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Plagiarism 101: Your Questions Answered

March 30, 2012

Writing Class 1

Remember in elementary school when cheating on a test or copying someone’s homework were the main ways of plagiarizing?

Well unfortunately times have changed and plagiarism has gotten both more prevalent in education settings, and more technologically advanced due to changes in education and modern society. In a recent survey entitled “The Digital Revolution and Higher Education”, over half of college presidents across the nation reported a rise in plagiarism over the past 10 years. Because of the development of the Internet, digital devices, and social media, plagiarism is now more than just writing answers on your hand or looking at someone else’s paper during a test. Of the presidents surveyed, 89% replied that the internet and computers play a major role in the increased cases of plagiarism.

The increases in the number of plagiarism cases in colleges across the nation and the seriousness of these academic integrity discrepancies have contributed to stricter consequences with longer-term effects. Colleges and universities all handle plagiarism differently, according to their individual academic integrity code, but almost all universities do record integrity issues on students’ records. Additionally, in some cases and depending on the severity of the case, plagiarism can even lead to expulsion or legal charges, according to copyright law.

Q: What does plagiarism actually mean? Is it more than just cheating on a test?

A: Plagiarism is defined as “the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own work, [without] crediting the author, according to the standard dictionary listing. Most students know that copying and pasting words from another person and then citing that person is plagiarism. Where most students blur the plagiarism line is with ideas or “paraphrasing”, which is restating another person’s ideas or thoughts in your own words. Paraphrasing or using someone else’s ideas still requires reference to that author and the original work.

While many of us think of cheating on a test when we hear the word “plagiarism”, but it actually goes beyond that. Plagiarism can happen on tests, in papers, in projects, in application essays, in speeches or presentations, and even online in blog posts.

Q: Sometimes I hear “academic integrity/honesty” or the “honor code” at my school. Are these the same thing as plagiarism?

A: Academic integrity, academic honesty, and the honor code are all ways of expressing the values and principles that each college or university holds in regards to avoiding plagiarism and promoting ethical and moral conduct. Plagiarism, in contrast, is the act of cheating or stealing another’s work, as described above.

Q: What is “turnitin” and why do my professors use it?

Turnitin.com is the leading tools for checking originality of academic work against all information on the Internet, in student paper databases, and in library databases of publications. Many teachers use Turnitin as a way to make grading papers easier and finding plagiarism discrepancies more clear and automated. While Turnitin might seem like the scary enemy or the class “tattle tale”, it is actually a great tool for students to utilize, as well.

Q: What are the best ways to avoid plagiarism issues while in college?

Some of the best ways to avoid cheating on a test and plagiarism involve doing the right amount of prep work, utilizing your professor’s office hours, and using online plagiarism checking tools.

Here’s a list of tips to reference whenever you feel tempted to plagiarize or cheat:

  1. Use proper time management methods, so that you aren’t scrambling at the last minute to study or write a paper
  2. When in doubt, cite. If you’re not sure whether or not you should cite an idea or phrase, then you most likely should. “Over” citing should not hurt you, as long as you are citing properly and often.
  3. Utilize your professor, that’s what they’re there for. Ask your professor for help if you’re confused about how to cite or when to cite. Sometimes professors will review paper drafts or discuss your paper with you in office hours. Also, if you’re having trouble managing your time or grasping class concepts, then professors are often willing to meet with you to review before a test.
  4. Use the online toolbox available to you. The Turnitin WriteCheck feature above is just one of many online tools to help you with citing and avoiding plagiarism. Other online plagiarism checkers include Grammarly and Dupli Checker.
  5. Remember your long-term goals. While it might seem worth it in the short-term to cheat and get a good grade, if you think about the consequences and the overall college experience, then you’ll often realize that it’s not actually worth it. When you get a bad grade, it’s one test or one project within the many tests and papers that you will complete while in college. It may not ruin your future, but it might ruin your day. However, when you plagiarism, you are putting your entire college career on the line. That will definitely have an effect on your future.

Overall, while technology has improved education, it has also made it easier both to commit plagiarism and detect plagiarism, leading to a rise in academic integrity cases and the severity of consequences. While it is important to utilizing research and reference sources to back up your academic work, it is not worth it to risk your future and steal from someone else.

*Sources consulted:

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