During high school, I took a course for college credit at the local community college. This course was in writing/composition.
The professor was old, Jewish, bald, and had a pronounced muffin top.
He was wonderful.
That was one of my favorite classes at that college, ever. Besides Psychology. I can credit him as the person who got me to really tighten up my writing. He also introduced me to the art of making outlines, as well as teaching me how to argue tightly and correctly.
Another thing I remember about him is that he hated plagiarism. Really hated it. He hated it so much that he would rather have someone turn in their own written work that had horrible grammar, punctuation, and style than turn in a beautifully written composition that was so obviously not theirs.
Of course, as an English professor, he’d faced many cases where the student had plagiarized. Every semester, he’d see at least one person who foolishly thought they could get away with it and turned in work that was not their own. He told us that he could tell when some poor fellow had plagiarized because the work they handed in would be so unlike their usual work. He’d google the keywords, and sure enough, he’d find the original document out there on the web! “If you can find it on the web, I can find it too.”
Then he confronted the poor fellow, and the result, sometimes, was much tears and “Don’t expel me, professor! The devil made me do it!”
Don’t be stupid, and don’t do something that you’ll get caught at in the first place.
So before we attempted to write any composition, he would lay down the rules for us. From the book he wrote for the class, plagiarism results when you do not give credit to others for their words or ideas. It’s unacceptable, period. At the community college I attended, penalties ranged from failing the paper to being expelled from that school. It was that serious. Even in cases of accidental plagiarism, it’s a serious offense, he says. (Regarding accidental cases, one of my friends used too many quotes in one of his papers. Quotes are ok, but he totally went overboard in the teacher’s eyes, and the teacher gave him a failing grade.)
Here are a few of his rules from his book, paraphrased.
- Do not copy the words of someone else and pass them off as your own work.
- When you do use the words of someone else, credit them to the writer. Use quotation structures with direct quotes, colons, etc.
- Credit the source when you paraphrase.
- Reference info that is not common knowledge.
- You don’t have to reference common knowledge. (i.e., smoking is common in USA)
- Reference any charts, tables, illustrations, or diagrams.
Failure to do so could result in punitive action, or an “F” for the whole course.
This professor kindly said that we would receive correction, guidance, and would be given a chance to rewrite if our work was not up to par. There wasn’t any reason to fear a bad grade and use the work of others as a result. To his credit, he lived up to his words. His corrections were always clear, and understandable. I still remember him as one of the most helpful professors that I had. He even offered to do one-on-one time if anyone needed such.
Plus he ended the course earlier because I had finished all my work.
He concluded by saying that if he ever suspected any of us of plagiarism, he would hunt us down.
So why am I writing this?
One of my blogger acquaintances has declared July 17th to be anti-plagiarism day. This is her blog post about the fact.
Basically, she recently encountered a nasty case of plagiarism. A writer she had close dealings with went too far in his search for inspiration, to the point where he plagiarized. He even won a cash prize for a story that was plagiarized! Sadly, he insisted that he had done nothing wrong. The writer speculates that perhaps he wasn’t even aware of how deeply he hurt his friends and his own reputation.
He didn’t mean malice. He just didn’t think that what he had done was stealing. Maybe he still doesn’t know what’s acceptable or unacceptable when looking for inspiration.
The blogger then says,
I’m declaring Friday 17 July Anti-Plagiarism Day. On that day I’m going to blog about plagiarism, and I’d like you to do the same: on your own blogs, on message boards, on Facebook or Twitter: anywhere where writers congregate.
I was horrified when I read her account. On a thread on Absolute Write forums, she added that this person had collaborated with ANOTHER writer to write a book, and now that book cannot be published because people believe that his contributions are not his. It’s horrible when someone gets work for something that he didn’t do. It’s even worse that other people got hurt because of what he had done.
So today, I encourage you to think about this issue. And please, if you are a blogger, write a blog post about this.
Always give credit where it’s due.