Plagiarists: srsly, d00d?

Dr. Crazy caught a plagiarist this week.

Plagiarists have no idea how much they don’t know, and no clue about how much we know about our own subject as well as how much we know about what they don’t know.  The ones that always amuse me most are the students who think they’re being clever by using a book 80 or 100 years old.  Google books is now making that scheme pretty transparent, but it just kills me that 1) they think that academic interests and writing styles aren’t subject to change over time, and 2) that it’s not patently obvious when they plagiarize something written by a fusty academic writer from the 1920s or 1930s (or even earlier) and try to pass it off as work by an early twenty-first century college student.

Effective plagiarism requires more dedication and ingenuity than just completing the assignment honestly.  I sincerely wish my students would take the easy way out and just write an honest paper!

20 thoughts on “Plagiarists: srsly, d00d?

  1. (Laughing out loud here, literally.) So true! In biology, plain old cheating is the main problem, because there’s less writing and more tests. But the same thing is true. I’ve always told my students, “You have to be smarter and know the material better to cheat effectively. Save yourself time (and aggro when I come down on you like a bag of bricks) by just studying.”


  2. A student of mine caught a plagiarist in a class project group two years ago. The other members of the group got down on hir for not being a “team player.” I marched myself over to the instructor’s office and demanded that my student be moved to a different group. Ze was moved and in a turn of events that will surprise nobody, the honest group was a better group than the other one.


  3. Srsly indeed. I’m fortunate in that I haven’t found any plagiarism so far this term but, then again, the assignments that would more likely lend themselves to that approach are next up in my marking pile.

    One of the fortunate elements about assigning a specific type of essay for a brand-spanking-new book is that students don’t have a lot out there on the interwebs to copy from if they reach desperation point. Moreover, when they do, it’s painfully obvious.


  4. First and foremost, there is a substantial problem of plagiarism in research. It doesn’t appear as lifting sections or ideas; it is the copy of a method, a theorem, a technique and applying it to material different from the original. A demonstration is the following: “the theorem was proven in German, now X proved it in English.”

    Similarly problem solving results in compact artifacts that make lifting rather obvious. In the area of programming the size in larger and more cryptic. There are plenty of tools to catch the criminals.


  5. In my career, the most egregious case of a plagiarized research paper involved:

    1. Color coded Google search terms that were cut and pasted from the screen. And the student used a color printer and the highlighted terms appeared in all of their glory in the final paper.

    2. A completely separate and unrelated reference page that had been photocopied out of a journal.

    The student in question actually tried to grieve the decision until the department chair took one look at the paper in question…..and burst out laughing.


  6. Calugg, that’s amazing.

    I did have one plagiarist who I caught because I noticed that the font size kept shifting by about half a point in locations where the passages were more articulate. And then I thought, “Hey… I recognize that sans-serif font.” Over to Wikipedia, and presto! Print, compare, highlight… done.


  7. It’s been a while since I was in college, so tell me…what am I missing here? There’s no perfection expected from undergrads, right? Just evidence that you grappled honorably with the material? I recall doing my research, writing my paper, and getting feedback and no matter the grade it wasn’t the end of the world…or has the Bordeaux clouded my memory?


  8. Notorious, I hear you on the font as a tell-tale sign. Also on the boxes that Wikipedia uses to set off separate sections of an entry: those will cut-and-paste in plagiarized papers just as readily! (I know this because I caught two separate students in two separate years plagiarizing presentation handouts through the same telltale signs.)


  9. I have also had a wiki page just pasted into a document and handed in as the assignment. In this case, there was no attempt to integrate it into an argument or really add any original words to the page. The best of it was that this was for a ‘source’ assignment, where students were to assess the usefulness of a handful of selected primary sources. This was for first years so they weren’t even required to use secondary reading (although they got extra points for doing so). So, it was pretty difficult to ‘plaigerise’ from the internet (I did have people who copied each other though!). I was impressed that the student made the effort to google the relevant topic though (all the sources were on the Depression in the 1930s).

    And, I have other essays where half way through a selection of wikipedia page is just pasted into the essay with no effort to format text.

    I don’t think these people thought they’d get away with this, they were just desperate to hand something in.


  10. You do remember what happened to my colleague, right?

    He has the best plagiarism case, ever.

    Part 1: reading paper, thinking: yes, I used to believe this.
    Part 2: realizing: I used to believe this so much that I wrote it down and published it.
    Part 3: I used precisely these words.
    Part 4: Has this student turned my old article in, to me???
    Part 5, after Googling: Yes! How dare they?


  11. I once found a student’s paper on a website that sold student essays. When I confronted the student, the student told me that s/he had written the paper in high school, then donated it to the website, and was now turning it in for my class. I didn’t know where to begin to address that response. It ended in an F.

    The thing is that most of these students who do this that I’ve encountered do not have a strong enough grasp of the material or the English language in the first place to understand that their cutting and pasting does not usually address the problem or question at hand, and that all are in different styles — and none of those styles match their own in class or written communication. It’s a fail from the beginning.

    Sadly, I do take it personally because it is one of the hundreds of ways that they have shown disrespect for education, the class, professors as a class or professionals, the school, the library, the process of writing — for pretty much everything that the college is there for and they are supposed to be there for.


  12. It’s possible that there are some malfactors out there who would be perfectly willing to plagiarize only the hottest, freshest, newest, “cutting edge” (sic) work,
    only to discover they’ve enrolled at a place whose library has gotten sick of being a “warehouse of books,” and invited the cognate “service delivery units” (faculties) to partner with them each spring to come up with lists of journals to cancel, or to pick which rows of volumes to ship off to the remote sensing unit in suburban Cheektowaga so Rock City Coffee can expand its footprint. An Eff is still an eff, of course, but some of them may be doing as much as they can under the circumstances to adhere to best practices recommendations in the expropriation of knowledge.


  13. My old faculty advisor said the really sad cases were the students who put together term papers full of other people’s ideas with cites so it’s technically not plagiarism but who forgot to add any of their own ideas.

    They did good research and put it all together in a paper, but still got a failing grade.


  14. Z, your story had me laughing even harder. That’s like that special class of car accident where you plow into a cop car.

    And Indyanna, “some of them may be doing as much as they can under the circumstances to adhere to best practices recommendations in the expropriation of knowledge.” Bwahahaha. That rings too true as well!


  15. Historiann,

    I can say, as one of your former students, that your assignments would be almost impossible to plagiarize. You require so many sources and specific analysis that I think it would impossible to cheat on without it being super obvious. Have students really tried to plagiarize one of your assignments? I can’t even figure out how that would work…


  16. Not really! The last time were some students in my freshman survey course who (again!) didn’t really get it how much I know vs. how much they didn’t know. When I got to the line in a student paper in which ze wrote about the “eucharistic piety” evident in Mary Rowlandson’s narrative–something that we never discussed or read about in the class–the gig was up. The problem I run into more commonly is students who borrow exact language without attribution from a secondary source.

    Thanks, Julia. I hope you are well.


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