What is Plagiarism?

The word plagiarism is derived from the Latin plagiarius that translates to kidnapper. So, in a sense, a plagiarizer is someone who kidnaps the words or ideas of someone else and passes them off as her own. The Front Range Student Code of Conduct addresses plagiarism by saying that it applies to “any material written by someone else” and that students are required to “properly cite and document the sources utilized.” Still, many students are unclear about what counts as plagiarism.

The most blatant, intentional sorts of plagiarism are easy to illustrate. This is where a student has someone else write a paper, or when he copy/pastes material from a source into his paper with the intention of passing the work off as his own.

These extreme examples of plagiarism are the exception. Most students don’t intend to plagiarize, but they fail or neglect to properly cite or document their sources. That is, they do not clearly distinguish between their own words or ideas and the words or ideas of others.

Why Do We Care So Much About Plagiarism?

This past year, plagiarism was the No. 1 reason that FRCC students were referred to the Dean of Student Services for disciplinary action. This means that Front Range instructors take plagiarism seriously! Individual cases vary considerably, but it is worth noting that a student can fail a course or even be expelled from college for plagiarism. In a recent faculty survey about plagiarism, nearly everyone said that their courses have assignments where plagiarism is possible and that they are concerned or seriously concerned with plagiarism. Why do we care so much?

Instructors assign writing because we know that completing the assignment requires students to understand the ideas relevant to the course. I tell my students: If you can’t summarize it, you didn’t understand it. When students summarize a theory or concept in their own words, I know they get it. A good summary demonstrates understanding.

Academic writing also is a form of critical thinking, so instructors use writing to assess how students are thinking and what they understand. When students fail to distinguish their own words and ideas from those of their sources, they also fail to demonstrate what they have learned.

Writing also is a critical aspect of career/technical and academic fields of study. Proper citation and documentation are necessary to acknowledge the history of ideas that the writer is building on. Proper citations and documentation also demonstrate attention to detail and integrity. Academic writing allows students to practice skills that they will need when they become professionals in their fields of study.

How not to be a Plagiarist

You can’t avoid plagiarism if it you don’t know what it is. Instructors understand the general definition of plagiarism from the Student Code of Conduct, but each instructor must interpret how “proper citation” of sources applies to the assignments in their courses. The most important advice I can offer is to talk to your instructors about plagiarism and how it applies to the assignments in your classes.

Also realize that writing is a process that includes brainstorming, drafting, editing, and polishing. Working through this process intentionally and at a reasonable pace is a great way to avoid plagiarism. The writing process gives you the chance to develop your own ideas. And, you will have documentation of how your ideas developed over time.

When you start far enough in advance to work through the writing process, you are less likely to be tempted to plagiarize or to plagiarize out of neglect because you won’t find yourself staring at the blank screen the night before the paper is due. So, develop good time management skills. Check out the Learning Resources and Academic Support Services  available at your campus.

Finally, find the Writing Center on your campus. This is the place where writing instructors are waiting to address questions or concerns about plagiarism. You can also get all sorts of other help in the Writing Center that will almost surely make you a better writer.

As a college student, avoiding plagiarism is your responsibility. Set yourself up for success. Read the Student Code of Conduct. Visit your instructors and initiate a conversation about plagiarism. And, familiarize yourself with the Academic Support Services and the Writing Center at your campus.

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