Magazine article Online

Give Plagiarism the Weight It Deserves

Magazine article Online

Give Plagiarism the Weight It Deserves

Article excerpt

Cut-and-paste plagiarism from the Internet is increasing, according to the 2005 study from The Center for Academic Integrity ( cai_research.asp). The research findings showed that 40 percent of almost 50,000 undergraduates questioned have plagiarized from the Net, up from only 10 percent in 1999. What is more, fully 77 percent did not view such activity as a serious issue. For educators, this is sufficient to put plagiarism near the top of the information crimes agenda. You might not think that this is a topic for an information literacy column, but most standards in this field include the ethical use of information, which puts plagiarism front and center.

Plagiarism is presenting someone else's words or ideas as one's own, thus constituting misrepresentation and fraud. If I were to try to convince the world that it was I, not Pablo Picasso, who painted The Old Guitar Player, I would be labeled a fraud. Similarly, if I let on that I was the author of information that was someone else's, I would, in effect, be guilty of stealing the credit for that which is not mine.

We know what to look for--uneven language styles, language styles that differ from other work that has been presented, and ideas that are more sophisticated than or different from the writer's normal work. The real challenge is to help students recognize plagiarism as a problem and to correct it.


To be charitable, many people have no idea they are committing plagiarism. They use sources carelessly or falsely believe that information can be appropriated at will. One person's plagiarism is another person's research, isn't it? If it's on the Net and it's free to use, why can't I just copy and paste it?

Fortunately, we can overcome ignorance with education, so this aspect of plagiarism finds a ready solution. We can explain the scope of what students need to cite (words, unique ideas), and we can show students how to present ideas effectively to minimize the use of source's terminology. We can show students models of good academic writing that gives credit where it is due.

I caution students to avoid paraphrasing (sentence-by-sentence rewriting), because it usually leads to plagiarism. A much better method is to read the source material and summarize it in briefer form. This takes the researcher away from the actual language of the source and demonstrates understanding of the material.

There are many Web sites available to guide us in the basics, but some plagiarism is resistant to easy solutions.


There are students and information workers who think the risk of getting caught is worth the benefit, preferring the broad way that might lead to destruction to the narrow road that leads to honest enlightenment. We've made things even easier by providing them with so much digital content. Cut and paste is so easy, and the result can look so good, that it's worth the chance of getting caught.

While some of these types of plagiarists are just plain sneaky, others are desperate. These are the people who believe they lack the skills to pull off their own research projects. Perhaps English is not their first language, or they have trouble expressing themselves in words, or their powers of critical thinking are not up to snuff. The temptation simply to let other (better?) writers do most of the muscle work is powerful, because the possibility of survival is a bigger draw than the fear of detection.


Other plagiarists don't see themselves as academic criminals at all. They argue that information, once published in any form, is theirs to use as they see fit. In their view, to say that people "own" their words or ideas, once they are released into print or electronic form, is ludicrous.

In fact, the whole concept of intellectual property is taking a beating in today's postmodern digital world. …

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