On occasion, you may come across a paper that you think may have been partially or entirely plagiarized from another source. Plagiarism has always been a problem in university courses, but computers and the internet have made plagiarism far easier, and far more tempting. Even sitting at a university computer in a lab, plagiarism is only a few mouse clicks away. In such a case, do not immediately accuse the student of criminal behavior. The Writing Center cannot turn students into the authorities for plagiarism, because if we did, many students would be afraid to come to us with their papers. Instead, try to turn the situation into a teaching opportunity. Most students plagiarize out of ignorance or insecurity.
All colleges and universities have strong policies against plagiarism, but by the time the situation gets to the prosecution and punishment stage it is too late for much learning to occur. It is far better to prevent plagiarism than to punish it.
Students get involved in plagiarism for different reasons. It is true that there are those who simply don’t want to do the hard work that is required to research and write a paper. For others, however, the reasons are more complicated. Some intend to do the work themselves, but do not manage their time well and find themselves at the end of the quarter with a long paper due and no work to turn in. Procrastination is a major cause of plagiarism.
Some of these students put off doing the work because they don’t know how to do it, but wait so long that there is no time to ask for help. Other students think that their English is not good enough to do the assignment and they look for a way to avoid getting a bad grade. The Writing Center offers research paper workshops and other assistance that will help students do the work themselves if they come in early enough.
University policies tend to treat all types of plagiarism in the same way, but in fact it is useful to distinguish three main types:
Type I: Simple Fraud. The student turns in a paper written by someone else. Some students download a paper from the internet. Others buy a paper from a “research service,” which might provide a canned paper or even write a custom paper. Some get a paper from a friend who took the course before.
Type II: The Pastiche. The student turns in a paper that is assembled out of other texts, which may or may not be cited. The internet makes it easy to assemble this type of “pastiche” by grabbing an electronic paragraph here and another paragraph there and pasting the whole collection of paragraphs into a word processor.
Type III: Insufficient Paraphrase. The student cites sources and attempts to paraphrase them, but the text is very dependent on the sources for language and sentence structure.
There are cultural differences about whether ideas and words can be owned and what needs to be acknowledged and documented. However, every student understands that what we are calling Type I plagiarism here is wrong. If you are working with a student who appears to be ready to turn in someone else’s paper as his or her own, you may want to say something like “This is so different from your own style that I am afraid the instructor might think you plagiarized it.” You may want to go over the University’s plagiarism policy with the student, and discuss the possible consequences, without, of course, accusing the student of plagiarism. You may also want to subtly hint that if the student can find a paper on the internet, the professor can find it just as easily, and that many professors habitually check the internet for papers they are suspicious about. However, you should never report the student to the professor, and you should make this clear to the student. If students think that Writing Center tutors will turn them in for plagiarism, they will be afraid to come in to the center for help, or to ask questions about what plagiarism is. If you have any questions about this, ask the director.
The incidence of pastiche papers is on the increase because the World Wide Web makes it so easy to locate topical material in electronic form and copy and paste whole paragraphs into a word processing program. Although the vast majority of students know that it is wrong to turn in someone else’s paper, many think that the internet pastiche is what research is all about. Of course, sometimes students turn in someone else’s pastiche, combining Type I and Type II plagiarism. Once a student defended himself from a charge of plagiarism by saying “I got this paper from my friend, so he plagiarized it, not me.”
In some cases the styles clash and it is easy for a reader to detect that different writers wrote different paragraphs, but if the material comes from the same types of sources, it may flow together. For example, a student once turned in a paper on installing burglar alarms that sounded like an article from Popular Mechanics. When the instructor checked the sources, he found that the student had taken paragraphs from similar articles in Popular Mechanics and Popular Science and a few other magazines and stuck them together. It was so cleverly done that the assembled paragraphs sounded like a complete article. However, there was no original word in the entire piece, and every paragraph should have been inside quotation marks.
Is this wrong? The process used to put together a pastiche like this is research in a sense. The “writer” has done some searches, read some articles, and selected some material. If the sources are cited, as they were in the example above, the only deception is that the writer is claiming the words as his own, when in fact they were written by others. Such a paper is more like research notes than a research paper. It is not simple fraud, as in Type I plagiarism, but it is still not acceptable. The writer needs to take the research process a step farther. When working with a pastiche paper, help the writer learn about quoting, paraphrasing, and documenting sources.
