The Lighter Side of Plagiarism

THE LIGHTER SIDE OF PLAGIARISM….Professor Kieran Healy of the University of Arizona doesn’t like plagiarism:

Few things annoy faculty more than plagiarism, particularly when it?s poorly executed. (That doesn?t mean well-executed copying is better, just that it?s a different sort of insult.) Because people who plagiarize are usually also poor students, they tend not to realise that it?s obvious when a paragraph of bumbling prose suddenly rises from its own ashes to become lucid and flowing, or even just moderately coherent.

This is true. I worked at a company last year in which one of our guys in Taiwan was assigned to research a particular market opportunity for us. He spent a few weeks on it and delivered a 3-4 page report when he was done. It took me about ten seconds to know that he hadn’t written it, and another 30 seconds or so to pick out a phrase or two, type them into Google, and figure out which magazine article he had copied.

The problem was that he just didn’t realize that professional prose from magazine writers is colorful, bouncy, uses telling details, quotes sources, and just generally sounds way different from even good writing done by normal people. As Steven Taylor put it in Kieran’s comments, “I love how students seem not to understand that if they are writing in pidgin English one minute, and then lapse into Harvard-sounding prose the next, that I’m going to notice.”

Other amusing plagiarism stories from comments to this post:

  • I had a student who “borrowed” a friend’s paper, but she couldn’t figure out how to get her friend’s name out of the header at the top of every page, so she tore off the right-hand corner of every page. It almost worked, but while I was in a conference with her and another student, the other student kept subtly (and then not-so-subtly) pointing to the torn corners.

  • My all-time favourite: a paper on Luther lifted directly from the Catholic Encyclopedia. The student never quite got the point that the article damned Luther by faint praise.

  • My wife was once handed a paper with the links in it still underlined. I thought that was hysterical; she was pissed; the student couldn’t figure out how he’d been caught.

  • Been there. I’ve also received a paper with the URL printed at the top of each page.

  • I’ve received identical submissions from multiple students, with only the font differing between them (to be fair, in this case we allowed students to work together on a specific assignment – but requested they submit their own write-up). It was depressing to have to explain – to very bright graduate students – that making cosmetic changes doesn’t qualify as “doing your own work.”

  • A student turned a paper into my father that was a copied email. Apparently, the student’s brother had taken the class a few years earlier and had sent his brother the paper. Problem was, instead of copying just the paper, he copied the entire email, including the messages at the top of the email. Those messages (paraphrase):

    Can you send me your Congress paper? This class blows.

    Reply: Yeah that class blows. Here’s the paper.

    Great way to start your paper.

OK, I’d better stop now, since I’m basically plagiarizing Kieran’s entire comments section in order to make my own blog funnier and more entertaining. But it’s fair use, I tell you!

However, Invisible Adjunct talks about the “plagiarism horror stories contest that someone should sponsor.” I nominate IA to do just that. After all, just because you’re anonymous doesn’t mean you can’t sponsor a contest….

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