Jaclyn Lynch

Plagiarism From Different Points of View

Students across the country are writing college essays and there is a chance that some of them have plagiarized, maybe without even realizing they did it. But what truly defines plagiarism? Where is the line the separates complete plagiarism from a student’s attempt of rewording and understanding an author’s idea? There are many different ways to plagiarize, and some plagiarism is commonly overlooked. Who is at fault for students’ plagiarizing? Three essays, “A Plagiarism Pentimento” by Rebecca Moore Howard, “Redefining Plagiarism” by Keith Miller, and “Of Plagiarism, Paper Mills” by Maureen Hourigan”, each provide their own answers to these questions. Although Hourigan sees the plagiarism problem as mostly a lack of effort on the students’ part, Howard and Miller discuss the other types of plagiarism that can be disregarded and may not even be considered plagiarism at all. One thing that is very clear after reading all three essays is that there is a much-needed change when it comes to the definition of plagiarism.

“A Plagiarism Pentimento” by Rebecca Moore Howard introduces the process students use to understand and write about other works of literature, called “patchwriting.” Patchwriting is “copying from a source text and then deleting some words, altering grammatical structures, or plugging in one-for-one synonym substitutes.” ( 115-116) The author has a flashback to when she was teaching at Colgate University in 1986. After grading her students’ essays she finds that many of them plagiarized, according to the official definition of plagiarism. She argues that the students have not plagiarized, but instead used the patchwriting technique. Howard believes students are attempting to comprehend what they are reading in order to become a member of the literary community. She breaks down her information by putting it into numerical data, then compares her analysis of her own students’ texts to a number of other literary researchers’ findings. Her solution to this plagiarism problem is to find superior methods of teaching students to approach writing. (116-122)

In Keith D. Miller’s “Redefining Plagiarism,” the rules of plagiarism are examined from a different point of view. The written literary culture is compared to the orally traditional cultures. Miller researches the oral customs of Martin Luther King and other Christian preachers. King’s speeches and sermons successfully moved people from all different walks of life, even though large portions of his work were plagiarized. Miller asks “do we condemn him as a plagiarist, grant him (and some other groups such as preachers) a dispensation from the rules of copyright, or rethink plagiarism?” (131) To better understand King’s use of other people’s work, Miller explores the oral culture of preachers and the African-American population. For years Christian preachers have been “borrowing” each other’s sermons. Plagiarism is used to protect an individual’s thoughts, but most preachers are not creating original thought. They are instead attempting to teach the widespread, unchanging message of their religion. During times of slavery, it was considered illegal for slaves to read or write. Therefore many traditions were passed down from one generation to the next by voice instead of script. Because both of these communities rely on oral customs, the sources become difficult to trace. King, belonging to both the church and African-American communities, inherently relied on this passing of information by word of mouth. (128-131)


Paper mills and student plagiarism are thoroughly researched and examined in Maureen Hourigan’s “Of Plagiarism, Paper Mills, and the Harried Hurried Student.” During the beginning of this essay the reader is reminded that plagiarism is nothing new, and has existed in schools for decades. Before the Internet was invented, sororities and fraternities collected papers for other brothers and sisters to “borrow.” Plagiarism was also exercised by collecting passages from different books after searching in the library. Today, however Hourigan states “Whether or not easy access… on the Internet has caused an increase in student plagiarism is a subject of debate among academics. But common academic wisdom suggests that it has.” (157) These websites, called “paper mills,” sell essays to their customers for a small fee. In her essay, Hourigan presents a lot of evidence against these Internet paper mills. She finds that some of the essays bought from these paper mills were only worthy of C’s. Also, even websites that claim their essays are one hundred percent original produced papers that were plagiarized. Although finding sources may have been become easier thanks to the Internet, so has catching plagiarism. There are also many websites dedicated to catching plagiarism that enter students’ essays into a type of search engine. (157-164) In the end, Hourigan concludes “In passing off someone else’s work as your own, you cheat yourself of learning experiences, cheat fellow students of fair evaluation of their work, diminish trust between student and teacher, and undermine the value of a degree from your institution.” (165)

After reading these three essays, I see that there are many different ways to plagiarize, and plagiarism is nothing new to academic society. Hourigan remembers “In the 1960’s, when I was a college student, fraternity and sorority houses kept files of graded papers on hand for brothers and sisters…” (157) Miller also writes of Martin Luther King’s use of plagiarism during this era. Plagiarism does not have to be blatant cutting and pasting, either. Maybe a student worded their sentence too closely to their source, or just totally forgot to cite. Students can plagiarize by buying papers from the Internet, using a friend’s essay, copying from a book, using processes like Howard’s “patchwriting”, and the list goes on. There is no limit to the number of ways a student can plagiarize, but there should be a limit on what is considered plagiarism, and what is not.