Perhaps the most difficult part of the research paper process for most students is paraphrasing sources. Instructors often tell students to write the information “in their own words.” What does this mean?
In order to paraphrase a passage from a source, the writer has to understand it very well. He or she has to know what all the words mean, at least in that particular context, and know other words that have similar meanings. For non-native speakers of English, or for students new to academic or disciplinary language, this is a very difficult task.
Some students copy the passage and then try to substitute new words in the same sentence structure. The result has the same grammatical structure as the original, with some of the words changed. Others will keep the same words, but reorganize the sentence structure, perhaps re-ordering the sentences at the same time.
For English professors, neither of these approaches—same structure but different words, or same words but different structure--is sufficient to avoid plagiarism, although each is a step in the right direction. However, in the sciences and the technical disciplines data and results tend to be more important than nuances of language, and these disciplines are more tolerant of borrowed words and phrases. At the level of paraphrase and quotation, different cultures, and different disciplines, have different standards and assumptions.
Students need to know that the first step in avoiding plagiarism is to document sources, and that any words, ideas or facts borrowed from a source and used in a direct quote, a paraphrase, or a summary must be documented, unless the material is common knowledge. Generally, students have encountered either the American Psychological Association (APA) or the Modern Language Association (MLA) documentation systems at one time or another, but they often do not understand documentation. Because different disciplines have different standards and different systems of documentation, it is important to teach students that they need to find out about the requirements of the particular discipline they are writing for.
When instructors make writing assignments that require students to use information and ideas from books, articles, or essays, some students ignore the readings after they have read them, and never mention them, quote them, respond to their arguments, or use any of their information. Other students rely on the readings for everything and produce papers that are merely paraphrases and summaries tagged together and padded out with long quotes. You should teach your students to avoid these extremes. There are three ways to use outside readings in an essay:
Summary-A summary is a condensation of the main ideas of an article. Making a summary is a useful note taking skill, and it helps the writer use and understand the material he or she is working with. The essay should not simply consist of summaries of articles, however. If the writer chooses to summarize an article in his or her essay, the summary should be brief and it should serve some purpose in the argument.
Quote-Direct word-for-word quotes should be enclosed in quotation marks. Direct quotes should be used only when something has been especially well said, or when the writer wishes to respond or react to the language the source has used. Some writers quote just to avoid writing something themselves, a practice which should be discouraged.
Paraphrase-A paraphrase is a retelling of an idea in different words. Usually a paraphrase has fewer words than the original, so it is a little like a summary, except that the paraphrase is on a smaller scale and deals with only a small section of the original essay at a time. Because a paraphrase is in the writer's own words, it usually fits into the essay a little better than a direct quote. Most of the material used from other sources should be in this form.
Other problems that come up when using sources:
Voice-Sometimes when a writer is paraphrasing the ideas of others the viewpoints get mixed up and the reader finds it difficult to know who is saying what. The writer needs to provide good "cuing" so that the reader always knows the difference between what the writer believes and what the source believes.
Documentation-When you are using someone else's ideas or words, you must always give them credit, either in the text or in parentheses following the material you used. In freshman level classes, author and page number are usually enough.
Plagiarism is intentionally or knowingly presenting words, ideas or work of others as one’s own work. Plagiarism includes copying homework, copying lab reports, copying computer programs using a work or portion of a work written or created by another but not crediting the source, using one’s own work completed in a previous class for credit in another class without permission, paraphrasing another’s work without giving credit, and borrowing or using ideas without giving credit. (Catalog, Cal Poly Pomona, 2001-2003, p. 59).
Instances of suspected plagiarism are reported by the instructor to the Office of Judicial Affairs. Generally, in the first instance, the student is put on probation for one year. In the second instance the student is suspended for at least two quarters, not just from Cal Poly Pomona, but from all CSU campuses, and his or her name is placed in a permanent file for Academic Dishonesty. The third instance ends the student’s career at Cal Poly Pomona (and any other campus in the CSU system). However, there are a number of different types and degrees of plagiarism.