How Far Is Far Enough

There is a fine line between creating and mimicking. Almost everyone hopes to be the person to compose that song that plays on the radio, that motivational speech, that touching work of art, that brilliant film, or that best selling book. Although people strive for these great ambitions, sometimes everyone needs a small push in the right direction to fabricate something incredible. This push may be the advice and guidance of another or, possibly, someone else’s song, speech, artwork, film, or book etc. Every great artist or writer had some help at some point in his life. As there is a fine line between constructing and copying, there is a fine line between what is allowed and not allowed to use from that outside source one would use to bolster their own ideas. If proper credibility and manipulation is not shown, then using that source word for word, so to speak, becomes an act of plagiarism. Just about everyone remembers this word, form school or even in their workplace. If asked, many would probably connect plagiarism to writing or some English class they had at one point. Many argue what is even considered plagiarism, and how far can writers go before they begin stealing other writers’ work. In the three essays, “A Plagiarism Pentimento” by Rebecca Moore Howard, “Redefining Plagiarism: Martin

Luther King’s Use of an Oral Tradition” by Keith D. Miller, and “Of Plagiarism, Paper Mills and the Harried, Hurried Student” by Maureen Hourigan, different views on plagiarism and examples are discussed and thoroughly examined. When reading these texts, the big question pops up: What truly is plagiarism and what is truly allowed to slide as your own work? Each of these texts has persuasive content and makes it difficult to decide what plagiarism is. After all, who out there is able to make a finalized judgment on such an opinionated subject?

Although everyone’s views on plagiarism are different from another, they all end up to the same conclusion to one degree or other. All three of the given texts essentially agree that plagiarism, at its finest, is wrong, but each believes that there are different levels to which a person can plagiarize. In this disagreement, there becomes an inability to come up with a true definition of plagiarism. Rebecca Moore Howard begins her essay by stating the definition in Dianna Hacker’s Bedford Handbook for Writers, which she uses to teach her students. “Two different acts are considered plagiarism: (1) borrowing someone’s ideas, information, or language without documenting the source and (2) documenting the source but paraphrasing the source’s language too closely, without using quotation marks to indicate that words and phrases have been borrowed” (Howard 115). Rebecca Howard may use this definition in class, but she has a conflict with it as well. She continues to discuss her class and how for one of their assignments she found that the majority of her class had committed plagiarism, according to the definition above. Her students had paraphrased a bit too closely for her comfort. Howard realizes that they had preformed what she calls patchwriting (Howard 115-121).

After doing extensive research, Howard finds that with patchwriting, students are using a method called the copy-delete strategy. This is where a student reads a piece of writing and picks which parts he feels he should include in his own writing and what should be deleted. Young writers who are still learning how to write do this in order to fully understand what they are reading and writing about. As the years go one, this skill gradually develops into the student’s own writing style, where he no longer relies on this strategy to write a paper. Even if a student is confident in his own writing, he still may have to use this method when given an assignment to write on that he doesn’t fully understand (Howard 121-125).

Rebecca Moore Howard agrees with these thoughts and comes to the realization that her class wasn’t plagiarizing, not on purpose at least, but rather using a technique to help understand the text and write about it. To Howard, as long as you paraphrase, credit sources, and don’t copy texts word for word then you have not plagiarized.

Keith D. Miller, I would say, has a more relaxed view of plagiarism, much like Rebecca Howard’s. Miller’s essay on plagiarism talks about the well-known Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Many People know that Martin Luther King Jr., Plagiarized large portions of his doctoral dissertation. Fewer realize that King used unacknowledged sources throughout his entire public career” (Miller 128). Although Martin Luther King Jr. borrowed the majority of his “doctoral dissertations,” which touched millions of people throughout his life, Keith Miller believes that King isn’t entirely at fault. Miller discusses how King came from an oral culture vs. the print culture that America has grown to be. King’s father, a preacher, along with other preachers “often swapped sermons.” Miller continues, “legally forbidden to read and write, slaves had created a highly oral religious culture that treated sons and sermons as shared wealth, not private property” (Miller 130). Martin Luther King grew up with these actions and adopted them as apart of his life. Seeing as how this is his culture, his life Miller defends King against the accusations of plagiarism. Though what King did is considered plagiarism, he can’t be blamed for his actions. King wasn’t familiar with the rules and regulations of America’s print culture (miller 128-131).

