Daniel Oldham

Synthesis of three different views on plagiarism

Plagiarism: A New Definition

Is it laziness? Possibly it is pressures from external influences to get that perfect 4.0. Maybe the student does not understand the material. Whatever the reason, plagiarism has been and will continue to be a problem in academic institutions world wide. Three authors offer their opinions on the topic of plagiarism. Ranging from past historical figures who plagiarized to how current colleges and universities are trying to combat the problem, and perhaps most importantly to give a standard set of rules on how to define plagiarism.

Rebecca Moore Howard takes the stance that a fair amount of the plagiarism that occurs on college campuses is actually on accident. In her essay, “A Plagiarism Pentimento,” Howard argues that students use a writing strategy she calls ‘patchwriting.’ Patchwriting is “…copying from a source text and then deleting some words, altering grammatical structures, or plugging in one-for-one synonym substitutes (Howard 117).” She explains that patchwriting is a valid way for a student to gain understanding of an unfamiliar text. She cites her first year general education class as an example of effective patchwriting. Howard assigned her students to read and write about fairly complicated texts without spending time in class talking about or explaining the excerpts. As a result, a majority of the papers turned in by students had sentences that were susceptibly close to the original passage. After analyzing paper after paper that were similar, Howard came to realize that patchwriting was helping the student make the foreign text more their own. She concludes that patchwriting is too often mistaken for plagiarism, the writing is indeed very similar to the original writing but the ideas now belong to the student through their understanding of it.

Similarly, Keith Miller writes about common misconceptions about plagiarism. Miller wrote a dissertation about the language of Martin Luther King Jr. During the dissertation Miller staggered upon multiple instances when King “borrowed” ideas and thoughts from previous preachers’ sermons. It is a well known fact that King uses multiple sources for his writings. Miller says, “He mined others’ words fro key passages in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, in his “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” in his lecture accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, in several of his books, and in literally scores of published and unpublished addresses and essays (Miller 128).” Miller continues that even though King blatantly plagiarized some of his works, there are two reasons it is looked past. First is that fact that some of the words King used were of fellow pastors. Miller postulates that certain professions, such as a minister, and certain cultures, in this case African American, have certain rights and values that supersede common plagiarism rules. Secondly, the amount of people that King so positively influenced also supersedes the fact that he used other peoples’ words to express his ideas. Miller uses the idea of a greater good to validate King’s plagiarism in a sense.

Maureen Hourigan takes a much more analytical approach to the topic. She begins by considering if students even know their school’s policies regarding plagiarism. Even if students know the ramifications of getting caught plagiarizing, she speculates in her essay, “Of Plagiarism, Paper Milles, and the Harried Hurried Student”, that students have always been passing other’s ideas off as their own. Even before the advent of the internet students found ways to cheat. They used to go to the library and copy huge sections of text, or use connections in fraternity or sorority houses to gain access to past member’s papers. However, the use of the internet by college students has put countless resources at the fingertips of any student with internet access. One method that has evolved through technology is the paper mill. A paper mill is described as a place where students can pay a stranger to write a paper on an original topic. It used to be that paper mills would advertise in of all places, school newspapers. Today, there are websites that claim to write original papers for each student. These sites maintain that the papers will earn an above average grade, pass through any plagiarism detection software, and most importantly, be delivered on time. Hourigan conducted research that showed that the most popular online paper mills failed on all three accounts. There is always a balancing act between ways to plagiarize and ways to detect it.

Howard and Miller spend their time telling what plagiarism is not and what some faculty mistake for plagiarism, while Hourigan takes a different approach, using statistics to cast light on different areas of plagiarism. It seems that the authors of our plagiarism papers cannot decide on one, solid, all encompassing definition of plagiarism. In not agreeing on one definition, they must conclude that plagiarism cannot be defined by a set of words. Plagiarism is a dynamic word with different meanings to different people. The definition and initial ramifications of plagiarism differ depending on the professor. Even though it is hard to label plagiarism, two things emerge from all three papers: the latest generation of student has different views on what can be described as plagiarism but nevertheless, it is a serious offense that is needs to be addressed.

The easiest way to stop plagiarism is to define it. In an academic institution, plagiarism should not be tolerated. Such things that Miller brought up like ethnical background or proposed occupation must take an inferior role to student. Plagiarism should be defined as a student using someone else’s words as their own. Most definitions include the mention of using other’s ideas as their own, but this is invalid and impossible to stop. As a person, everything I write is due to something I have experienced before in my life. As sad as it may be to admit, there is not much about me that is original. Everything I wear has been made by someone else, everything I have learned was discovered by someone else, and everything I write has been influenced by things already written. So it would hold that it is impossible to write a response to a piece without using the ideas in the piece. This should be understood and there is no need to cite the original piece unless for the purpose of a word for word quote.

As a student, I tend to agree mainly with Howard’s view on plagiarism. It is a common tool for a student to recreate the author’s original work. So much pressure is placed on a student in general education English classes. There is very little room for creative interpretation of an author’s work. I believe that every student wants to receive a good grade, so some students rely on the original author to do most of the work for them. Why would a struggling student offer their own view on an excerpt when the right answer is sitting on the page in front of them? Composition papers are subjective grades given by subjective professors. The famous author that composed the piece in the first place had the right view on the subject, so anything else would be less legitimate than what is already written. Patchwriting seems to be the easiest way for any student to get a good grade. As all of the authors brought up, there are many different categories of plagiarizers. However, they all want to finish the assignment and receive a good grade for the work.

