Plagiarism refers to the act of submitting, publishing or sharing the written work of another person, group or institution without proper attribution or official citation, either intentionally or unintentionally resulting in the perception that it is the author's own, original content.
Plagiarism spans across media channels and publishing platforms, which means that work published on one channel cannot be shared or published on a different channel and be considered new content. For example, if you copy your friend's Facebook post and include it in an essay as your own argument, that act is considered plagiarism despite the fact that it was originally published on a different channel of communication.
For the most part, however, academic plagiarism involves students who plagiarize published articles or submit work written by someone else, be it a friend who took the same course the prior semester or a writer who the student paid to do the assignment.
Almost all institutions of higher education now have published guidelines regarding their perspective on academic plagiarism, which is most often along the lines of "no tolerance."
Here is Stanford's definition of plagiarism, taken from the SKIL (Stanford's Key to Information Literacy) website:
Plagiarism is the act of presenting the words or ideas of someone else as your own without proper acknowledgment of the source. The term source includes not only books, periodicals and websites, but also lecture notes, drawings, films and other formats of information, such as computer programs, music and graphics. If you do not credit the author, you are committing theft.
Be aware that plagiarism includes much more than just copying someone's work. Though it may be unintentional, quoting, paraphrasing or adapting material, and presenting someone else's idea, opinion, or theory as your own, are all examples of plagiarism.
Remember that ethical scholarship demands that you acknowledge the original author.
For the most part, Plagiarism policies are an updated addendum to a school's honor or ethics code. Unlike plagiarism policies, which were mostly created or revised with the advent of the Internet, college Honor Codes are nothing new. Honor Codes can extend beyond copy-and-paste plagiarism and prohibit any type of assistance that is not explicitly permitted by the instructor. Stanford's Honor Code dates back to 1921 and cautions against any type of "unpermitted aid." Here is the summary of the Honor Code, also published on the SKIL website:
At Stanford, all students are subject to the Honor Code regarding academic conduct. Adopted in 1921, the Honor Code shifts the responsibility to the students for not giving nor receiving unpermitted aid in any work that will be used by instructors as a basis for grading. Violation of the Honor Code results in serious penalties, so familiarize yourself with it.
Sometimes, there are obvious red flags denoting that a student has plagiarized, such as a sudden change in font style or color in the middle of an essay (the result of cutting and pasting from an online source). Other cases are trickier, such as when a student turns in an essay written by a friend or paid writer. In these cases, teachers primarily use the work that the student has already submitted that semester in order to judge whether the essay is consistent with his or her voice and writing style.
In addition, any professors now require students to submit their essays to services such as Unplag before submitting their essay for a grade. This forces the student to check themselves for plagiarism and helps to eliminate both intentional and unintentional stealing.
Typically, if a student is caught violating a plagiarism policy and/or Honor Code like the one that Stanford has in place, his or her professor has the right to follow up with college officials and begin whatever judicial process the school has in place. These processes usually include:
An official form and letter template that the professor must complete stating the exact violation
Several copies of the offending essay with plagiarized sections highlighted
Photos or copies of the source from which the content was copied
Several copies of the essay assignment, which should include clear guidelines for proper citation
A statement from the professor recommending what action he or she would like to take, such as failing the student on the assignment or on the entire course
An impartial panel of professors or college administrators to serve as "judges" regarding the student's violation as well as the appropriate punishment
This process can take anywhere from a few days to several months to be completed and for the judges to reach a verdict.
If a student is found guilty of plagiarism, he or she can expect different academic dishonesty consequences ranging from a stern warning and request to redo the assignment from scratch to academic suspension. Suspension for academic ethics violations usually have a clause in place that allows the student to petition the college for re-entry for the following semester, but there is no guarantee that he or she will be admitted.
Some critics argue that there are drawbacks to these policies, especially when considering the overall objective of colleges and universities: to educate. "No tolerance" policies immediately brand the offending student as a cheater which not only creates an environment of fear that can be detrimental to all types of learning, but also robs the student (and teacher) of a possible learning opportunity. Students who are learning about proper citation methods for the first time might make genuine mistakes in their assignments that technically violate the plagiarism policy. Most students understand that blatant plagiarism is wrong (such as copying and pasting an article directly from the Internet), but less-obvious acts of plagiarism could easily be the result of a lack of understanding or education.
For example, a student who is writing a research paper could lift a direct quote from one of his or her print sources and forget to cite it, or only cite it in the next paragraph, thinking that this citation covers the entire essay. This should result in a deduction of points for the assignment, but could also constitute the full punishment of a plagiarism policy (which often gives the professor the power to fail the student for the entire course on the spot). Giving all teachers the absolute power to fail a student when there can be subjective elements at play isn't always fair to the student.
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