Rewind, 25-30 years ago, no global internet, no responsive search engines, no searchable databases and very few had access to learning materials, academic papers, thesis and textbooks. Then, if you had an assessment, you used a physical library, read old books and wrote assessments within the limitations of your educational environment and infrastructure. Fast forward to 2020, now we are all learning virtually, the internet is global, even in the most hard-to-reach areas and education is becoming universal.
One thing has not changed within that timeline; poor scholarship and sometimes mischief-making in the classroom/learning environment. This poor scholarship and mischief-making is the focus of this article today and is known as Plagiarism in education, academic and publishing settings.
Plagiarism has been defined as “presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own, with or without their consent, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgement. All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition.” University of Oxford (link)
Synonyms of plagiarism. Source (https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/plagiarism)
Plagiarism this phenomenon is almost as old as I can remember and is usually known by different terms depending on where you are in the world e.g. exam malpractice, cheating, dubbing, being smart etc. I first encountered this term during my first degree and I realised how serious this act is how severe the consequences can be. In some environments (no name calling here), these behaviours were/are enabled by poor academic quality in an institution, lack of tools to verify cheating, stealing or creative transference of someone’s work presenting as the work of another. Some of us might be all too aware of the “handout” or “small textbook” culture in some academic institutions in the world.
These are text re-packaged from the efforts of others with no acknowledgement of the original sources. This is plagiarism, dishonest and frankly illegal behaviour. Why do people plagiarise? There are many reasons why this happens and the University of Nottingham lists several reasons why students and people generally do this (see full article here)
- Bad time management skills
- Unable to cope with the work load
- “The tutor doesn’t care, why should I?”
- External pressure to succeed
- Lack of understanding
- “I can’t do this!”
- “I want to see if I can get away with it”
- “I don’t need to learn this, I only need to pass it”
- “But you said work together!”
- “But that would insult the experts in the field
Perhaps, you might recognise some of the phrases or reasons among this list and it is important to recognise that plagiarism is not always international however irrespective of the intentionality, recklessness or naivety; it is a disciplinary offence University of Oxford (link).
What is the impact and what are the penalties?
Evidence shows that students who plagiarise, cheat or commit an academic offence always believe they can get away without consequences. These days it is much harder to cheat or plagiarised submitted work. This is something that has also impacted people outside education including writers, politicians, researchers etc.
Some of the examples of the real life consequences of plagiarism include
- Guttenberg plagiarism scandal refers to the German defence minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg who had copied large sections of work for his research without attribution or citing the work in 2007. This led to him resigning from his position and he was also stripped of his PhD (Columbia College, Canada: link)
- In Korea’s Summer of Plagiarism, a blog article written by Jonathan Bailey (link), there were several cases of plagiarism, which included authors, Minister of Health, several government officials leading to calls for reform in the publishing industry.
- Newspaper editor at the New York Daily News was fired for plagiarising parts from another article published in another newspaper The Daily Beast (link)
These are just some examples and just a quick online search would reveal many cases and examples. Academics have lost jobs for plagiarised work, Vice-Chancellors dragged before court, authors taken to court and lost revenue, with some facing jail time for work they plagiarised 20, 30 years in the past. This highlights the importance of doing your own work, acknowledging the work of others, learning good scholarship and staying away from trouble.
What is the impact for students?
For students, the consequences of plagiarism include: reduction of assessment marks, failure on course component, damaged reputation, poor job references, failure of an academic year, ejection from the course or the University or College. The consequences can go from light to very severe.
Very often, students who plagiarise or commit academic offense fail to realise the impact can be wider than what happens in school, college or University. You could be refused a job if you’ve been found to plagiarise in College or University. You could also be refused formal references from previous tutors or mentors etc.
These might appear harsh, however, do ask yourself, would you be pleased to be attended to by a doctor, a nurse, dentist or surgeon if you found out they cheated their way through college?
In addition, if you found out your boss at work, the Director of your organisation or the person who decides your promotion or future at work is only in their position because they cheated their way through their degree. I bet you would see that as a travesty! Therefore, the consequences are usually greater than the act in itself.
How do you avoid plagiarising or committing an academic offence?
In an article Avoiding Plagiarism by the University of Leicester’s Student Learning Development Centre, several steps have been suggested (Read the full article here)
- Fully reference and acknowledge the work of others
- Use your own words and develop your own writing style
- Organise and structure your work in your own way
- Don’t be afraid to express your own views
Several Universities provide plagiarism-checking software for students to check essay submissions, reports, thesis and other academic work for poor academic writing, poor citations or elements of unacknowledged work. Some examples of these tools include Turnitin, Blackboard SafeAssign etc. you can also find some free software online including examples like Grammarly.
Where can you find help or advice?
The links provided in this article or any good University would have free advice on how you can avoid plagiarism and there are many examples you can learn from with scenarios. It would be really, valuable to embed yourself in this activity especially now if you are a student or researcher with little knowledge of this. We will share articles on good writing and good academic writing on the hub soon however if you are new to academic writing, you can start with our previous article
Better still get in touch with us on any of our social media platforms or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
So, every time you are faced with any writing, academic or non-academic, remember these steps
- Read widely
- Understand the concepts and context
- Use your own words, do not copy and paste
- Cite and acknowledge any and every author you have referenced.
- Use a plagiarism checker
This article was written by Dr Emmanuel Adukwu (Tweets @EmmanuelAdukwu). He is a leading academic at a UK University with significant experience supporting students at undergraduate, masters and doctoral level. He is also the co-creator of the Aspiring Professionals Hub. If you enjoyed reading the article, do leave a comment at the bottom of this article. Also, don’t forget to appreciate the efforts by following our pages on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Thank you.
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