In the current system, too much reliance is being placed on plagiarism detection software. I have submitted papers through several different systems and they have all shown up with a small percent plagiarized. The database from which these programs pull articles is massive. As I stated earlier, there is bound to someone who thought and wrote something similar to me before. Many students are given the same assignments over the same materials; it is inevitable that ideas and words will be the same. Only high percentage papers should be questioned. In contrast to ideas stated in Hourigan’s essay, these papers should not be penalized right away. The professor should do research on the plagiarized sections of text and make a decision on any consequences.
In general, the first step to fighting plagiarism is to define it in a clear and direct way. Second, the administration must make the definition well known and easy to follow. Third, the punishments must be apparent and uniform. The rules have to be applied equally by all professors. But most importantly, administration needs to realize that some forms of plagiarism are unavoidable because ideas on similar topics are bound to be similar.

Works Cited
Hourigan, Maureen. “Of Plagiarism, Paper Mills, and the Harried Hurried Student.” Essays on Writing. Eds. Lizbeth A. Bryant and Heather M. Clark. New York: Longman, 2009. 156-166. Print.
Howard, Rebecca Moore. “A Plagiarism Pentimento.” Essays on Writing. Eds. Lizbeth A. Bryant and Heather M. Clark. New York: Longman, 2009. 115-125. Print.
Miller, Keith. “Redefining Plagiarism: Martin Luther King’s Use of an Oral Tradition.” Essays on Writing. Eds. Lizbeth A. Bryant and Heather M. Clark. New York: Longman, 2009. 127-131. Print.

Reflection on our quarter together

Beginning of the End
Before you, I didn’t even care
Hyperbole and Alliteration and Consonance?
Yeah, whatever

Before you, I didn’t know where to start
“I thought these things were accidents,”
Repetition puts added value on a word?

Before you, I was lost
Reading definitions and examples to try to fake it
Using the diary of Anne Frank to appeal to my emotions? Pathos?

Before you, I was struggling
“Is this even right?”
Citing Bob Dylan and Supersize Me to give value to hooks thoughts?

Before you, I didn’t think it mattered
This is good enough to get by
Cursing in my essay makes it funny and the reader more comfortable? Shit… alright

Before you, I wanted to give up
“This doesn’t even apply to my major”
Wait so the author wants to make a logical argument, logos.

Before you, I thought I could get by on what I already knew
Before you, I was convinced I didn’t even have to try
Before you, my writing was simple

I decided to write a poem because as I have mentioned, I spent my last semester in high school writing poems. I also liked the option of abstractly stating my views. I felt an essay or some sort of traditional reflection would have limited my thoughts. I don’t like being limited to traditional grammar or having to conform to preconceived notions of what my paper should look like. So overall, the poem gave me room to be creative and write how I actually feel about our time spent together. For reference, “you” is my experience in class.

As for the title, I have always felt that any English class is a struggle for me to rebel against what the instructor has set forth, everything from grammar and length requirements to subject matter and punctuation. I have thought that colons, semicolons, and commas should go where I see fit. Unfortunately, the teacher obviously didn’t agree with me so it was a constant battle back and forth. However, this class I realized the importance of what was being taught to me. I could actually see the value in identifying rhetorical devices/strategies in literature. I saw how it could potentially help me in my life to come. So this quarter has been the first time I have “given in” to the teacher. I recognized I had to do the work assigned and actually spend time on assignments. It was the beginning of the end of my old way of tackling English class. I can honestly say that from here on out, my approach to my future English classes will be changed thanks to this class.

The structure of this poem was really important to me. I repeated the structure consistently throughout the poem to represent the constant struggles I had in trying to analyze the works. I would sit down every time and dread getting started. I would get frustrated and mad and think to myself everything that I wrote in the first lines of the stanzas. Then I would take out my A+B guide and my student guide and try to get something down on paper. It usually wasn’t very good, and usually wasn’t very thoughtful. I would read through examples and definitions and try to relate each one exactly the piece I was working on. I knew the definitions of the top 20 uses of rhetorical devices according to About.com. I knew the definitions but I still didn’t know the real effects they could have. However, as the quarter went on, I became more and more comfortable. The questions marks became periods and I felt confident in what I was writing. I could look at a piece and know what and how the author was trying to say something. At the end of the poem, I realized it was all worth it, because every single facet of life has to do with writing.

The individual stanzas contain specific rhetorical devices that either I or other students have written about this quarter. I used the wiki to look up what everyone has written about and incorporated those ideas into the final line of the stanzas. We were all struggling through the same things so this poem is a culmination of all the work that everyone has put in this quarter. As for me, this quarter has been a gradual entry into serious writing where I can’t just fake it and write down slop and expect to get by. But using the time I have spent learning and studying and memorizing the things I have this quarter I confident that I can correctly analyze other writings, and more importantly, add complexity to my own writing.

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