Friday 24 September 2010

Plagiarism: Three tips to help you avoid plagiarism

Here is an interesting question with 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—it turns out the answer is around 5 years old.

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 widespread. 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 who have plagiarised and talking to students who 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

It sounds odd, but this is often a reason given for copying: I didn't have the time to put it in my own words. I forgot the deadline, 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 reasons for plagiarising, but I cited (referenced) the paper.

Well, citation (referencing) is not a licence to copy. The function of citation is to say where the information came from 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 - both take you to additional information.

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

3. Best example

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

Generally, if you find yourself with this problem, that is, you can't think of how else something could be written, then you need to do more reading and understand what you are writing about.

Solution: Read 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?

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