Ian W. Riddell iwriddell at
Fri May 16 09:46:23 EDT 2003

I work for the distance learning department of a big US university 
(Penn State if you want to know, but what I say below is my opinion 
and not an official statement!) and we're finding more and more 
violations of our academic integrity and plagiarism regulations every 

I think it's a combination of things

- Students are not well-tought how to do research and how to cite the 
work of others in their writing. They're not taugh how to paraphrase 
and when it's appropriate to do so. So, in some cases, it's not that 
they don't know they're doing it (plagiarizing), it's that they don't 
know how NOT to do it. This, I think, is the fault of the high school 
system here and perhaps would be alleviated with a lower-level course 
in writing and research.

- We are hearing from more and more students that there is so much 
grade pressure (they need high grades to get into grad school or to 
get the job they want) and so much work to do that they feel they 
don't have any other choice.

- With the advent of the Web and the internet there has been (or is 
developing) a change in the perception of information. "If it's on 
the Web it's free for everyone to use" is a common sentiment. Again, 
this is a question of just not knowing the rules.

- There seems to be a change in ethics around these issues. Some 
students are growing up in a less-stringent ethical environment than 
perhaps some of us did. The ideas of "right" and "wrong" may not be 
as strong in some students. Some aren't even clear on the idea that 
their actions have consequences!

- And, yes, some students are lazy.

It's a whole bunch of things, in my opinion. Any or many of these may 
be at work in any student at different times. We're doing everything 
we can with our courses to raise students' awareness of these issues 
and their understanding of the consequences of their actions.


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>>Scholarly works of research aren't totally original either, but I think
>>the rules of the game there are that sources had better be scrupulously
>>listed and quotations properly attributed or else. Even then I would
>>probably assume that an omission *was* just a mistake unless claims to the
>>contrary were made by the author. I mean, I've had student's essays where
>>the student has nodded off & begun to copy out bits from the source text &
>>I've just hauled them in & frightened them a bit so they'll learn that
>>academics Really Care About This Stuff and be more careful in future, but
>>I don't assume there is malice aforethought involved.
>Really? You must be really honest. I think most of the time when 
>plagiarism occurs, it is pretty deliberate. By this I include 
>instances when writers (students or academics) just can't be 
>bothered to do things properly - ie your "nodded off" scenario. 
>There is no excuse for this, if you proofread you essay, it should 
>be obvious that it happened, because the tone will change. I don't 
>let students get away with anything approaching plagiarism, because 
>in my experience they know exactly what they are doing, and are good 
>at thinking up excuses when challenged. Like, I had a student who 
>took an essay from a website, and her excuse was, "oh, I got it from 
>a friend; I had no idea she got it from the web". Seriously, like 
>that was better. Another one said "I wrote one paragraph myself, 
>surely that should count for something".
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It wasn't only wickedness and scheming that made people unhappy, it 
was confusion and misunderstanding; above all, it was the failure to 
grasp the simple truth that other people are as real as you.
Ian McEwan Atonement

Ian W. Riddell
iwriddell at
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