A Jeanne Site
California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: July 2, 2000
Faculty on the Site.
The second most common difficulty most students have with plagiarism is in the synthesis of many different sources. When you've skimmed ten or fifteen books, trying to put together a term paper, it's very tempting to just take passages from each of those books and string them together. Since most teachers don't want the resulting string of quotations, you find yourself having to put all this information into your own words. How do you do this?
Well, one solution is to look at the suggestions we made in Understanding and Avoiding Plagiarism in Essay Answers. Leave enough time that you can write without referring to your sources. Hopefully, leave enough time to go back and compare your work with the source. All of this is easier if you don't try to do it within a really tight time period.
But it also helps if you can have a concrete example of what we mean. Here we're going to rely on Plagiarism.org, a service to universities, colleges, and high schools, to check their students' writing for plagiarism. No, not free. The schools have to pay for it. 50 classes at a time. You can see, this is a marketable problem.
As a criminologist, I am opposed to the idea of treating our students as criminals. I worry, as I think Confucius might have, that in focussing on the crime, as we, the faculty, have defined it, that we may be contributing to the crime. But the answer I see to that is self-reflection. Confucius said "teach by good modeling."
If we question ourselves honestly on what plagiarism is and how it has become such a touted problem, within the context of our present educational institutions, and if we listen to our students, in the name of whose good we pretend to punish, then perhaps we will strengthen the whole educational institution, the need to punish will disappear, and organizations like Plagiarism.org will have served a good end, even if for the wrong reasons.
In an attempt to guide our academic discourse to one of collaboration on eliminating the obstacles to learning, let's examine what we mean by synthesizing sources. I think it goes without saying that a term paper drawn from ten sources will receive a higher grade than one that draws on only one source, especially when that source is the textbook for your class.
Also I am one of those obsessive people that saves everything but can't find anything. I lose books while I am reading them. So just finding my notes from ten or twelve sources, in one place, makes me so happy I could easily forget to check whether any of those notes are quotes. CAUTION! That could be plagiarism! You must check. The best technique is to train yourself to always write in your notes the complete citation for the book or article you are using, and put quotation marks around quotes (No, you won't remember later! and what if another member of your research group uses your notes?) AND A PAGE NUMBER for any notes you take.
The quotes will force you to recognize that those are another's words. The page number will force you to recognize that that is another's ideas. This is also essential if you need to relocate your original sources.
Now I'd like you go to a sample of plagiarism supplied for teachers by Plagiarism.com. Look at the Structure Analysis they provide to the teacher. This sample is mid-scale on their measure of originality. Scroll down a little further, and you will find their content analysis, which tells us that six documents contained the exact same phrases.
That information is followed by the Internet links to the sections with the exact wording. Notice that the color coding makes it easy to compare the apparent sources to the manuscript.
Scroll quickly down the manuscript to see how much of it contains duplicate wording from sites on the Internet.
Look at the last section underlined in the manuscript, beginning with "The hard way: 1. For each promotion . . . ." Then link to Tracking Responses. Scroll a little more than halfway down and you will find the exact same passage.
Look at the light brown section about half way down the file, right after the orange section. It begins with "Many of us can break one large page into 3 smaller ones . . . " Then link to The Need for Speed; scroll a little more than half way down the file, and at the first bullet under Solutions Revisited: you will find Many of us can break one large page into 3 smaller ones . . . "
If you were a teacher, how do you think you would react to this paper and the amount of possible copying? If you were a student, how do you think such an amount of copying might have occurred?