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Plagiarism: Don’t even think about it

By BARRY ALFORD
Faculty Contributing Writer

There is a lot of talk about plagiarism in college these days. Some commentators have even said there is an epidemic of plagiarism on college campuses.

What is plagiarism and why it is such a hot button issue?

First, the definition of plagiarism is pretty straightforward: It is simply passing off someone else’s work as yours without giving them credit. While that seems simple enough, it gets more complex when you consider how and why students plagiarize.

Some students commit plagiarism more or less unintentionally. In the age of countless internet sources and searches, it’s easy to quote a line or cut and paste a graph into a larger paper or project. Some students don’t know that it’s illegal to do so or don’t know how to cite the material correctly. In these cases, it seems, that the best thing to do is explain the infraction, show the students how to cite it and hold them accountable for all future cases. There are instructors, however, who feel even the slightest case of plagiarism should result in failure.

The more problematic cases are those involving students who turn in whole papers or large parts of a paper that they knowingly took from another source. In those cases, students should expect penalties ranging from failing the assignment to failing the course to being suspended from college for academic fraud.

Students also need to know how easy it is for instructors to check to see whether or not their work is plagiarized – just a few key strokes and a mouse click.

Plagiarism matters because it strikes to the heart of what education is supposed to be about. When you lie about your work and your thinking, you violate the basic premise of the course. In addition, academics make their living with their words and publications. If someone steals them, it really is no different than stealing their car or their money.

Plagiarism is easy to avoid. Talk to your instructor; do your own work, and avoid the heartache and turmoil.

(Barry Alford is a Senior Professor of English at Mid Michigan Community College and a published author.)

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