Rebecca Moore Howard and Keith D. Miller may share similar thoughts and ideas about plagiarism, but Maureen Hourigan may feel differently. Hourigan’s essay explains paper mills and many of the reasons why a student might plagiarize. She writes an in-depth ‘review’ of papers mills and how they basically con students into buying papers. Maureen Hourigan discusses their advertising techniques such as appealing to a students’ frustration with deadlines, plagiarism detection programs, social lives, keeping good grades, and personal time in general. Hourigan also mentions the confusion in “students’ ‘overreliance on consumerist notions of ownership’ accounts for their confusion about the ethical use of term papers purchased whole from Internet papers mills” (Hourigan 162). She also writes about a professor who purchases a paper form three different sites to see what the results would be. “One never arrived on time (Superior Papers); the second (Go Essays) earned a D + grade from the professor, a self-described ‘‘”soft touch,”’’ who volunteered to grade it; and the third (term Paper Relief) would have merited a ‘’” come and see me”’’ from a different professor/volunteer reader (‘Outsourcing Homework.”)” (Hourigan 164). All in all, Maureen Hourigan agrees that “Rutgers has it right: ‘”Avoid plagiarism at all costs”’ (Hourigan 165).

In my grade-school days, I was always told that as long as I paraphrased well, cited my sources, and never wrote down word for word from the sources that I would be fine with my papers. So far I haven’t had any trouble in following that advice. I guess I never really thought much on the idea of plagiarism until reading these texts. To me, it never seemed like a big deal, unless kids went to the extreme that is. After reading Howard and Miller, I feel more confident in my prior views of plagiarism and in my writing in the sense that I have never really had to worry about plagiarizing. As far as I am concerned with Hourigan, I’m not concerned at all. I feel that she is on the extreme side against plagiarism, and would most likely not agree with me. When it comes to paraphrasing someone else’s work, I see it as a tool. The way Howard described it as a way that unskilled writers approach writing their papers couldn’t feel more right to me. Also, in Hourigan’s essay she mentions knowing the policies for plagiarism at the beginning. I found that a little odd, seeing as how I don’t entirely agree with the disciplinary action. I believe that upon first committed plagiarism the student should only be given a stir talking with. I think that the teacher should spend a one on one session with this student to help change his writing habits and suggest the methods described in Howards essay. Then if the student continues to act on plagiarism, the other disciplinary action should be upheld.

As I may have mentioned before, writing is a tool in which to express one’s self, and in order to do so one must first learn to write. Plagiarism should be the first thing teachers discuss with their students. If a writer doesn’t know how to avoid this act then he is doomed to fall into corruption. It is both the student and teacher’s job to keep the student on the right track to writing. Plagiarism is a serious offense and should be approached with caution or, at least, navigated passed with appropriate methods.

steven hilton

Works Cited

Rebecca Moore Howard. “A Plagiarism Pentimento.” Essays on Writing. Lizbeth A.
Bryant and Heather M. Clark. New York: Pearson Education, Inc. 2009.

Keith D. Miller. “Redefining Plagiarism: Martin Luther King’s Use of an Oral
Tradition.” Essays on Writing. Lizbeth A. Bryant and Heather M. Clark. New
York: Pearson Education, Inc. 2009.

Maureen Hourigan. “Of Plagiarism, Paper Mills and the Harried, Hurried Student.”
Essays on Writing. Lizbeth A. Bryant and Heather M. Clark. New York: Pearson
Education, Inc. 2009.

