Plagiarism Musings

Plagiarism is probably one of my biggest academic pet peeves. Cheating, as a whole, is up there, but there’s something about plagiarism that drives me nuts. And I can go on and on about it forever.

There was an article the other day in The Chronicle about using Turnitin and other plagiarism detection software. The article was about how this software can be used to both help catch plagiarists, as well as teach them how not to plagiarize. Of course, does it actually help teach students how not to plagiarize, or how to avoid being caught? But that’s another topic.

I had a particularly bad experience with plagiarism when I was TA-ing one semester. And the whole experience was just eye-opening. I couldn’t believe the excuses students would give to cover their plagiarism, how hard it is to actually convince professors to follow through on penalizing students who do, and how easy it is to catch it. But, at the end of the day, the main thing I learned from this, is how few students actually understand what plagiarism is, and therefore telling them to avoid it doesn’t do anything.

I do think that knowing how to properly cite is a vital skill for grad students. As a grad student, your work is not being just handed to a professor for a grade. You’ll be submitting papers to conferences and journals. These will be looked at by other experts in the field, and if you get caught plagiarizing, people will take notice. It’ll make you look bad, it’ll make your supervisor and any joint authors on the paper look bad, and it’ll make your university look bad.

If you end up being caught plagiarizing by a conference or journal, it’s likely you’ll end up on a list. And it’s even more likely that your name will be passed around by the person who caught it. Considering these people are the same ones your going to be going to looking for a job afterwards, the last thing you want to do, is to end up on a list.

If you’re worried about plagiarism, there is a version of Turnitin called WriteCheck that students can use at a cost of $7 a paper. However, if you find you have a really hard time with understanding what constitutes plagiarism, talk to your supervisor or a writing center. Seek out information and tips on how to avoid it. I wrote an earlier post about avoiding plagiarism. Of course, the post is not a be all, end all solution, but, at the very least, it’s a start.

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