30 September 2007

Yes, Virginia, that IS Plagiarism...

The following “ad” was posted on Craigslist on 20 September 2007 (Name, number, and location omitted):

I have an MA in English and am a technical writer by trade. I can write quickly and proficiently. I am also skilled at using MLA and APA style formatting. I do not guarantee that I will write your paper proficiently only. I also guarantee that, as long as you give me detailed specifications about the assignment, you will receive an "A" grade. If you do not, your money will be refunded. I charge $20.00 per page. I live close to [City full of universities] in a small town called [Small Town Name], which is in [County]. You may contact [Mr.X] at [Number]. I accept PayPal and money orders.

*** Do not risk plagiarism. With the modern software applications available to professors (and they do use those applications) you will be caught.***

I was stunned to see this tonight, though I suppose I shouldn’t be. It’s no secret that students have used paper writing services, files, and websites that offer papers submitted for sale. It’s also no secret that making a living with an MA in English is difficult, to say the least. But an inherent requirement for receiving that degree is to understand the ethics of proper citation and the rules of plagiarism, and Mr. X, by virtue of his degree, should know that what he is doing is breaking any number of ethical codes.

Offering services like this only perpetuates the misunderstandings that many college students have about what constitutes plagiarism. Considering the relative ease with which students under deadline pressures can find pre-written papers, pay someone to write the paper for them, or even copy large chunks of websites into their papers without properly citing them, I am not surprised that such a market exists. Neither am I surprised that students think this is acceptable.

Mr. X states at the bottom of his post: “Do not risk plagiarism. With the modern software applications available to professors (and they do use those applications) you will be caught.” This is quite true. I often have students committing this crime (and it is, indeed, a crime), and have had more students fail my classes, or expelled from the university because of these kinds of behaviors than for anything else (including partying too much and general laziness). But what Mr. X fails to realize is that it is equally as easy to know when the student bought the paper, especially in a writing course. It may be more difficult to prove, but when you have files of student writing worthy of B’s and C’s from the semester to compare to an A paper that came out of the blue, you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce the origins of the paper.

The bottom line is that any work that you (student or professional) try to pass off as your own which was written by another party whom you do not cite, is plagiarism. Buying a paper is, in some cases, much worse than improperly citing a resource. Plagiarism is, in its basic terms, lying, cheating, and stealing. You are lying to the professor (or your boss) by claiming that it is your work. You are cheating because the work is not your own, and you are stealing (if you intentionally drop chunks of someone else’s text into your own writing without proper citation) by not giving proper credit to the author of the work you are claiming to be your own.

Plagiarism is taken very seriously at the university level, as it should be, and in the eyes of the law. And somehow I do not think that getting your money back will ease the blow of failing a course or being expelled.

~Dawn Papuga


Dick Baldwin said...

We live in an age where stealing and copyright infingement are the norm, where photocopy, bootlegging and CD/DVD burning -- not to mention illegal cable boxes and God knows what else -- are inherent rights. Stealing ideas, thoughts and words, then, are viewed as no big deal.

Our protections, as creators of materials, are minimal; no one seems to care, and the best anyone can do is try to watch their own product. I had all my works stolen by another, who publically claimed they were his working under a pen-name that was my real name. Many, many bibliographies and author listings published on the internet, on CD-Roms and books used in libraries around the world carried these stolen credits and I missed several valuable opportunities for publishing because my resume did not tally with "facts". I had to fight very hard to correct, prove and regain my credits. Anyone who thinks that it hurts no one to lift another's work for any reason, for any purpose, should guess again.

Susan said...

Things seemed much easier in many ways prior to the internet. Not that cheating wasn't around; as you say it's always been there and always will, but now it seems to be just so easy for people to perpetuate it...without having to ask their parent to write something or to schlep over to the card catalog to look up something!

D.M. Papuga said...

Dick-- Unfortunately, students rarely have to face the people they lift information or work from. If they had to, I have a feeling far fewer would be so eager to steal someone else's work. The internet has facilitated the lack of personal attachment to words in many of their minds.

Susan--I agree! And every time I poll my students they claim that they plagiarize because 1) it's easy, 2) they are under pressure to be successful, and 3) they're not really hurting anyone.

That last reason is far from correct, as Dick mentioned above, but unless they see it, and face serious repercussions for plagiarism, they'll continue to go to these kinds of services.

Thank you both for commenting!