By Guy Robertson, contributor
Plagiarism is easy. Surf the Internet for 2,000 intelligent words on Shakespeare, print and submit. A week later, your prof returns your essay with an “A.” Won’t everybody be surprised, especially your prof, that you know so much about Hamlet? Your academic record stays with you for the rest of your life. Cheating in any way is just not worth the risk. Ever.
How do they know?
You’re under 30 and a high school grad. But your essay makes you sound like a much older scholar, with a formidable vocabulary and a mature turn of phrase. Profs are very sensitive to your natural style. So when you submit an essay that doesn’t sound like you, they start looking for other inconsistencies.
Then there’s your research. You’ve had only a week to write your paper, but your bibliography indicates a lengthy perusal of scholarly resources. You’ve cited articles in obscure journals to which the university doesn’t subscribe. You’ve quoted out-of-print books and dead Shakespeareans. Your prof is familiar with many of these sources and their authors. She wonders how you’ve absorbed so much information so quickly.
It’s easy to get caught
Suspecting plagiarism, your prof transmits some of your sentences to a website that compares them with all other online sources. Seconds later, you’re caught. The prof has evidence that you have presented another person’s work as your own. The university will accuse you of plagiarism.
Your prof might give you an opportunity to admit the truth. Some cases merit leniency, but most lead to an investigation by a disciplinary committee. You could be suspended from the university or permanently expelled.
There are long-term results of plagiarism, too. And they can be even more unpleasant. Family members can react badly, expressing shame, anger, disappointment and hostility. Friends and fellow students can be unsympathetic. And professional schools and graduate programs shun anyone with a record of any form of cheating.
Books, magazines and paper mills count, too
The Internet is not the only source of material for plagiarism, merely the most current. Plagiarists have also relied on encyclopedias, magazines and newspaper articles, and essays submitted by other students. But plagiarists can make stupid mistakes. At UBC during the 1970s, a student submitted a paper on mythology. The prof commended the student for excellent work, but failed him. Why? Because the student had plagiarized a paper by the professor’s wife, who was an expert on mythology and taught in the same department.
Plagiarists also sometimes submit essays from paper mills, paying to select one from the mill’s files. The quality of these products can be high. But remember, profs will easily sniff out bogus-sounding work. If you can’t answer questions about your own paper, or elaborate on certain points you made, you’ll be under suspicion.
Leaving out info is also plagiarism
Sometimes a student finds a useful passage in a book or article and simply inserts it into her essay without a source. When you obscure the real author by leaving out footnotes and bibliographical information, you’re committing plagiarism.