10 Reasons College Students Shouldn't Plagiarize (And We're Not Even Going to Get to Ethics)

10. Free essays are very badly written. (Seriously, we're talking "F," "D" and "C-" territory.)

9. Paid-for essays are very, very badly written.

8. Paid-for essays are usually plagiarized. (Ironic, huh? Think about it: A site that will help you plagiarize is, what, devoted to lining its pockets out of a sense of decency?)

7. It is becoming easier and easier for instructors to check plagiarism. (I have access to Turnitin.com which can search not only the web but printed articles and books plus students' essays from across the country.)

6. Speaking of which—just because it took you a long time to find the essay, doesn't mean it will take ME a long time to find it. Think, "Google," folks. "Google."

5. You could write the darn thing in the time it takes you to plagiarize.

Whenever you cut and paste from a website, you cut and paste all the garbage from that website as well. I have spotted plagiarized papers because of all the little links like this one that were embedded in the original text and showed up nice and bright on a printed Word document.

I have also spotted plagiarized portions in papers because the font suddenly changed. Sometimes the font type changed, sometimes the size, and sometimes, the color. Gray is not the same color as black and many web pages come up gray when copied into Word.

The time it takes to hunt and search for all the embedded links, fix the font, and smooth out the paragraphs . . . you could have jotted down an essay that would at least have gotten you a "C" (see #1 above).

4. You think this sounds like you? In your dreams.

I am always amused (but not enough to pass the student) when the tone of an essay suddenly shifts:
Yo, I think marijuana should be like totally legal, ya know. Since the 20th century, most countries have enacted laws affecting the legality of cannabis regarding the cultivation, use, possession, or transfer of cannabis for recreational use. Many jurisdictions have lessened the penalties for possession of small quantities of cannabis, so that it is punished by confiscation or a fine, rather than imprisonment.
Yes, the second and third sentences are from Wikipedia.

The change in tone isn't always this obvious, but one of the give-aways of online material is how much of it sounds like it was written by a committee—a committee of colorless, humorless, mind-numbing people. Okay, not always, but it often sounds mucho-professional or like an encyclopedia-entry. I occasionally have students who write like this naturally, but it's uncommon.

3. Speaking of encyclopedias . . .

Another give-away is the sudden use of specifics:
Cannabis users included nineteenth century literary figures Robert Louis Stevenson, and Le Club des Hashishins members Victor Hugo, Alexandre Dumas, Eli Lilly and Company and others sold cannabis tinctures over the counter for a variety of maladies.
Okay, so maybe the student knows about Robert Louis Stevenson (he did write Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) but Le Club des Hashishins? Eli Lilly and Company? Eh, I might just feel compelled to check this paper out.

The above is ALSO from Wikipedia (do you honestly think your professors haven't heard of it?).

2. No citations anywhere.

But, you may say, maybe the above student is just using the information from Wikipedia to enhance his/her essay. That could be true, despite the fact that Wikipedia is not a trustworthy source (useful, just not trustworthy). The give-away is when (1) the words are exactly the same; (2) the student has not given credit to Wikipedia in the actual text or on the Reference page. (Really, people, it isn't that hard to put something in quotation marks and say where you found it.)

1. If you're that stupid, I should fail ya.

I think there are strong ethical reasons why plagiarism stinks. From my perspective as an English instructor, I fail plagiarized papers automatically—I can't grade/judge someone's writing if I don't have that person's writing. (I'm not sure how I would react if I were a History instructor—maybe give the student credit for some research? And then remove points for the sources being misused and lousy?)

But I also think there are lots and lots of reasons (see above) why plagiarism is just stupid. If a U.S. college student* has reached this point (college) in his or her academic career and doesn't know that copying an essay wholesale is ethically suspect, can't read my syllabus where I state that plagiarism is not allowed, can't understand the words, "Plagiarism is not allowed in this class," can't tell bad writing from good and hasn't figured out how Googling works yet, why was that student graduated from high school? I mean, if the student can't even cheat intelligently . . .

*Many students from abroad will inadvertently plagiarize since their educational background has emphasized collecting and organizing information over putting information into their own words. However, these students almost always give credit to the sources they have plundered, incorporate the sources into their own writing, and, as soon as I explain plagiarism according to MLA and APA rules, apologize profusely, asking me desperately if I intend to fail them. (No.) Which is all to say: U.S. students, don't try to use this excuse--plagiarizing information in order to "get it right" does not fall into the same category as cutting and pasting an entire document and then pretending it's yours.

If you can fool me, I'll pass you. But then, to fool me, you'd need to know something about writing to begin with.


© Katherine Woodbury


1 comment:

a calvinist preacher said...

"If you can fool me, I'll pass you. But then, to fool me, you'd need to know something about writing to begin with."

...in which case, see #5.

Had a case here where the pastor was downloading his sermons from some site and reading them off as if they were his own. Somebody used Google. Nailed. Defrocked.