Friday, 24 September 2010

Three little hints to help you avoid plagiarism

Here is an interesting question, with possibly an interesting answer...

At what age do children see plagiarism as wrong?

Over at Plagiarism Today I read an article about the age at which children start to know plagiarism is wrong - turns out the answer is around about 5 years of age.

One point in the article caught my attention:

"Generational Gap: It is interesting that students as young as 5 and 6 see the moral issues of plagiarism in this capacity but, according to research of college students, many seem to lose that moral qualm with plagiarism later on. Could this be a shift in thinking over generations or do many students lose that view over time?"

Plus, a recent (August 1st, 2010) New York Times article (cited in a blog post at Plagiarism Today) pointed out there is a problem with plagiarism at Universities and Colleges, and that it is wide spread. So, this does raise the question, if children as young as 5 know copying is wrong, how come students in their late-teens and early 20s think it is OK? When, where and why does this shift happen?

From talking to students that have plagiarised, and talking to students that are 'sailing close to the wind' (i.e. their work shows some characteristics when scanned with TurnItIn which hint that they may be using 'unsafe' academic practice), three things are commonly mentioned, and if these could be avoided a lot of potential cases of plagiarism would fade away:

1. Time

Sounds odd, but this is often a reason put forward for copying - I didn't have the time to put it in my own words - I forgot the deadline and panicked and copied straight from X

Solution: Watch your time, don't panic and put things in your own words.

2. Citation

This is one of the most common reason given for plagiarising - but I cited (referenced) the paper

Well, citation (referencing) is not a licence to copy. The function of citation is to say from where the information came, so the reader can check the original report/data/experiments, and/or expand on their own reading. Think of references as links on a web page - that is, both take you to additional information.

Solution: Don't think that citation is a licence to copy.

(You may also want to have a look at: Plagiarism: The art of referencing...)

3. Best example

This links up with citation - but I couldn't write it any better

Normally if you find yourself with this problem, that is you can't think of how else something could be written, then it means you haven't done enough reading, and you don't really understand what you are writing about.

Solution: Do more reading, find more papers, understand the subject, and use your own words.

So, three handy little hints (besides the usual and often unhelpful - Don't copy) that may help you avoid plagiarism.

Original post - What Age Do Children See Plagiarism As Wrong?

Digest - By what age do children recognise that plagiarism is wrong?

Original paper - ‘No fair, copycat!’: what children’s response to plagiarism tells us about their understanding of ideas

New York Times Article - Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age