BY ANNABEL MONAGHAN
A few years’ back, a Latina College student attending Suffolk University, Boston, used the word ‘hence’ in a college paper, and was thus accused of plagiarism. Her teacher underlined the word and demanded the student “go back and indicate where (she) cut and paste”, emphasizing that the word “was not (her) language”.
The student was baffled, hurt and outraged that her last name and minority status had immediately instilled a set of biases in her professor, biases that led her to accuse the Latina student of having ‘stolen’ words that were not representative of her ‘native’ language.
This soon became an example of plagiarism-paranoia-gone-wrong – and the university and professor are now kicking themselves over the resultant public relations crisis they have found themselves in. But in this dangerous territory we are now entering into following the advent of the internet and due to the increasingly online nature of the contemporary classroom, where should colleges and universities draw the line?
It goes without saying that serious mechanisms must be in place to ensure that students who cheat or plagiarize are not advantaged – and that they do not get away with it. It is now common practice for professors and course instructors to use plagiarism detection sites such as Turnitin.com or plagiarism.com to check all submitted pieces of work by students, and systems are in place that ensure students account for all ‘borrowed’ information or thoughts of others through citation and referencing.
And most students generally understand that academic achievements are 100 percent premised on integrity, honesty, respect, accountability, and responsibility. The academic rules of conduct enforced by universities worldwide are generally intended to foster behaviors consistent with a civil setting, meaning that students will need to comply with such regulations both during university – and beyond it – if they wish to become active, respected, contributing members of society.
Yet, it was noted during a 2003 journalism convention that 70 percent of college graduates admitted to plagiarizing at least once during their college career. In more recent years, it was found that Britain’s universities were experiencing a “plagiarism epidemic” after an investigation revealed almost 50,000 students had been caught cheating over the previous three years. International students were accused of being the worst offenders and were more than four times likely to cheat that other university students.
“Nowadays, these records can become permanent on the internet,” said Alistair Vigier, CEO of Clearway Law. “One lazy mistake can have devastating ramification, in terms of employment for years to come.”
So, how does one survive in the academic arena in such a difficult context? How does one reference to the extent required in a degree program, and embrace all the internet has to offer information-wise, without entering into the muddy waters of academic misconduct?
Some students have – despite their best intentions – been falsely accused of academic misconduct, leading them to ultimately fail their course. Rutgers student Amanda Serpico and her family resorted to hiring a family lawyer to help them appeal to her university, which claimed Turnitin.com had flagged her final essay as plagiarized and therefore failed her.
But there are many foolproof ways to avoid plagiarism. Here are some top tips for avoiding potential accusations of misconduct:
- It’s obvious, but always cite your sources. Ensure you double check your bibliography before submitting an assessment, making sure you have included all the correct information required in a citation – and in the correct order, too. Auto-citing programs come with their faults, it’s better to do this part manually.
- Try to avoid inaccurate authorship: ensure you have cited the author of the exact edition of version of the book you have taken an idea or text from. It’s possible to commit this form of plagiarism when someone else edits a manuscript, and often students are caught out by this.
- Avoid data fabrication or data falsification: this refers to manipulating research data to give a false impression, or to support your overall argument. Students do this by removing inconvenient results or adding data points.
- Use Turnitin.com or other plagiarism checker sites yourself to check over your work before submitting. Many platforms offer free services to students if they wish to submit documents under a certain size, otherwise most universities offer an opportunity for students to check at least once before submitting each assignment.
- Always review your work: Once you’ve finished your essay, check it. And check it again. And again. And then have your friend check it again. Ensure that every chunk of information or thought is not attributable to another source or person – and if it is, ensure it is correctly cited.
- Understand the different type of plagiarism: really, this should be your first step. There is direct plagiarism, mosaic plagiarism, accidental or self-plagiarism.
- Become an efficient note-taker. Write down all referencing details of anything you read, watch or listen to that impacts your thoughts on a subject. Be methodical and accurate.
As Jean Cocteau once said, “The world worships the original.” For your own sake above all else, become an independent thinker, capable of your own independent thought, and use others’ thoughts merely to support your own. If you take this approach not only will you breeze through university but you will graduate a capable, eloquent, independent academic – a graduate of integrity.
Annabel Monaghan is a writer with a passion for education and edtech. She writes education and career articles for The College Puzzle with the aim of providing useful information for students and young professionals. If you have any questions, please feel free to email her at email@example.com.