Dear Reader,

In the course of my life, I have never really been that partial to writing. I used to hate writing in grade school. Up until about eighth grade is when I would say I started to enjoy writing more. Before, writing was just something I had to do to pass a class. It was an obstacle to overcome. In my eighth grade year, my teacher, who is oddly enough my stepfather now, focused most of the English class on grammar and writing. I guess he felt it was important. Upon first thought, I was quite discouraged and disappointed that we would have to write a lot. Although it was a lot of writing, it was very different than what we have had to write in the past. We wrote description papers, creative story papers, book reports on fantastic books like Hound of the Baskervilles and Frankenstein, etc. Because these papers weren’t research papers or science fair papers, I actually enjoyed writing them. I was able to see the more artistic side of writing, if you will. I was able to just write and not really have to do any research to write.
As high school came, I was back to my old impressions of writing. It was dull, repulsive, and forced. All writing that I have done in high school was either a research paper or very similar to one. The worst part of all was that I never really liked what we had to write about. We were either given a topic or a short list to chose from. I began to hate writing and missing what I had in eighth grade.
Going into college, I had no idea what to expect really. My brothers always came home from school with twenty-page papers to write and the topics they told me about seemed like torture. I wasn’t too excited for English class. The first day was a bittersweet feeling. We were given a paper to start working on right away, but the paper wasn’t a twenty-page paper. It was the same length as most of the ones I had to do in high school. I thought, “well this isn’t too bad, I can handle this work load.” When I started to write, it turns out that this class wouldn’t be as easy as I had in mind. I had never had a teacher who wouldn’t give a grade because I missed a parenthetical citation. This was the least of my worries though. The next paper was a rhetorical analysis paper. I had never had to write on of those before. I dove into it not knowing what to expect. It turns out that the essay we had to analyze was one of the most interesting pieces of writing I had to read and write about in years.
My teacher, Mrs. Trahan, told me that my writing was getting better and I actually got a grade on this paper as well. I was more please with this class and this teacher than any other since eighth grade. As the class went on, we were given a synthesis paper to write. At first, I wasn’t sure what this paper would be like, but, as my teacher described, it sounded too much like a research paper for my liking. I hate research papers. This paper was the least favorite out of the three so far. There was so much reading about plagiarism, and the worst part was that I didn’t care really about plagiarism. As much as I disliked this paper, Mrs. Trahan commented that it was my best so far and that she noticed some characteristics of Mary Pipher in it as well. Mary Pipher was the author of the essay Writing to Connect, which was what I had to read for the second paper. I was very pleased when I read that.
I came into this class with a murky view on writing. I liked the creative and artistic side of writing but hated the forced or papers that required extra research to write it. The first day of class Mrs. Trahan asked us what we were anticipating for the class. I said, “Grammar.” She said no and explained that grammar is something adopted through reading good writing and writing more and that it was really difficult to teach. I was skeptical of this idea at first, but now I realize that it is true. I still think teachers should work with students on the subject but I understand why they don’t. (Maybe someday they will figure something out for it.)
Not only can you learn grammar through reading more but you can also learn how to write better too. I seemed to have the impression that it was either creative or not so much, but it’s not that way at all. It is composed of both creativity and the information that must be researched and developed. Even though you might not be thrilled by what you are writing about, you can still make it a thrilling paper for yourself and others. A great writer can really capture your interest, and I have found that that is the most creative part of writing. There wasn’t really anything specific in the class that helped me get to this new idea, but as I read more and wrote more it became more and more clear. The reason I hated writing was because I didn’t make it interesting or creative. When I started being looser and more comfortable with the papers, both my teacher and I noticed the progress. In my first paper I stated something that honestly didn’t back up entirely. I just said it for the paper. Now, I feel completely different about it: Writing is not an obstacle to overcome but rather a tool or aid to convey and formulate thoughts and ideas as an extension of one’s self.

yours always,
steven hilton

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