The first published material detailing the extent of contract cheating is a study by Robert Clarke and Thomas Lancaster. The study presented three main findings:
- Over 12 percent of postings on a popular website for outsourcing computer contract work are actually bid requests from students looking to attempt contract cheating.
- Contract cheaters posted an average of 4–7 requests, suggesting that habitual use is made of such services by these students.
- A smaller number of users have posted over 50 bid requests, including examples from multiple institutions. This suggests that these are agencies subcontracting work, not students who are directly making use of the services.
Whereas the quality of solutions to assignments sold by essay mill has been questioned, a study by Jenkins and Helmore showed that work obtained through the use of an auction site was of sufficient quality to gain good marks and remain undetected by the module tutor.
A more recent study examined over 900 examples of contract cheating by students studying computing subjects. The published results categorise the assignment types (e.g. Programming, Database, Web Design) and are analysed by country. One new concern identified by this study was the number of major projects (both final year undergraduate and postgraduate) being posted onto auction sites.
From a study of 4,000 suspected cases of "contract cheating" some interesting patterns of behaviour have been observed. A summary was presented at the HEA Workshop on Contract Cheating (March 2008).
At the Aske conference held in June 2009 a paper detailing a "multi-faceted" approach to dealing with the problem of "contract cheating" was presented.
A paper presented at the STEM conference (April 2012) was a study of over 600 assignments in subject areas ranging from "Anthropology to Theology".
The Commercial Aspects of Contract Cheating are examined in a paper given at ITiCSE '13. This paper analyses the monetary value of contract cheating to the different parties who play a role in the contract cheating process. The main analysis is based on a corpus consisting of 14,438 identified attempts to cheat. The corpus was collected between March 2005 and July 2012.
In a 2017 meta-analysis of 5 studies, 3.5% of a total of 1378 students reported buying assignments to submit as their own. Of the students who reported engaging in contract cheating, more than 60% admitted doing so more than once.
The assignments prepared by essay-writing companies and other paid third-parties are supposedly 'original', meaning that they are likely to evade detection by software packages such as Turnitin. Assessment design strategies may limit the possibility that students can use contract cheating services, although a 2014 publication in Educational Studies showed that reducing the time that students have to prepare their assessments is unlikely to deter contract cheating, and that there appeared to be significant spare capacity in the contract cheating market.
In July 2007 a paper proposed a systematic six-stage process that tutors can use to detect students who are contract cheating. Contract cheating sites often claim this form of cheating is undetectable, a claim that has been tested in two studies. In a 2016 Australian study, when markers were asked to mark a set of contract cheating assignments and contract cheating was not mentioned to them, no marker raised any concerns of contract cheating. However, in a later study when markers were specifically asked to detect it, they correctly identified contract cheating 62% of the time.
It has recently been proposed that existing assignment and invigilated assessment data can be systematically analyzed in order to detect patterns of students' performance that may be indicative of contract cheating. Additionally, at the Plagiarism across Europe and Beyond conference, it was demonstrated how collecting analytical data at the time of writing can help in identifying cases where a student committed contract cheating.  
Although non-originality engines (like Turnitin) are unlikely to detect contract cheating, there has been some success in using them to identify the source of assignments detected on auction sites.
In general, academic institutions consider contract cheating to be one of the most serious forms of academic misconduct and it is penalised accordingly. In 2010 the 'AMBeR Project' developed a UK 'Plagiarism Tariff' in an attempt to standardise penalties for all forms of academic misconduct. The final report noted that purchase of an assignment should be penalised with the most serious penalties available, such as expulsion from the institution, and that many institutions considered it to be a separate form of misconduct altogether due to the seemingly obvious intent associated with it. However, a 2015 research study, also in the UK, asked university students what they thought penalties for academic misconduct should be. The responses demonstrated that students consistently recommended lenient penalties for plagiarism, and that this effect was most pronounced for contract cheating.
The legality of contract cheating services was reviewed by Newton and Lang in a 2016 book chapter of the Springer Handbook for Academic Integrity. The legal status of these services varies internationally. In New Zealand it is illegal to "advertise or provide third party assistance to cheat", with similar, older laws on the statutes of 17 states in the US.
In the United Kingdom, the Quality Assurance Agency published a report advocating the use of a legal approach as one way to tackle contract cheating, and suggesting that existing fraud laws might be used, since the activities of such services, and their clients, could be reasonably interpreted to fit with definitions of fraud as they involve 'false representation' and 'failure to disclose information'. A subsequent research project compared the UK Fraud laws with the terms and conditions used by contract cheating services and concluded that they would be unlikely to fall foul of Fraud law due to the disclaimers, terms and conditions they use which generally state that any custom written products are to be used only as 'study guides' or 'revision aids', thereby placing responsibility, and 'intent', onto the student client. Despite this, media 'stings' have shown that companies can be complicit in the inappropriate use of these products. A similar analysis in Lithuania concluded that contract cheating services were unlikely to fall foul of existing laws, although an analysis of Australian law concluded that fraud, as well as forgery and conspiracy, might be legal avenues via which contract cheating could be targeted. All three studies called for the introduction of new legal approaches to tackle contract cheating.
A follow-up research study proposed such a new law, based on the principle of strict liability, which lessens the requirement for prosecutors to demonstrate that they 'intended to help student cheat', but instead would make them liable for prosecution simply for offering services that could be reasonably interpreted as being used for contract cheating.
More broadly, despite the apparent potential of a legal challenge to contract cheating companies, prosecutions are currently rare, largely due to the limitations of existing laws. In addition, the simple act of outlawing a service would not necessarily reduce demand for it; the aforementioned research studies all call for a holistic, multi-pronged approach to tackling contract cheating.
- Accreditation mill • Diploma mill • Ordination mill • Contract cheating / Essay mill
- Author mill • Vanity publishing
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