When I thought of the idea of “accidental” plagiarism before reading these essays, I thought of a student simply forgetting to cite or use quotation marks. Howard and Miller presented two new kinds of accidental plagiarism. Howard’s Patchwriting technique is commonly considered plagiarism by many universities. On the other hand, Martin Luther King’s blatant copying of entire passages is often ignored. When a student uses processes like patchwriting to develop their essay, I believe it shouldn’t be labeled as plagiarism. We are students who are still in the learning process. Therefore, we should not be so harshly punished for something we may not have even meant to do. On the contrary, King was a public figure who many peopled today still hold in high esteem, and his plagiarism was usually overlooked. In his defense, King came from two cultures that rely on oral traditions; African Americans and Christian preachers. Before the civil war, slaves were not allowed to read or write. Because of this, African Americans relied on word of mouth communication. Christian preachers are another group that depends on oral customs. They share sermons and use each other’s speeches habitually. (130) Religious figures are not teaching original thought; they are instead passing on their devout message. Because of this, I do not think it is necessary for them to have to cite their sources. I believe much of King’s plagiarism is ignored because of his membership of these two cultures, and his ability to move so many people with his speeches. If King did cite his sources during his speeches, they probably would not have had such a dramatic effect on their audience and would have been confusing.

Who is to blame for all this plagiarizing? Since students plagiarize in many different ways and for many different reasons, there are several answers. Yes, there are students who have no moral issues with submitting a paper they paid for or “borrowed” from a friend. Although the student is mostly to blame here, the Internet has definitely made it easier to find sources and sites like paper mills. But there are also students who worked very hard on their essays and simply forgot to cite, or perhaps did not know they were supposed to. In this case, the teacher may be the one to blame. The students may need a better explanation of when to cite their sources, or more in-depth rough draft reviews.

It is not nearly as important to blame someone for students’ plagiarizing as it is to redefine plagiarism itself. It is apparent in both Howard and Miller’s essays that there is a need to reevaluate what plagiarism is and when it should be punished. Like Howard, I believe it is okay for students to reword an author’s sentence if it helps to understand the passage. I also agree with Miller when it comes to religious cultures borrowing sermons or quoting word for word from religious passages. The new definition of plagiarism should clearly define what is stealing and what is not. In most cases, it is obvious if the student meant to plagiarize or was just attempting to understand the essay better. Intentional plagiarism should continue to be reprimanded, while accidental plagiarism should be seen as more of a mistake during the student’s learning experience.

Works Cited
Hourigan, Maureen. “Of Plagiarism, Paper Mills, and the Hurried Harried Student.”
Eds. Lizbeth A. Bryant and Heather M. Clark. New York:Longman, 2009. 156-167. Print.
Howard, Rebecca Moore. “A Plagiarism Pentimento.” Eds. Lizbeth A. Bryant and
Heather M. Clark. New York:Longman, 2009. 115-126. Print.
Miller, Keith D. “ Redefining Plagiarism.” The Chronicle for Higher Education.
Eds. Lizbeth A. Bryant and Heather M. Clark. New York:Longman, 2009. 128-
131. Print.


My First College English Class

One of my biggest fears before my freshman year of college was having to write papers. I imagined endless essays and massive amounts of literature. Fortunately, my assumptions were wrong. Instead of numerous essays, we only had four papers to write during English Composition 101. What I did not expect, was that these four essays would be so challenging.

In high school, I considered myself a successful, talented writer. College English class really opened my eyes and I realized high school writing is much different than college writing. What would most likely be an “A” paper in high school, is a “C” paper in college. But this is just the beginning of my college English class trouble.

There were many faults in my writing this past quarter. Trying to decide what points to make in my essay was the biggest dilemma. The Reading, Composing, Responding essay was the easiest for me. I did not have much trouble putting together this essay because I understood what the essay was supposed to do. On the other hand, I was not so sure what argument to make in the Rhetorical Analysis and Synthesis papers, mostly because I didn’t understand what a rhetorical analysis or synthesis really is. Because of this, my writing became more confusing and unorganized. My thoughts were scattered in my brain, and also in my writing. Although I understood the passages we were responding to, I did not understand what the function of the essay was.

After choosing an angle to approach my paper with, I ran into even more problems. I often did not explain myself well enough. Since I understand what I mean to say, I don’t think to clarify to my audience so that they are able to understand, too. I need to work on providing more supporting details and evidence for my arguments. I also have a tendency to skip around in my writing and insert unconnected, irrelevant sentences. This ruins the “flow” of the paper, and makes it harder to read.

One strong point of my writing was summarizing. I have been writing summaries for years, and I feel very comfortable with them. In some cases, like my synthesis paper, my summaries were so strong that they overpowered the rest of the essay, which is usually the most important part. This makes my essays seem to start out strong and then get weaker. In my rhetorical analysis, I summarized so much that I forgot to actually analyze the text. In this way, my strength became my weakness.

Although I did not do as well in English Composition 101 as I would have liked to, I learned a lot. The rhetorical analysis and synthesis were new to me, but now I have a better understanding of them. Before this class, I stuck to the boring and predictable five-paragraph essay formation. In my synthesis essay, I attempted to try something new for my last paragraph. Instead of writing a conclusion that only restates what is said in the introduction, I brought up a new point: the need for a change in the definition of plagiarism. I feel that this made my essay end a little bit stronger than usual. I have also come to realize how important it is to read through your final drafts multiple times. I have a tendency to leave silly grammar or spelling mistakes, which can easily be avoided.

The most important part is that I learned from my mistakes during this course. I feel that I have a much better grasp on college writing now, and will be more comfortable when I start English Composition 102. I am more open to trying new tactics with my writing and straying away from standard essay structures. I am also determined to understand the functions of each essay better in order to make stronger arguments. By writing so poorly, I actually learned a lot more and know what to work on for the future.


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