An academic paper mill is an unethical business that produces and sells academic papers, such as essays, research papers, and dissertations. The targets of paper mills focus on students, researchers, and even teachers who need publications to support their careers. These operations contribute to academic dishonesty by allowing individuals to submit work that is not their own. It undermines the integrity of academic institutions and the value of legitimate scholarly work.

Paper mills have several important characteristics. First, they offer custom-written papers designed to meet the requirements of the “buyer”. This customization makes it difficult for selectors to identify plagiarism using standard means. Second, paper mill managers also maintain a repository of pre-written papers on various subjects. Students can purchase these papers and submit them as is or make slight modifications. Thirdly, academic paper mills can provide ghostwriting services for theses and dissertations. In this case, someone is hired to write the entire document on behalf of the student, disguising it as the student’s work. Finally, it is important to know that the papers produced by these factories often contain plagiarized content. This can be difficult to detect, especially if the material is well paraphrased or sourced from obscure texts. Paper mills pose a significant challenge to the integrity of academic institutions and the educational process.

The use of paper mills, which provide students with pre-written essays, has several consequences. First, it undermines academic integrity by allowing students to bypass the learning process and not truly understand the material. This goes against the purpose of education. Second, academic institutions and researchers can suffer reputational damage if they are associated with cheating practices, leading to a loss of credibility and trust. Lastly, students caught using a paper mill can face severe penalties such as grade reduction, academic probation, or expulsion.

To detect and prevent the use of paper mills, various methods can be used. Plagiarism detection software can identify similarities between submitted papers and existing work. Academic institutions can also be vigilant by recognizing signs of outsourced work, such as a sudden increase in the quality of writing or deviation from a student’s familiar style. Strict academic integrity policies and codes of conduct can prevent the use of paper mills and educate students about the importance of original work. In addition, some regions have implemented regulations and laws that prohibit the operation of paper mills and the use of their services.

John Wiley & Sons launched an AI-based paper mill detection tool to combat fraudulent submission of academic papers, in response to losing millions from retracted manuscripts, mainly from Indian journals. The tool identifies features of paper submissions, unusual phrasing, and irregular publication patterns. The tool aims to maintain research integrity and is part of a wider industry effort, including collaborations with Sage Publishing and IEEE. The tool will be integrated into Wiley’s manuscript submission platform by 2024.

Overall, paper mills undermine the educational process and present significant challenges to maintaining academic standards. Institutions, educators, and policymakers must work together to combat this problem and promote a culture of integrity and honesty in academia.

By: I. Busthomi