Not just honesty

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I am loathe to accuse anyone of plagiarism, especially a fellow-professional, but sometimes it is a close call.

In the case of the two sites I am looking at in this post, it is a very close call. In one case, it’s not a call, it’s a shriek.

I have mentioned my alert before, my Google alert for the phrase “every written assignment they complete” (see Thirty percent).

My alert came up with two hits today. One was a Prezi with the title “Effective Research and Avoiding Plagiarism” and the other is a blog, “How to avoid plagiarism…“.   If my suspicions are correct, then there’s something a little ironic here. And there.

Let’s look at the prezi first.

The author helpfully provides a transcript of the slides, so you don’t have to sit through the actual prezi presentation, dizzying animations and transitions and all.

The last slide is a list of Works Cited.

Actually, it isn’t a list of works cited. One or two of the citations in the text match the references in the list of Works Cited, but not helpfully. The Rutgers University survey mentioned in one of the slides, for instance, refers (I think), to the work by Donald McCabe. Moreover, if this is anything at all, it is a (partial?) list of works used.

Meanwhile, the statement attributed to,  that good ol’ “According to Recent studies indicate that 30% of all students may be plagiarizing on every written assignment they complete” is not a helpful citation, since it leads to a website and not to the actual source of the quotation.  Just as worrying, perhaps even more worrying, there is not a quotation mark in sight.

[This statement just won’t die. It lives on. But: not only are the studies not recent – the notion was voiced as early as 2001 – they do not exist. The statement is based, probably, on a misinterpretation of a misunderstanding – but it grabs the attention, even now.] [If you didn’t look at my earlier post, Thirty percent, do.]

More irony: the transcript has one reference not included on the Prezi Works Cited slide, a reference to “The Owl at Purdue: MLA Formatting and Style Guide.”  And why, one might wonder, isn’t this list of Works Cited formatted consistently, and why isn’t it formatted consistently according to MLA style?


A study by the Josephson Institute, mentioned early on in the Prezi presentation, is not referenced at all.  Several other items of information in the presentation are not referenced. Linkages (citations) are not always clear.

What is more, what got me looking more closely, both the McCabe study and the Josephson study are OLD studies; later studies by McCabe and by Josephson both suggest that rates of cheating and of plagiarism are falling (see Go figure).

Indeed, all the statistics used in this Prezi are a little dated, oft-repeated in the literature. They may well be re-hashes of earlier work, earlier and hackneyed presentations on plagiarism. My investigation was not because I intended to “prove” plagiarism. I think the compiler has intended to cite her sources – or at least to show the origins of her data. I don’t think she quite made it. I think she has cited the sources which were given by the people whose work she is using. She is not citing the sources she has used, she is citing (?) the sources they have used, and she hasn’t checked them and she hasn’t tried to verify them either. This is NOT plagiarism, but it is (I think) poor scholarship. Poor practice, poor example, poor role-modelling, poor writing, poor research, poor scholarship.

And totally unhelpful.

The other piece

What can I say about the second piece “How to avoid plagiarism…“?

The third paragraph starts

According to a report by, “Studies indicate that approximately 30 percent of all students may be plagiarizing on every written assignment they complete.” Kids plagiarize for a variety of reasons. Some kids are lazy, some are unmotivated, some are disorganized, and some just don’t understand what plagiarism really is.


This paragraph is, alas, a word-for-word copy of the opening paragraph of a piece in Education World, Put an End to Plagiarism in Your Classroom. This is undated, but it has been around a long time.  Internet Archive has a copy dated 6 March 2002.

The blog post (dated 26 October 2014) has no quotation marks, no attribution.  Once again, gets the credit for those mythical recent studies and their meaningless findings – but the second half of the paragraph is just word-for-word copying.

No agonising for me here, no double-guessing.  This is poor practice at best, pure plagiarism at worst.

Irony, again

When I started this piece, my main concern was a discussion of re-hashed and out-of-date data.  An investigation into plagiarism was not on my mind at all.

What I wanted to say is that we cite and reference our sources to help the reader, and to demonstrate our credibility as writers and as researchers.   We cite to validate our evidence. The date of our evidence is an important part of that, especially when we are dealing with surveys and statistics. It was that undated “Recent studies…” that got me looking more deeply into the prezi. The unstated date…?

I stand by my title here, Not just honesty, because that is – was – where I wanted to go (and I shall, in my next post, promise). Helping our readers, supporting our claims to be writers and researchers, supporting what we write and enabling us to be part of the discussion – these are the reasons we cite and we reference our sources. Academic honesty is just a small part of citation and referencing.

But oh, isn’t it a big small part?

2 thoughts on “Not just honesty

  1. Pingback: Of serendipity and procrastination | Honesty, honestly…

  2. Pingback: Less is more (in this case) | Honesty, honestly…

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