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According to one of my friend's suggestion, I visited a website and was going to find some tutoring support, then I ended up hiring a person to write the essay.

However, I changed my mind and I did work on the essay by myself without reading the bought essay. I am going not to come back to the website again. So if I just hired the essay writer but am not using their work, am I called a cheater? If I pay for a writer am I already cheating, or only when I use their work?

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    @Pharap What do you mean by reporting? To whom? And what do you expect to come of of that? – CodesInChaos Oct 20 '15 at 8:59
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    Is it considered murder if I buy a gun and bullets but then don't kill anyone? – DSKekaha Oct 20 '15 at 14:39
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    Why did you hire someone to write an essay in the first place? – Ali Caglayan Oct 20 '15 at 15:33
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    but in fact, i submitted the my own essay, and i just wonder i have a wrong start but I stop in the right time. – Antoni Nguyen Oct 20 '15 at 18:30
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    @djechlin I am confused -- I don't see any close vote on this question, and you don't seem to have the 3k reputation needed to cast one. – Federico Poloni Oct 21 '15 at 5:15
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If your task is to write an essay and you let somebody do it for you, then you are cheating. If you copy somebody's work (even just a part of it) then you are cheating. If you try to let somebody's work pass as your own, then you are cheating.

You are saying that you are not using their work – I hope that means that you are not using their text (in total or parts of it), you have not just obfuscated the text and try to pass it as your own, or have not rewritten the essay in your own words (keeping the ideas and golden thread of the bought essay). If this is true, then (at least in my courses) you would not be a cheater. In all these cases you could replace the bought essay with the essay of a classmate and we would have a very similar question. The only difference is that you have paid money for it.

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    I did that essay 100% by my own, I just paid but NOT using ANY word in the bought essay – Antoni Nguyen Oct 20 '15 at 6:15
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    @AntoniNguyen Here it's important to distinguish between words and ideas. If you have just rewritten the whole essay using your own words but keeping the flow of arguments and ideas, then you are cheating. If however you have independently written the essay, then you are good to go. – flo Oct 20 '15 at 6:46
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    If you have not read it, then you have done nothing wrong. Here, we would would not consider this as cheating. – flo Oct 20 '15 at 6:57
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    However, you should keep in mind that people may think it's evidence of cheating since if it was found out you'd hired someone then it would be hard for you to prove you didn't use it (depending on how similar the essays are). – Tim B Oct 20 '15 at 7:55
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    @Antoni: You bought the essay but didn't read any of it? If true, then you have clearly not cheated: an academic essay is not a controlled substance such that merely purchasing it can get you in trouble. On the other hand that someone would buy an essay in this situation and not read it will sound rather unlikely to many (perhaps also to me...). Given that what you claim you did is totally kosher but sounds a bit suspicious, assuming everything you said is true I would advise you to simply keep quiet about the entire situation. – Pete L. Clark Oct 20 '15 at 9:47
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In the normal flow of using paid essay-writing service, the point at which the cheating actually occurs is when you try to pass off someone else's work as your own - in other words, when you submit the essay that wasn't written by you. So if you didn't do that, then it's not cheating.

Except... you may have used the essay that was written for you as inspiration for writing your own essay. If the conditions of the assignment say that you are not allowed to receive this sort of outside help, then it is cheating. Otherwise, it could be fine, but you would probably be ethically required to acknowledge the help you received from the essay-writer. If you fail to do so, that is academic fraud of some sort - it may not technically fall under the umbrella of "cheating" but I'd say it's still pretty bad, and will probably be dealt with similarly.

(So to summarize, I've identified three Bad Things to do: pass off someone else's work as your own, use someone else's work in violation of the terms of the assignment, or fail to acknowledge assistance you received.)

As a separate issue, consider that even though you didn't actually cheat, you gave money to a company that exists primarily to facilitate cheating. So perhaps you have indirectly supported other people's ability to cheat. It's up to you whether you're okay with that.

