Buying an essay can be a tempting proposition for a student, but there is no guarantee the purchased work will produce a good mark.

A quick scan of online companies offering to write custom essays shows prices ranging from $100 to more than $2,000. Some will offer the promise of better marks, depending on how much the student is willing to pay.

CBC News contacted an online company and purchased a paper called “Shades of Modernism in Virginia Woolf’s Novel Mrs. Dalloway.” It cost $225 and contains eight pages, a title page and a single reference work.

We put it through software that some universities use to detect plagiarism, and most of the unoriginal content it found was paraphrases and quotes from the novel — just a small percentage of the whole paper. In other words, the software did not flag anything immediately suspicious.

Then we asked Helen Wussow, an English literature professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia — and an expert on Virginia Woolf — to mark it.

Custom essay writer

A Canadian custom essay writer who spoke to CBC News on the condition of anonymity says he tried similar services when he was a student and found the quality of the work to be lacking. (CBC)

“I would give it a 'D' based on the misunderstanding of cause and effect and other logistical issues,” she said.

“I would say that you should ask for your money back."

The paper, which misspelled Woolf’s name as Woolfe, came with an email stating there were no refunds and no guarantee of a specific grade. It also noted that the work is intended for research purposes.

Read the essay in question here:

Just had to send instructions, says student

Some of the companies contacted by CBC News would guarantee a grade, but the price tag was much steeper.

Oxbridge Essays in the United Kingdom quoted more than $2,000 for the same paper with a “distinction” designation and more than $900 for a “pass”.

A Montreal student, whose identity CBC News is protecting, bought an essay from an online source for $100. That paper received a B-minus grade.

“All I needed to do was to send the instructions,” he said “I just end up paying a certain amount to get a full paper done."

The student said although he had expected a better grade, it was worth it.

CBC News spoke to a for-profit essay writer, on the condition of anonymity, who said he tried the services himself when he was a student and found the quality of the work to be lacking.

The writer said he takes pride in the work he does, and his clients have never been caught in the three years he’s been in business.

'I'm doing somebody's work'

However, the writer said he plans to stop writing custom essays, even though he makes almost $30,000 a year.

“It makes me feel bad,” he said. “I’m doing somebody’s work, they are going to submit it and say it’s their work, but actually they paid for it."

Wussow said the cost to the student purchasing an essay can be a lot higher.

“The student actually hasn’t learned anything,” she said.

“They don't get the experience of doing the work, they don't have the learning opportunity, and in the end they're cheating themselves."

The Montreal student who purchased his paper said he didn’t feel guilty at the time, but it still haunts him.

“It's for myself in the end knowing that all the grades I got back then, they are not my real grades,” he said. “I didn't put in any efforts.”