looming on the horizon. She remembers all too vividly how she spent hours crafting her term paper last semester, only to almost fail the class. Now she has not one but two papers to write, no idea how to go about it, and not enough time.

Searching online for term paper help, she comes across a ghostwriting ad. It promises term papers that are guaranteed to pass the course. This could be the answer to all her problems, but Cassy is worried. She has never cheated on a paper before and her professors were clear about their zero-tolerance policy for plagiarism and cheating.

It is difficult to estimate how many students use some form of academic ghostwriting for their assignments. Some agencies claim they have served thousands upon thousands of students. But what constitutes academic ghostwriting? Is ghostwriting in the same league as plagiarism? And what is the role of artificial intelligence in newer ghostwriting software?


What is Ghostwriting?

What is Ghostwriting?

The most basic definition for a ghostwriter is someone who writes for someone else and who is not credited as the author. Often they create the whole material, a book, a paper, or an article, on their own. Sometimes the ghostwriter only writes certain parts of the material or reworks an author’s first draft.

As the name implies, ghostwriters work in the shadows. Typically, readers don’t know that the book they hold in their hands has been written by a ghostwriter. 

Not all ghostwriting is problematic. Celebrities commonly use ghostwriters in their autobiographies, musicians have songs written for them. Politicians have ghostwriters to write their speeches or other publications in their name, companies hire writers to create blog posts or articles and whitepapers. In these cases, ghostwriting is perfectly legal and an accepted business practice. 

Different Ghostwriting Options – Agencies, Essay Mills, AI

Different Ghostwriting Options – Agencies, Essay Mills, AI

However, ghostwriting is not confined to celebrity memoirs, songs, and speeches. Students unwilling to write their own papers can turn to academic ghostwriting services such as dissertation writing agencies.

The current market is overflowing with ghostwriting agencies and essay mills that promise academic papers on every topic imaginable. Agencies and essay mills employ writers that create papers and dissertations. Prices and quality vary widely. 

Agencies usually assert that their dissertation writers are professionals and knowledgeable in their fields. However, customers have little chance of verifying these claims. 

Moreover, ghostwriters and writers working for essay mills are paid by the project. The quicker they finish, the more work they can take on. Writing a high-quality, well-researched paper takes time. Ghostwriters have no incentive to do time-intensive research. Therefore, there is no guarantee that their work is of a quality high enough to pass a course. 

Writing academic texts with AI (ChatGPT, YouChat...)

More recently artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a player in the ghostwriting field. If you are using Gmail, you have almost certainly experienced AI-generated texts as Gmail suggests words and even whole phrases as you type. ChatGPT and YouChat write texts at your request.

AI writing tools create content and automate many aspects of the writing process such as structuring a text, coming up with headlines, and writing paragraphs. Since everything is automated, these services are usually cheaper than hiring a professional ghostwriter. However, AI writing tools draw from existing sources on the internet and repurpose them. It is possible that their essays could be flagged by plagiarism software. Moreover, Compilatio can tell the difference between a text written by a human being and an AI such as ChatGPT or YouChat, thanks to its AI detector.

Dissertation writing agencies and AI writing programs promise discretion and plagiarism-free content, but there is no guarantee that their essays and theses will meet the high standards of universities, that they are free of plagiarism, and uniquely produced. With countless ghostwriters, AI services, and thesis-buying agencies in existence, quality varies widely. 

Comparison of the best AI detectors (ChatGPT, YouChat...)
Using a ghostwriter = contractual cheating?

Why Do Students Use Ghostwriters?

The reasons why students decide to buy an essay or thesis are diverse: some lack the time to write papers themselves due to family or work obligations or don’t know how to prioritise and organise their academic work, some did not receive enough support to know how to create original research and writing, some simply see this as a quick and easy way to obtain a degree

Frequently students lack confidence or the skills to write academic papers, whether they write in their native language or not. Afraid of failing and convinced that somebody else can turn in a better paper, they turn to ghostwriting agencies and essay mills.

What exactly is plagiarism? Compilatio Studium: self-checking of potential plagiarism
How Do Universities Safeguard Academic Integrity?

How Do Universities Safeguard Academic Integrity?

Instructors have come up with strategies to minimise students cheating on their essays such as:

  • teaching academic integrity and why it is important,
  • running writing workshops to teach essay writing, 
  • extending deadlines,
  • offering additional support to alleviate pressure,
  • opting for in-person written exams
  • using software to detect plagiarism,
  • assigning essays in stages, where students hand in outlines and drafts before their final paper.

