Monday, August 02, 2010

To Copy, or not to copy? That is the question.

Here's the link to an interesting piece from The New York Times about the prevalence of plagiarism in the writing of some students in American universities nowadays. From the author's vantage point, many students who do plagiarize don't seem to be aware that copying is bad.

I'd be interested in hearing the opinion of students at NUS on the frequency of plagiarism, if any, they have witnessed in their study experience, and also on whether or not they view it as acceptable or not.


Anonymous said...

Some cases of intellectual theft are downright blatant. Examples include copying whole chunks of text and posing them off as your own. Such actions should not be allowed.

However, from the students point of view, it is difficult for us at times to not plagarise. With relevance to the above examples, I do have such experiences before. There was such an essay where I gave to my friend for proofreading. Then, he started asking me to find sources to back certain terms that I have used. In the end, I was finding articles after I have written the essay rather then doing it the other way round.

I emphatize with some people who are accused of plagarism. In a society where one is largely and very easily influenced by everything around, sometimes it is hard to differentiate what is really "original" per se.

As much as I dislike intellectual theft, there are times when I feel quite helpless. Maybe it is because I do not really understand the whole idea of plagarism but the fear instilled from the instituition makes me doubt the authenticity of my work.

Sometimes I feel that the rules are a little too strict and restrictive. Can an academic essay not have more than a certain percentage of quotation? I mean research itself is an art. Perhaps it could be marked down on writing since it is literally cut and paste. However is that considered plagarism? It shares knowledge and it credits the author. I feel that is sufficient and writing should have more of a community kind of spirit rather than being overly "academic". After all, we all just want to share, educate and enlighten do we not?

Brad Blackstone said...

Using info from an outside source is not a problem as long as the author of such a source is recognized.

Brad Blackstone said...

p.s. Of course, by "recognized" I mean given credit for being said source's author.

Jude Too Soon Yee said...

What if it is an honest mistake? It could be that what was written just so happens to be a thought that someone else had already published. Would that be considered plagarism if the student did not even read that certain article?

Brad Blackstone said...


As long as you are not consciously aware of making a statement that is a direct quote of someone else's words, I think you are "without sin."

FM Radio Streaming said...

Yes that is original post

Anonymous said...

Hello Brad!

Been a while since I drop by your blog! Well with regards to the problem of plagiarism, it is unavoidable in our new technology age where informations are so freely avaliable and accessible. But the interesting part is how students actually defend themselves when caught in the act.

I was talking to one of my lecturer in a psychology module I took last semester about the problem of plagiarism, and she recalled this once which a student got into trouble with his term paper due to excessive lifting and failing to cite the sources. The most ridiculous thing was that the student actually defended himself by claiming that it was due to the fact that he had read up too many resources and hence unconsciously projected those ideas in him paper assuming that it was originally by him.

Well I didn't think that trick pulled off. But if the act of plagiarism was unintentionally, the student can be reminded the seriousness and consequences of such actions with a stern warning. However, if it was intentional, plagiarism is equivalent to cheating and stealing. No difference from a common thief that picks off stuffs from malls. Such acts should never be tolerated in the world of education.

Cosine said...

I think many students haven’t realized the importance of citations and their schools should take a part of the responsibilities if the importance of originality is not emphasized clearly to the students. If the students are aware of how serious the problem is (if there is any plagiarism in the student’s work, he or she will not get any marks for the whole work), I think they will at least try their best to write their own work instead of taking other’s ideas for granted. If I were the teacher, I would suggest my students put themselves in other people’s shoes. I would ask them to think of their own feelings if they write one essay for one week while other people copy and paste half of it using merely one second. That is to say, students need to show respect to the authors and of course, this is also the way to respect themselves.

$W?h0w$ said...

I think that in the future unintentional plagiarism will occur more frequently, as more articles are written and research published. For example, students from all over the world are required to submit their assignments to Turnitin. As students submit their assignments year after year, the Turnitin database keep growing. In the future (maybe not the near future), it may be possible for students to unintentionally plagiarise another student's work. The student may be "without sin" but the Turnitin percentage may prove otherwise.

In the case where a student intentionally plagiarises, he/she deserves the punishment.

xi xi said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
xi xi said...

One major reason behind the prevalence of plagiarism is that people find it troublesome to cite others' work. There are too many rules, formats and guidelines to follow. One must find out the author, the source of origin, the date it was published etc. Sometimes, we spent one hour to write an essay and another ten hours to sort out the citations properly. This might be the main reason that some college students committed plagiarism.

People might argue, why do I have to give the credit to the author just because he/she said that smart phrase before me. For example, some one said, "Knowledge is power". A student totally agree with it and use it in his/her essay without citing it. It is like a "first come first serve" situation. "Hey, I said/wrote it first. So all of you must give me credit for it." This does not make sense to some people. Hence, in some sense, committing plagirism is also understandable.

Having said that, I do not support any form of plagiarism. Putting myself in the shoes of the original authors, I could understand the frustrations I might experience upon knowing that some people just simply copy my hardwork without saying a proper "Thank you".

The problem about plagiarism in college might also due to the vague warnings colleges are giving the students."You might be expelled from the university if you commit plagiarism."Seldom do we see real cases happening around us. This leaves the impression that it is ok to copy because no one really got caught. Even if they are unluckily caught, the consequences are not that serious. Hence, lack of proper enforcement of the rules could also contribute to the prevalence of plagiarism.

yuen may said...

Well, in my opinion most cases of plagiarism amongst university students arise out of sheer laziness on the students' part, not so much scheming intent to commit intellectual property theft. They see nothing wrong with copying what is readily available on the Internet and submitting it as their own work, in order to save themselves the time and hassle in actually having to think through and complete the assignment. Little thought, if any at all, goes into the legal consequences of their actions or whether it is ethical to cheat like this. As long as they don't get caught, and if the plagiarism actually serves to enhance the quality of their work, then why not?
Particularly in the very competitive society of NUS, I have personally witnessed individuals who would do just about anything to get ahead.
But this degrades the very essence of being a student. The pursuit of self-improvement, knowledge-seeking, integrity, and pride in one's work, are all lost with the senseless sole desire to get ahead of one's peers; all the better if there are short-cuts available.
Plagiarism can never be justified. Something you didn't write just isn't yours. It is such a shame when people don't have the confidence to turn in their own work, and feel the need to 'supplement' it somewhat.
I am a firm advocate of improvement, not covering up where one lacks, because in the long run the latter will only do more harm than good.

the unknown said...

to copy or not to copy?

copy of course! the world is inundated with information. excess information is called waste. reusing waste via copying is analogous to recycling. it's called green technology lol.

the unknown said...

im inspired to write

"why effective copying is important to me..."

but my intent was halted by its similarity to a content of more prestigious stature.


GRE Prep said...

It is really very hard to avoid this since anything published in the web can be copied by anyone. With this I appreciate Google penalizing those with duplicate contents.

steph said...

Hi Brad,

The skill of paraphrasing is quite understated! I learnt summary skills durng my high school and college years but they are done within such a small time and word constraints that I'm not sure if they are all that useful. It's certainly way easier to copy, but well, not the best i guess. Not just in essays, but u have people 'plagarizing' on facebook! Under " What's on your mind", you can type anything that you like; it give you freedom to copy things without quoting. I made that mistake once until a friend corrected me.