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Why do students plagiarize

Updated on August 29, 2013

Well why do students plagiarize? I will answer that question from the perspective of a college teacher. As a student reading this, you may be thinking differently. I will give my observations, and then tell you what you can do to avoid plagiarizing.

First, what is plagiarism exactly?

Plagiarism is the unacknowledged use of material that is not yours. Here's what it looks like to me:

1. Your essay is full of cut and pasted hunks of text blocks that fill up a lot of space, and you haven't documented your sources. Hell, you've even copied the bad formatting and the bad wording.

How can I tell? Usually, the writing style changes. Sometimes it's just too good to be true and has not one comma out of place. All I have to do is type in a phrase from your work and Google it. Presto. You're busted.

2. You hand in the assignment from the other course that you try to slip past me. In first year college, you try to hand in your 12th grade essay because it was on a similar topic. Or you hand the marketing report from the business class to my report writing class.

How can I tell? There's usually some part of your assignment that doesn't follow the instructions I gave you.

3. You hand in someone else's work--your roommate's, your friend's, your class mate's.

How can I tell? Usually, the format is quite different from what I required.

4. You've used someone else's ideas in your work (not necessarily copied).

How can I tell? Since I'm a geek in my field, you can assume that I'm fairly knowledgeable and I've done a lot reading in the area and know who the major thinkers are.

5. You hand in a paper from an essay mill. I've caught people doing this.

How can I tell? Sometimes through a google Search, turnitin, or sometimes because I just know your work well enough, and followed your progress on the assignment, that I know that paper wasn't on your original topic nor is it consistent with your other work.

6. You hand in a paper that you friend edited. Note: your friend isn't taking the course, didn't pay the tuition and won't be sitting at your desk when you write the final. That technically is plagiarism.

How can I tell? Again, I look at the writing style, especially if you've been running a 63 and all of a sudden, you've magically transformed into a 95 in a few weeks.

7. You copy an essay from another book.

How can I tell? Many college teachers look through lots of texts. Assume that I read all the current textbooks in the field. Publishers flood us with these and schools usually change books frequently. I have back issues and alternate issues. So, don't even think of copying from a text book.

8.You hand in the same paper another student who had my course wrote last semester.

How can I tell? Every paper I've ever marked imprints on my brain so the warning bells go off. OK. I'm lucky, I also have a very good memory. I actually caught someone who did this.

But why do students plagiarize anyways

1. You've run out of time. It's first year university or college, it has been an exciting semester, you've made new friends, but you haven't quite managed your time well, and you've spent one too many nights at the pub rather than at the library. You have a week of 20 hour days in front of you and a few papers to write and and several exams to prepare for. What do you do?

2. You forgot to cite sources in places. This is more a case of unintentional plagiarism. I can forgive it. I'll take marks off. I won't fail you. But I could fail you if you don't cite any sources.

3. You think you can get away with it. I'm an English instructor and have fine-tuned antennae. Your other instructors who teach content courses in other subjects areas don't mark as many papers as I do, or they are more lax, so you may have slid a few things by them.

4. It's so tempting. You're sitting there, and the ads in your face proclaim that you can solve your problems in a few mouse clicks.

5. Someone in a group project did it, and you weren't vigilant. Unfortunately, the whole group takes a hit for that.

6. You think I'm stupid, and I won't notice. I will.

7. You are desperate but you also don't want to put in the work. You figure if you throw the assignment from your other course in a new folder that I won't notice, or that I'll feel sorry for you and still give you some marks or a passing grade. Understand, I'll give you a 0 if your paper is from another course you took, and if your final marks don't add to a pass, I'll give you an F.

8.Everyone is doing it (or so they say). In a recent debate I got into on Craigslist (protesting one job poster who was advertising for essay writers), somebody wrote me back and said "everyone cheats". Craiglist flagged my posting and kicked me off for my comments because other people complained!! (can you imagine?).

9. There's a mentality of entitlement among some students who figure that showing up to class but not doing the work still means that they should get the credit just because they paid for the course.

10. English is not your first language. You're desperate. You've learned that there are a lot of people out there who will take your money and do the essay for you.

11. It wasn't such a big deal in your country. You've come to North America with a different ethic. You don't quite understand that there are serious consequence here for doing it here.

How to avoid plagiarism

You may think I'm a nasty teacher, but I'm not. You may think that I have a pessimistic view of students, but I don't (most, in fact, don't plagiarize). Some do and the numbers seem to be increasing. And from what other teachers tell me, the problem isn't getting any better. But if you care enough about your future (getting caught for plagiarism does have serious consequences), then I have some advice for you.

1. Learn the rules of documentation: They might seem painstaking, but in every college and university in this continent, opportunities abound for you to learn them. Your first year composition course should teach it. Your college may have additional workshops. Or you could consult your librarian (they know everything). And there's many private tutors will assist you with documentation for an inexpensive fee.

2. Learn how to summarize: Summarizing means understanding what you read and putting it in your own words. Students seem to have difficulty doing this but the more you are able to do this, the better able you will be to synthesize information to discuss it on a paper, rather than dumping large hunks of copied text. Of course, you'll still have to document the summarized text.

3. Talk to your instructor or tutor. If you are not sure if you've documented properly, they can help. If you're stuck on the assignment they can get you unstuck. If you need more time, you can always ask for an extension.Take it even it means handing in your work late.

4. Start your assignment early- There's no time like the present. You will be for more efficient than if you wait until the last minute. In a fit of panic, you might just forget to document if you are rushing to the finish line.

5. Understand the consequences of plagiarism You can receive a "0", fail the course, get a note on your transcript or even get suspended or expelled.

6. Hand in your badly written draft even if it's not complete. You'll get some marks for it. Better the D- than the 0 for plagiarism.


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