Avoiding plagiarism like the plague

Plagiarism is not something anyone wants to get caught doing— just ask Melania Trump. While Mrs. Trump was not expelled from school for plagiarizing parts of First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech, she was publicly humiliated by the media and criticized on almost every social media outlet.

Plagiarism has different implications for students at the University of San Diego. Before starting at USD,  every student has to read and sign an Academic Integrity Policy (AIP). In the most recent AIP section 4.8, I, subpart d discusses academic dishonesty and plagiarism.

The AIP explains to students the potential consequences of plagiarism. For example, a student could face expulsion, suspension for up to one year, letter of censure, a requirement to complete extra academic classes to graduate, probation as deemed fit by the hearing committee, or failure of class.

What students may not know is the varying types of plagiarism. According to unplag.com, a plagiarism detection engine, there are varying types of plagiarism.

Direct plagiarism is the word-for-word transcription of a section of someone else’s work, without attribution and without quotation marks. This is the most severely punished kind, which, according to USD’s AIP, will result in a failure of the class and possible expulsion of the school upon meeting with the Hearing Committee. The hearing committee consists of five members, the dean, a professor from the department in which the plagiarism is alleged to take place, two students who are also from the department, and a professor from and outside the department.

Self-plagiarism occurs when a student submits his or her own previous work, or mixes parts of previous works, without permission from all professors involved.

Mosaic plagiarism is the borrowing of phrases from a source without using quotation marks. This can also occur when someone finds synonyms for the author’s language, while keeping to the same general structure and meaning of the original. This can be construed as paraphrasing; a way to avoid it is to rearrange ideas and sentence structure.

Accidental plagiarism occurs when a person neglects to cite sources or misquotes her or his sources, or unintentionally paraphrases a source by using similar words, groups of words, and/or sentence structure without attribution.

A senior communication studies major at USD explained that plagiarism can be difficult to discern. She chose to remain anonymous because she was found guilty of plagiarism.

“It can be hard to juggle each professor’s preference for citation use and how assignments are to be turned in,” she said.

The student explained that there was confusion over the use of a plagiarism checking site that did not recognize her citations.

“Professors should be more specific when informing students what type of citation is necessary,” she said. “It’s not fair that most teachers want a hard copy, while other professors use plagiarism check websites, such as Turnitin, then students have to figure out how to use the site to turn in assignments. If there is so much discrepancy, then there needs to be consistency.”

Common issues may arise when students have to balance each professor’s citation preference and how assignments are to be submitted. Citation preferences change depending on the discipline. Communication studies, psychology, and many social sciences use American Psychological Association (APA) style, whereas English and foreign language studies tend to use Modern Language Association (MLA) style.

A study conducted by the PEW Research Center suggests that plagiarism is on the rise.

“Most college presidents (55%) say that plagiarism in students’ papers has increased over the past 10 years,” the study said. “Among those who have seen an increase in plagiarism, 89% say computers and the internet have played a major role.”

Abraham Stoll, chair and professor of English at USD, claims the reason students struggle with plagiarism is not necessarily issues regarding citation style but sloppy thinking and research.

“It can happen that people accidently or insufficiently cite something, and that’s where students need to be very careful how they are handling ideas,” Stoll said. “But, more often, [plagiarism] comes about because somebody is genuinely just trying to take a shortcut and that’s not a style issue.”

Stoll explained ways the English department is trying to prevent students from committing plagiarism.

“Essentially, one of the main things we are working with students to do is to develop a more disciplined approach to their ideas, to not be sloppy thinkers, to take an idea and really work on the idea,” Stoll said. “Don’t just phrase it once and be done with it, but […] keep thinking about it, keep thinking about how this particular idea you are working with can develop. And people end up making those plagiarism mistakes—accidental plagiarism—way more often when they are being sloppy with their ideas.”

Stoll explained that he does not put as much weight on their citations as the content.

“Fundamentally, it is the ideas and what you’re doing with those ideas and how you talk about them,” Stoll said. “And plagiarism comes in when people are sloppy with their ideas or when people are taking shortcuts with their ideas, when they are not doing the real work of writing a paper. So I think it’s a red herring to say that we should try to understand plagiarism through the lens of people being taught or know how to consult a manual of how-to-do style. Sure, that’s an issue, but a very small one. The much bigger issue is what are your study habits? How much time did you give to write the paper?”

With the increase in technology and the abundance of sources now available online, students may find themselves in information overload. This increase in accessibility of sources has affected some students’ ability to determine what is an original idea and what has been influenced by research.

Senior Talia Malley, reiterated the difficulty to discern unconscious paraphrasing and plagiarism.

“My process for writing research papers, or papers in general, if I want to rephrase an entire paragraph, then I go through it sentence by sentence rephrasing it. But if I feel like it is too close to the original text still, then I will cite it,” Malley said. “There’s no harm in excessive citing on a paper; I would rather be more careful than have the issue of plagiarism.”

If students are still confused on how to cite texts or the proper way to paraphrase, asking the professor is the first step. The Writing Center is also a great resource. It is located in Founders Hall room 190B.

Senior Joey Markus, a tutor at the Writing Center for the last three semesters, explained that there are reliable resources that students can use to ensure their citations are accurate and comply with professor’s preferences.

“[Writing center tutors] are not indefinitely educated on [citation formats],” Markus said. “We know MLA because we have a lot of English majors in the writing center. APA and Chicago, we are not super versed on. We refer our tutees to the library for reference or Purdue Owl, which is super helpful because it provides examples.”

While midterms loom in the distance, students should remember to allot time for proper citation. Plagiarism is taken very seriously at USD and the public humiliation that political figures recieve would probably be preferable to the consequences that students can face for the same offense.


Written by Jennifer Givens, Assistant Feature Editor

Photo courtesy of jeffrey james pacres/Flickr

Photo courtesy of jeffrey james pacres/Flickr