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  • Take cheating on a test. If you provide your answers for some other student to copy, have you cheated even if they refuse to use those answers? If the professor catches you sharing them, so that no one gets a chance to copy them, do you think you'll be able to say "Well it wasn't cheating since no one used them?" – Lawtonfogle Oct 20 '15 at 18:41
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    Chalk the spent money up to a mistake. They happen. Can't crucify him for that, and there's no undoing it. – Jason Oct 20 '15 at 21:42
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    @Alizter It is radically and completely different from that. – zibadawa timmy Oct 21 '15 at 9:17
  • @Lawtonfogle: not that the criminal law is relevant except as a general framework for ethics, but at least in English-based common law if you are ready to commit a criminal act but are prevented by law enforcers, then you can be guilty of the inchoate offence of "attempt". If you change your mind and don't go through with it then you aren't (although you could perhaps be guilty of consipracy if you've agreed with someone else to commit the crime). So it's reasonable to refuse the excuse that you were caught in the act, but accept the excuse of deciding against the "crime" of cheating. – Steve Jessop Oct 22 '15 at 15:41
  • ... naturally it's best from the POV of prosecution, to let someone carry through the act before stepping in, since then there's less to prove. But in the case of a student sharing answers you probably don't want to give them the opportunity to take others down with them. Easiest would probably be just to define in an academic conduct policy that offering answers to others is in itself an offence regardless of whether anyone takes them. But if you actively decide not to do that then actually yes I think you should accept "nobody used them" as a defence. – Steve Jessop Oct 22 '15 at 15:43
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My general answer.

I would pipe in with the general consensus: usually, paying for an essay that you never use is not cheating. I feel like people who are saying "well, you funded the cheating industry" have a somewhat valid point: you probably don't have warrant to feel proud about what you did and might even feel bad about it. But the question of "cheating" is, "did this give you an unfair advantage over the other students," and in the usual case, that is "no."

However, please note that a university policy on cheating may forbid things which are not themselves cheating! The classic example is if, after you've taken a course, you write an essay for someone who is currently taking it: you might be kicked out for helping someone cheat even though you didn't cheat yourself. Your university's policy may also ban paying for essays even if you don't use them as a matter of course. So if we're not talking about "cheating" but "violating the policy on cheating" then we need to know the policy.

Now let's get clever.

To me this is actually a fun question insofar as we ask, "well, what about that word usually up there: you said it's not usually cheating, but how unusual can we make this?" In other words: are there situations where you can pay for an essay that you will never read or submit, and you still somehow use it to cheat? And the answer is yes.

As a vehicle to explore this, I would like to introduce you to Dr. Alicia Alice, who teaches at the University of Cheating (named for the city it is in, of course). Her course is in Advanced Floozels -- do not worry about this word, it is a nonsense word. Unbeknownst to her, lots of her students are rather amenable to cheating in principle.

Dr. Alice has a very strange policy for her Advanced Floozels course: since nobody can truly memorize everything there is to know about floozels, her final exam begins with one essay question: students must, in a 24 hour time period, research the given question and write an essay response. She wants to give them some ability to study for the exam by guiding their general research on floozels, so one week prior to revealing the question, she reveals 10 possible essay questions, one of which is going to be the chosen question. Let's also say that there are 30 students, with the top 10 getting a significant boost on their actual final exam and the bottom 10 getting a significant penalty.

Bob and the random testing insurance

Bob only finds a small niche of floozel knowledge interesting. When the study week begins, he only really likes one of the questions, so he buys the 9 remaining essays from people who have taken Advanced Floozels before, for each of the other questions, and then he spends a week studying only the one question that interests him. Bob is very lucky: Dr. Alice chooses this question for the exam, he writes a perfect essay with eight whole days' research behind it, and he rockets into the top bracket.

Bob has gained an unfair advantage over the other students even though he did not read or submit the 9 papers he paid for.

Carol's curvy screw-up

Carol and Dennis are also taking Advanced Floozels and Dennis wants to spend the test day goofing off, even though he is a great student. He offers in advance to pay Carol, another good student, for her essay, so that he can rewrite it in his own words and try to pass off his essay as independent work. Initially, Carol accepts his money and agrees. However, when the essay question is revealed, she chickens out and wants to return the money. Unfortunately, Dennis is out whitewater rafting and she is unable to reach him by phone or text to retroactively decline the offer. She therefore instead approaches her friend Ellie, who now does some floozel research. It turns out that the question is very similar to Ellie's research from last year and so Ellie offers to write (for some of Dennis's money) a paper which looks to Dennis like it is cutting-edge research but which Dr. Alice will realize is total garbage. Carol agrees.

This is not always cheating, but we could maybe expect that Dennis would get a slightly better paper in than Carol's, so if Carol was just between two of these categories (bottom 10 gets penalized, middle 10 is neutral, top 10 is rewarded), tanking Dennis might give her a reward that she wouldn't have otherwise had, had she not agreed to this whole strange state-of-affairs.

Anonymous exams which the instructor nevertheless reads.

There are a lot of ways to cheat if we broaden the "I didn't submit it" to "I didn't submit it in my own name." For example, we can do "insurance" this way too: Felipe might pay for and submit a nameless exam and then intentionally not write his own name on his exam. He does this because he's taking a very difficult risk on his own paper, writing about some very cutting-edge floozel research that will either be extremely forward-thinking to Alice, or else will seem like complete drivel. Now when she has a paper with no name, the compassionate Dr. Alice grades both normally and posts both publicly, and expects them to get back to her. Felipe looks at the nameless posts and sees that his paper, in fact, has the highest grade there, so he claims it as his own and apologizes for not writing his name on his essay; perhaps she even asks him to prove it and he shows her the original file on his laptop.

