Plagiarism is Easy: Not Plagiarizing is Even Easier

Plagiarism has never been so easy, and never been so rampant.

Copying from another is wrong, in or out of the classroom, photo by yusunkwon

Back in the day, to plagiarism someone elses work, a person had to re-write the text. These days, all it takes is the click of the button. A quick little cut-and-paste, and all of a sudden your whole term paper is complete. You don’t even have to put out the effort to cheat off your fellow students, you just type a topic into a search engine, find the top result, and steal it.

It’s a tremendous time saver. It’s also illegal and unethical, and can get you thrown out of school. And that money you paid for the course? They won’t be refunding that. Expulsion is a standard punishment for plagiarizing another’s work, however there are varying degrees – sometimes it may only result in academic probation from an institution, but in other extreme cases it may go beyond being expelled, and may get a student blacklisted from other schools in a field.

So let’s take a closer look at what constitutes plagiarism:

  • “Submitting all or part of someone else’s work as if it is your own
  • “Borrowing” without crediting the source
  • Submitting duplicate assignments
  • Collaborating or receiving substantive help in writing your assignment unless I require such collaboration as part of the work
  • Failing to cite sources, or citing them improperly”

The above bullet points describing the definition were taken from the University of Florida student honor code policy, which can be found here. You see what I did there? I credited my source. Just because a writer quotes someone else’s writing doesn’t mean they are plagiarizing it, as long as that writer gives credit for the reference, and cites the reference. And those quotation marks? They indicate I am quoting someone directly.

I am not claiming to have written those sentences, I give full credit to the writer, and tell the reader where they can go read the original source.

Here’s another example…

Harvard University has a more vaguely defined punishment for plagiarism. Borrowing another person’s work, even if it isn’t written work but a discussion, statement, or idea, can lead to disciplinary action, or may require the student withdraw from Harvard. For the full details on Harvard’s plagiarism code, you can go here.

The last paragraph wasn’t in quotes, because I did not directly quote a source. What I did was read the Harvard policy and then re-state it in my own words. I did not directly copy them, but I still used their ideas, so I still needed to site them as a reference.

Academia is a community in and of itself, and the truth of the matter is that academics constantly borrow from each other; both their work, their ideas, and their words. This is how things have always been done. And there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, writing a whole paper without quoting other writers is kind of fishy in and of itself. Research builds on other research, that’s how it is, and that’s great.

The problem is when someone borrows without giving credit. NEVER steal another persons words; there is no reason to, when you can simply cite their words and give them credit. That doesn’t seem that difficult, does it?

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