When I was a ghost

Farwa Zahra July 05, 2010

Three years from today, if I was given a course assignment, I would log on to the internet, browse a few sites, copy, paste and get done. To copy from one source is cheating, but to copy from several sources is research. That’s how I justified it till I started academic writing - yet another unjustified endeavour.

For all the academic writers (aka ghost writers) here, you know who you really are. You write papers for students from all the big universities worldwide. What the hirer calls it is ‘assisting’ the students perform better. Or is it?

Here’s the rule. They pay, you write. Your writing, their name. What’s worse? A middle man would jump in between the writers and foreign companies. How it goes in Pakistan is through people who hire writers (mostly students) and pay them around 20 per cent of the total compensation. Revealing the foreign company’s name is a no-go because once the writers know the name of the company they start writing directly for it and further hire their own writers.

Writing for people enjoying the status of “branded education” is one thing. But a greater tragedy is that to match the standard, the local writers have to do all that they never did for their own assignments - going through the reference systems manuals, acknowledge every idea and paraphrase.

Ironically, even after learning the conventions, many don’t apply them in their term reports, which is partly because of the motivation factor and partly because of the lack of acknowledgment.  When you’re writing for ‘John Turner’ or ‘Mellissa Chase’, what you’re getting are dollars. When you’re writing it for yourself, you don’t even get acknowledgement for abiding by the standards of academic writing. Even the top-notch institutions of Pakistan lack a predefined reference system. The students are hardly aware of plagiarism let alone writing conventions.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the major academic writing sites consider Pakistani students among the best in terms of their research and writing skills.

As for myself, I know a lot more than an average student about academic writing conventions. But when it comes to my own assignments, I’m still where I was three years ago.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2010.

Farwa Zahra Farwa Zahra is a Qatar-based journalist. She has studied Gender and Media at the London School of Economics. She tweets as @syedaz (https://twitter.com/syedaz)
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


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