Other people claim their papers and Dr. Alice has no idea who the 31st paper belongs to, and cannot necessarily prove that anybody was cheating. Nevertheless, we know that Felipe was: similar to Bob, he was buying a "safety net" which other students did not have access to.

Or, Gertrude might buy so many low-quality papers and submit them anonymously that Dr. Alice realizes that something has gone awfully wrong, and might ask everyone to privately email her their submissions from their school email account instead, since that will be better-tied to their identity. Gertrude uses the extra time from this distraction to gain an unfair advantage over other people who have completed their essay on-time.

Harold pays for an anonymous essay which ultimately insinuates that if Dr. Alice failed any of her male students, she would be subjected to physical danger. The police are unable to trace it and she is scared enough that she doesn't fail any of them, and then Harold has an unfair advantage over the female students. (Technically this doesn't have to be submitted, but it happens to be the best way to ensure Dr. Alice or one of her TAs reads the work.)

Irene pays for an essay in the sense that she pays someone else to steal some early drafts of several essays from some of the top people in the class, with the explicit essay being composed of complete sentences from all of them weaved into a cohesive narrative. She does not read them directly but anonymously posts it to FloozelTalk, the premier floozel research chat forum, where Dr. Alice reads it and thinks it's cutting edge research being done as we speak. Dr. Alice penalizes everyone who appears to have plagiarized this essay, and Irene thereby gets some benefit from it.

Then there are the ones which go outside the box completely.

Implicit in this I have been looking for solutions which use the information content of the paper but, I mean, it's also a physical artifact as well. Jacob pays for an essay which is 300 pages long (needing it to be a coherent essay just in case someone stops him and demands to see it, for example) -- and then he rigs it above the turn-in slot so that he drops it on Dr. Alice's head as she is picking up the papers, knocking her out cold: he then anonymously calls an ambulance and uses the added time that she is recovering in the hospital to complete his actual essay.

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    You seem to want to convict Bob of cheating for his intention to cheat but that's not the way things work. Suppose instead Bob decides to assassinate a favored, incumbent presidential candidate assuming they win the election, the chances of which are regarded as 90%. Bob makes considerable preparations including buying plane tickets, firearms and so forth. It turns out the other candidate wins and Bob stays home. What crime are you going to accuse him of? (I didn't read all of your other scenarios, but the last seems more appropriate for a humor site than an academic advice website.) – Pete L. Clark Oct 21 '15 at 5:18
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    @PeteL.Clark Preparation of a crime can be illegal in some cases (e.g. conspiracy to murder). Considering example with Bob, suppose he doesn't know much about exam subject Y, and brings a covert cheat sheet. Subject Y does not come up on the exam. Even though he did not use his cheat sheet, I contend he still cheated because (if you view the subjects that come up on the exam as random events) his expected value for the exam was higher than that of students who did not make such preparations. OP had "insurance" of being able to hand in the paid-for paper if his own turned out substandard. – Tom van der Zanden Oct 21 '15 at 12:28
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    @PeteL.Clark I'm not convicting Bob for his intention to cheat, but saying that he cheated, if cheating is defined as gaining an unfair advantage. So there are only two ways you can say he didn't cheat: either (a) he didn't gain an advantage or (b) his actions were fair. I regard (a) as a no-brainer: if it weren't an advantage he wouldn't have paid for it, and there is no real question that if he hadn't bought the essays his behavior would have changed and his essay would be worse for it. So then there's (b), was his advantage fair? No: he didn't work for it. Ergo, he cheated: the end. – CR Drost Oct 21 '15 at 14:02
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    @Chris: No, I am concerned with whether a student would be regarded by his institution of having committed academic dishonesty: this is what the OP asked about, and this is the appropriate notion of "cheating" for academia.se. You seem to be asking whether a student behaved unethically...but not this student; instead you are picking cases precisely because they create interesting ethical questions. That sounds more like philosophy.se. Not getting carried away with philosophical reasoning is actually rather important in dealing with actual students an academics. – Pete L. Clark Oct 21 '15 at 15:31
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    I'd like to point out a slightly more tangible benefit Bob gained over the others. Having bought 9 essays, he gave himself the ability to spend the entire week researching the one topic in which he was interested, whereas everyone who didn't cheat spent less than one day researching each of the 10 topics throughout the week assuming they studied all 10 questions like they should have if they were wise. This gives Bob a clear advantage because he gets roughly 10x more research in on the topic that's chosen, and even if the professor had chosen another topic he was still ready for it. – Patrick Roberts Oct 23 '15 at 12:14
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I'm going to be to a bit presumptuous and say:

That's not what you really want to ask.