In addition, instructors themselves have access to further training that equips them with tools to safeguard academic integrity such as Compilatio’s training modules on how to raise awareness of good academic conduct and detecting plagiarism. 

Why Is Academic Ghostwriting Banned?

Considered to be contractual cheating, buying a thesis, even buying a short term paper can have severe consequences. Whether written by a human or an AI, ghostwritten papers are a serious academic infraction that in the worst case can lead to expulsion. Degrees can even be revoked retroactively if it becomes clear that a student has cheated to obtain them. 

Hiring a ghostwriter falls under contract cheating”. The academic integrity expert Thomas Lancaster first coined the term in 2006:

“Contract cheating describes the process through which students can have original work produced for them, which they can then submit as if this were their own work. Often this involves the payment of a fee and this can be facilitated using online auction sites.”

Academic integrity defines the rules that all members of an academic community abide by: 

  • honesty, 
  • correct citations, 
  • not presenting other people’s work as your own, and 
  • in general acting ethically in your research. 

When writing a term paper, students demonstrate that they have understood concepts, are able to engage with research respectfully, and write in an appropriate style. In other words, they display academic integrity. 

Plagiarism, the taking of another person’s writing or ideas without crediting them, is the most common academic infringement. The line between plagiarising another’s work and paraphrasing ideas can be quite blurred for students. Some students cheat by accident because they don’t understand what plagiarism is or how to write an original paper. 

zero-tolerance policy when it comes to plagiarism and ghostwriting

Many universities and schools have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to plagiarism and ghostwriting. Yet, despite the potentially serious consequence of contract cheating, students turn to essay mills, ghostwriters, and dissertation writing services. An estimated 15% of students have purchased papers and essays. 

Ultimately, all students – whether they wrote their assignments themselves, hired someone, or used AI – are subject to the same deadlines, assessment criteria, and grading systems. 

Using someone else to create papers is unfair to your peers. A world where grades can be bought ultimately cheapens and devalues education. In addition, students who pay others to write their essays also cheat themselves out of learning opportunities. 

While writing papers and theses can undoubtedly be a stressful process, it also provides a chance to reflect, think deeply, and create original work. Writing essays can help students hone their creativity and bring their voices and perspectives to a topic. Critical thinking, authenticity, and personal reflection are soft skills that will serve students beyond university. They are not easily taught. Rather, they are acquired through hard work and integrity. 

Some students report feeling remorse after buying an essay. Not only have they cheated their educators and peers, but they have also taken a learning opportunity away from themselves. They might also realise that they lack crucial workplace skills after graduating.

Moreover, instructors work with their students throughout the semester, have likely graded shorter writing assignments already, and know how students formulate thoughts in class. They usually have an idea of how they will perform in their final assignments. 

If a student hands in an essay that is at odds with their previous performance, instructors might get suspicious and start the process of reviewing the work for academic infringement. 

If students clearly understand what constitutes cheating and why it is problematic, if they feel supported and are allowed to work with realistic timelines and achievable workloads, the risk of them cheating decreases. 

What Are Some Legal Alternatives to Hiring a Ghostwriter?

Students can fall back on various resources to help them write their academic assignments. Many universities have writing centres and free writing courses that help students with their essays and theses. Students can learn how to construct and write a paper, receive feedback on their writing, and might even find a writing group. 

In addition, students can also seek the help of a professional editor or can use an editing software to bring clarity to their writing. 

Compilatio Studium help students for academic integrity and citations

Compilatio Studium provides many resources to help students with their essays such as guidelines on academic integrity and citations, advice on student life, and methodological guides to help students create their best term paper possible. Some students are worried about plagiarising accidentally. Compilatio’s anti-plagiarism software makes self-checking easy and reliable so that students never have to worry about handing in a faulty paper. 

Using these resources and connecting with their peers, allows students to create original and insightful papers and theses and become part of the academic community. 


Cassy eventually decided to write her own papers after connecting with her writing centre and forming a study group. After many caffeine-fueled nights with her friends, she succeeded, feeling proud of herself and her work. 

The market that caters to students willing to cheat – from essay mills, theses writing agencies, ghostwriters, and AI writing tools – grows steadily. However, so do options for instructors to catch academic infringements. 

Worried about your term papers and tempted to give a ghostwriter a try? You have other options!

  • Compilatio provides you with many resources such as a plagiarism checker and study tips to help you with your academic writing. 
  • Create your free Compilatio Studium account and start working on your best essay yet!
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