Saturday, October 18, 2008

Pushing Out Prose

Nick Mamatas is a writer with a skeleton in his professional closet.

.......for several years I made much of my freelance income writing term papers.

It's unsavory, but not against the law.

Writing model term papers is above-board and perfectly legal. Thanks to the First Amendment, it’s protected speech, right up there with neo-Nazi rallies, tobacco company press releases, and those "9/11 Was An Inside Job" bumper stickers. It's custom-made Cliff Notes. Virtually any subject, almost any length, all levels of education — indulgent parents even buy papers for children too young for credit cards of their own. You name it, I've done it.

Who were the customers?

Most of the customers just aren't very bright. One of my brokers would even mark assignments with the code words DUMB CLIENT. That meant to use simple English; nothing's worse than a client calling back to ask a broker — most of whom had no particular academic training — what certain words in the paper meant. One time a client actually asked to talk to me personally and lamented that he just didn't "know a lot about Plah-toe." Distance learning meant that he'd never heard anyone say the name.

In broad strokes, there are three types of term paper clients. DUMB CLIENTS predominate. They should not be in college. They must buy model papers simply because they do not understand what a term paper is, much less anything going on in their assignments.

The second type of client is the one-timer. A chemistry major trapped in a poetry class thanks to the vagaries of schedule and distribution requirements, or worse, the poet trapped in a chemistry class. These clients were generally lost and really did simply need a decent summary of their class readings.......

The third group is perhaps the most tragic: They are well-educated professionals who simply lack English-language skills. Often they come from the former Soviet Union, and in their home countries were engineers, medical professionals, and scientists. In the United States, they drive cabs and have to pretend to care about "Gothicism" in "A Rose For Emily" for the sake of another degree. For the most part, these clients actually send in their own papers and they get an edit from a native speaker. Sometimes they even pinch-hit for the brokers, doing papers on graduate-level physics and nursing themselves.

As for the benefits and working conditions....

Term paper writing was never good money, but it was certainly fast money.

Term paper work is also extremely easy, once you get the hang of it........Getting the hang of it is tricky, though. Over the years, several of my friends wanted in on the term paper racket, and most of them couldn't handle it. They generally made the same fundamental error — they tried to write term papers. In the paper mill biz, the paper isn't important. The deadline, page count, and number of sources are. DUMB CLIENTS make up much of the trade. They have no idea whether or not Ophelia committed suicide or was secretly offed by Gertrude, but they know how to count to seven if they ordered seven pages.

It's not that I never felt a little skeevy writing papers. Mostly it was a game, and a way to subsidize my more interesting writing.

His experience led him to a theory on why there was such a robust market for his services.

I know why students don't understand thesis statements, argumentative writing, or proper citations. It's because students have never read term papers.

Imagine trying to write a novel, for a grade, under a tight deadline, without ever having read a novel. Instead, you meet once or twice a week with someone who is an expert in describing what novels are like.

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