I am in the middle of a workshop with a class on the subject of plagiarism and the research process. Yesterday we had a lively discussion about what constitutes plagiarism. When I told them that inadequate paraphrasing, when you simply change a few words and the sentence structure of the original source, is considered plagiarism, they didn’t believe me.
Seriously, they fought me the whole way.
“How can we write anything, then?”
“Are we supposed to cite everything?”
“This is making me angry. I don’t even know how I am going to do my research now.”
I don’t think this reaction is uncommon. In fact, I remember doing projects when I was in school and being acutely aware of the rule (I honestly don’t remember where I got this idea) that there was an actual amount of words that you needed to change in order not to plagiarize. I spent a lot of time trying to find synonyms instead of trying to understand the information, so I know where they are coming from.
Luckily, I am following up with some work on how to avoid plagiarism (an embargo on the copy and paste would be a good start…) but in the meantime, I feel like I need back up. Although I thought I gave them a good example, I feel like I need some proof that this kind of patchwork writing is not acceptable. Here is the example I gave to them:
I thought it was pretty clear, but what do I know?
Just in case you find yourself in the position where you have to convince incredulous students that just because they changed the sentence structure around and used the word “battle” instead of “warfare” does not mean that this is their own idea or even their own words, here are some links from some big universities that give examples of mosaic plagiarism:
Bates College (if you scroll over the example the plagiarized parts will be highlighted!)
Cuny (they use the same passage as Bates…)
Okay. Now I feel like I just put on my librarian armour and am now ready to do battle with the disbelievers. First step: Get them to recognize that the way they are doing research leads to this kind of plagiarism. Next step: Show them effective research and note-taking strategies to avoid it (and in the meantime learn more).