Plagiarism and essay mills


11th Apr 2019


For many students new to higher education, or returning after a long absence, ‘plagiarism’ may not be a familiar term. However, not knowing what plagiarism is isn’t a valid excuse and in the worst-case scenario, it can lead to withdrawal from your course.

It’s vital that as a new student, you familiarise yourself with the University of Essex Online’s Academic Offence Policy and resources in the Study Skills Hub to help you avoid falling foul of plagiarism. But for a short overview, read on to see how Stacey Davies, our Study Skills Manager, explains what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.


What’s plagiarism?

The University applies the following definition of plagiarism:

‘Using or copying the work of others (whether written, printed or in any other form) without proper acknowledgement’.


How can you avoid plagiarism?

To avoid plagiarism, most importantly you need to have a firm understanding of what exactly it is and feel confident in that knowledge; otherwise, you’re always going to be at risk of plagiarising accidentally. It’s also worthwhile understanding why plagiarism is frowned upon: one of the main reasons being that passing someone else’s work off as your own for credit is regarded as ‘academic dishonesty’. Learning is based on integrity and ultimately should not be easy.

In academic assignments, you are expected to read around the specified subject and then refer to your research in your writing. This shows a developed understanding of the topic and enables you to support or challenge your own points with the recognised work of others. You might do this by paraphrasing or directly quoting, but either way, you need to make the source of the information clear. You should reference your sources using the style required by your department.


What are essay mills?

It’s no secret that there are organisations and individuals out there that write assignments for struggling students at a fee; these are collectively known as ‘essay mills’.

There are severe consequences for submitting an assignment produced by an essay mill including exclusion from the university. Not only are you cheating yourself, but you are devaluing the value of your qualification, and ultimately you will not hold the skills associated with possessing a degree. For example, a dentist or a nurse may have purchased several assessments in order to complete their degree, but essentially not be qualified having not demonstrated all the learning required.

Essay mills will often advertise their work as being 100% plagiarism free or with the caveat that the work should not be submitted without the student making changes, but they are aware that most students are submitting the work as their own. This is also referred to as contract cheating.


Working with integrity

It’s clear that we all need to work together to uphold the integrity of the UK higher education system. The education secretary Damian Hinds, has “called on university students to report their peers if they suspect them of cheating as part of a government crackdown on essay writing services” (Weale, 2019). Cheating isn’t okay and it’s important that both students and academic staff work together to uphold academic honesty.

The approach towards essay mills and plagiarism in general is constantly developing. In the past week, PayPal have confirmed that they’ll no longer be working with essay-writing services acting on pressure put on them by the QAA. Universities UK have called for essay mills to be made illegal in the UK following other countries, such as Ireland, New Zealand and Australia.


If you have any questions or queries regarding plagiarising or referencing please contact the Study Skills Team.



Weale, S. (March 20, 2019) Hinds calls on students to report peers who use essay-writing services. The Guardian. Available from [Accessed 5 April 2019]