The Academic Dishonesty

I spent a whole lot of time this weekend writing a letter to the Dean about a case of “academic dishonesty” (i.e., cheating) in one of my classes. This is not fun for me--I do not cackle with glee, exclaiming, “I’ve got you now!” in a Darth Vader-like voice. (I only do that when I’m marking exams--kidding!)

My TA in the course--who is very sharp--noticed that some answers on a written assignment were, um, identical to those on a website you might have heard of: Wikipedia. Now, there’s nothing wrong with going to the Internet to look for answers to a question--I’m googling and wikipedia-ing (?) all the time. What is important is making the right use of your sources.

First of all, this means deciding, is it a credible source? Is the information presented credible? Is it correct? Does it apply to what I’m even looking for?

If you decide to use that information, it is essential (required, OK?) that you make it clear and explicit that the ideas you are presenting are not your own. You cannot just cut-and-paste your answers. No, no, no. At the very least, you must (again, this is required) paraphrase from the original source. That means that you have to put it in your own words. How do you do that? The UofA Libraries have great information on what to do, and how to do it. Student handouts are available at the Guide to Plagiarism and Cyber-Plagiarism.

Here are examples of good and bad paraphrasing, from the Purdue Online Writing Lab:

The original passage:
Students frequently overuse direct quotation in taking notes, and as a result they overuse quotations in the final [research] paper. Probably only about 10% of your final manuscript should appear as directly quoted matter. Therefore, you should strive to limit the amount of exact transcribing of source materials while taking notes. Lester, James D. Writing Research Papers. 2nd ed. (1976): 46-47.

A plagiarized version:
Students often use too many direct quotations when they take notes, resulting in too many of them in the final research paper. In fact, probably only about 10% of the final copy should consist of directly quoted material. So it is important to limit the amount of source material copied while taking notes.

A legitimate paraphrase:
In research papers students often quote excessively, failing to keep quoted material down to a desirable level. Since the problem usually originates during note taking, it is essential to minimize the material recorded verbatim (Lester 46-47).
See the differences? And look how the legitimate version includes a reference to the source of the information. All those names and dates in my courses? Those are citations to who did the research--I certainly didn’t do that study or make up that theory. It would be ridiculous for me to claim that I did.

You also shouldn't, say, hand in another student's work and pass it off as your own. Students may think that's harder to catch, but you'd be surprised. (Sorry, but I'm not going to explain how that works, but it is possible.)

The bottom line for all of this is: Do your own work. There is value in doing that--you’re getting an education. If all you do is cut-‘n-paste (and get away with it), what are you going to do when you’re in a job and have to do work for real? When there’s nowhere to cut from? That’s when you’ll be in real trouble.

Plus, if no one plagiarizes, I won’t have to spend time on the weekend writing letters to the Dean.

Why aren’t you studying?


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