Living Reference Work Entry

Handbook of Academic Integrity

pp 1-14

Date: Latest Version

Contract Cheating: The Outsourcing of Assessed Student Work

  • Thomas LancasterAffiliated withSchool of Computing, Telecommunications and Networks, Birmingham City University Email author 
  • , Robert ClarkeAffiliated withSchool of Computing, Telecommunications and Networks, Birmingham City University


This chapter reviews the issues associated with contract cheating, loosely defined as the outsourcing of student work to third parties. The chapter is intended to serve as an overview of current research while also providing practical instruction and guidance to academics and educators.

The discussion begins by introducing contract cheating and comparing this specific form of academic misconduct with student plagiarism. The suggestion is made that current anti-plagiarism methods are not suitable for contract cheating, defined as where a student is requesting an original bespoke piece of work to be created for them. Six types of services that students can use to have work produced for them are listed; these are (1) essay writing services; (2) friends, family, and other students; (3) private tutors; (4) copyediting services; (5) agency websites; and (6) reverse classifieds. Specific challenges associated with each service are provided.

Findings related to the wider contract cheating area are given. This includes particular discussion of the research into agency sites, where a student makes the offer of work available to a large number of people who then bid to complete it. The student selects one of the bidders to complete the work based on a form of cost-benefit analysis. Issues considered include the extent of contract cheating, the cost and quality of outsourced work, and the range of subjects in which students are cheating.

The chapter concludes with a discussion of the main methods that can be used to prevent contract cheating. Research into technical solutions, such as stylometrics, put in place to find automated technical solutions to detect contract cheating, is also presented.