Are you a cheater, philosophically? Ethically? Morally? Historically? Well, maybe so, maybe no, anybody can voice their opinion. Suppose that you are. Now suppose that you aren't. That has no direct bearing on reality.

I believe what you're really asking is:

  1. Should I suppress my feelings of guilt?
  2. What will the academic institution I study at do if they ever find out?
  3. Will they ever find out?
  4. Will I tell them myself or not?
  5. Will I be able to feel at peace with my decision about that?

The answer to No. 3 is: Unlikely, since the essay writer will not start blabbing about how he helps people make a mockery of the academic system.

The answer to no. 2 depends on information we don't have.

But all the rest - well, they're really hard questions. I would suggest you talk to a good friend of yours, or your significant other, or your parents, or therapist/counselor, about them.

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There seem to be two interpretations of "cheat" here. One refers to academic standards (and is probably what you meant, since you asked on the academia web site); the other refers to general morality. As far as academic standards are concerned, I agree with the others who have answered that you did not cheat. General morality is another matter. Even though you never used the essay that you bought, you presumably originally intended to use it, and that intention was immoral. Fortunately, society in general and academia in particular do not (usually) punish private intentions, only external actions. So you're OK as far as society and academia are concerned. On the other hand, you may not be quite OK as far as your own conscience is concerned. That's a separate issue, and probably off-topic for this site, but I'll tell you what I'd do in your situation: I wouldn't tell my professor or TA or dean or anyone in academia about any of this, but I would mention it the next time I go to confession.

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    I think this is the best possible answer to this question. – Pete L. Clark Oct 21 '15 at 15:36
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    You should clarify your final sentence — are you referring to Christian Roman Catholic ceremony? Or something else? Not everybody is of your faith! – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 22 '15 at 20:07
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit Please note that the last sentence of my answer was specifically about "what I'd do in your situation". Other people may well have other ways of dealing with a troubled conscience. – Andreas Blass Oct 23 '15 at 10:17
  • @AndreasBlass: Right, so I'm wondering what you meant by it. What would you do? It's not clear! – Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 23 '15 at 10:37
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit I would do exactly what I wrote, namely to mention my sin in confession. In my case, this means confession to a traditional Roman Catholic priest. (As you pointed out in your previous comment, one can't expect that others would do the same.) – Andreas Blass Oct 23 '15 at 10:44
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I think you need to distinguish "did you cheat" from "did you violate the rules against cheating". Interestingly, this answer turns out to be essentially the opposite of the answer by Andreas Blass, although I think that is also very good answer.

If you did not read the essay you purchased, then I would say you did not cheat, in the end, although apparently you intended to cheat originally. That is my personal take, at least,

However, how can you prove you did not read the essay? At my institution, cheating is defined as "Any action that, if the instructor of the course knew about it, would not be permitted." (That is almost a direct quote from the policy.) Certainly, buying an essay would be considered a violation of my school's policy as it is literally written: an instructor would prohibit buying an essay if she knew a student was planning to do it.

I do agree with the conclusion of Andreas' answer: I would not tell anyone at the university about it, but perhaps a discussion with a counselor or religious advisor might be helpful.

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Using a simple and extreme analogy: are you a murderer if you buy a knife but you end up deciding not do anything with it?

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    This analogy does not work. Knifes are useful tools, the fact that they can be used for murder is one of many uses. What are the other uses of getting somebody to write an essay for you other than cheating? – Ali Caglayan Oct 20 '15 at 15:40
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    I use to think that but i changed my mind . – Antoni Nguyen Oct 20 '15 at 17:06
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    @Alizter To have research material? I was given a task to write an essay, so I went to library and read some reports and books and written my own thoughts on the subject. Have I cheated? – luk32 Oct 20 '15 at 17:27
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    @Alizter Libraries and newspapers also cost money, precisely to provide research materials, reports and opinions. And I guess using it is very encouraged to formulate one's own. I am playing a devil's advocate a bit, but honestly I cannot find very much difference between reading a paid article. If you don't plagiarize it, I guess it's the same. I am not saying it's white. It might be not black though, IMHO. – luk32 Oct 20 '15 at 17:42
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    @luk32 If you use the essay as a source, then you should cite it as such, to avoid cheating. However, citing such an essay will look rather suspicious, especially as it is not public. – Kimball Oct 21 '15 at 12:08

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