Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Seeing Double: How to Shut Down the Plagiarists

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Seeing Double: How to Shut Down the Plagiarists

Article excerpt

Copying can be tricky to deal with, but you can't ignore it

Life, you might argue, is plagiarism. We start with nothing, are bombarded with input from Day 1, then suddenly: bingo! All those facts, ideas and opinions magically become our own. We may not cut and paste our personal philosophies from Wikipedia, but everything we know and are comes from somewhere.

Yet when it comes to education, we expect students to be more picky and precise with their sources of information and the ways in which they use them. Reading, absorbing and reproducing is good. Cutting out what you might call the middle man - that process of absorption - is less good.

To be fair, many are genuinely unsure how to go about the academic process. Faced with challenging source material, some students take a bit, then a bit more, decide they couldn't really put it any better themselves, and before you know it they are into plagiarism with a capital P. You might call these the accidental plagiarists. And in our age of information and ease of access, there are more of them than ever.

You can deal with this in a number of ways. The worst option is simply to ignore it, because then it can rapidly become the norm. A variety of good teaching packages will take students step-by-step through the process of reading, highlighting, note-taking and then writing their own stuff from their own notes. Many will also give worked examples of what is and what is not considered to be plagiarism.

Most colleges will subscribe to software programs such as SafeAssign, which gives a "plagiarism percentage" to any piece of written work. This helps not only the teacher but also the student, who can run the program before submitting their work and discover the extent to which they have erred.

Cutting and pasting may be the most persistent and prominent form of plagiarism but it is not the only one. …

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