Avoiding “Plagiarism Avoidance”

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Try a Google search for the exact phrase [“plagiarism avoidance”] and you get about 2,880 hits.  Plus one – I’ve no doubt just added to the tally.

The exact phrase [“avoiding plagiarism”] is a little more popular: 393,000 hits.

We teach … but what do they learn?

EasyBib is a site which helps students generate consistent and accurate references; one reason for its popularity is because it tries to make things easy for the student;  type in a book ISBN or a website’s URL and back comes a reference in whatever style the writer chooses. easybib-avoid.jpg EasyBib does not cover all types of source, and it often makes mistakes.  The student has to stay alert and has to THINK!  But that is for another post.)

On the EasyBib site, there is a page with an attractive and useful flow-chart:

“Are my own words being used?” YES or NO?
If YES, “is it my idea?”?  If YES, good.  If NO, “You’re paraphrasing”  with an arrow to “Add a citation and bibliography!”

“Are my own words being used?” YES or NO?
If NO, “Are you using quotation marks or placing it in a block quote?”

And so on.

The chart is headed, all upper case “A GENERAL GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING WRITTEN PLAGIARISM,” and the page itself carries the title “How to Tell if You’re Plagiarizing.”

And I cannot help but think that they, and we, are getting it the wrong way round.

Surely what we want to get across is NOT how to avoid plagiarism?

Surely we DON’T want students to understand written plagiarism?

Surely the object is NOT to beat Turnitin?

Surely we DON’T want students to tell if they are plagiarising?

Surely what we want is for students to write right, to use other people’s material, words, ideas, images, music, data ethically?  Surely we want them to reference their work and acknowledge their sources because this is what scholars do, because it is the honest thing to do, because this is what we do?

It comes to the same thing, but it turns the process on its head. This is a positive approach. This is what we do. This is what we expect. If you don’t do this, it is wrong. It’s as wrong as saying that Paris is the capital of Germany, as saying that 9 plus 6 is 18.

I firmly believe that  when you have high expectations, people will live up to them.  I also believe that, if your expectations are low, people will live down to them.

Teaching plagiarism avoidance is having low expectations.  It makes the name of the game “Beating Turnitin.” It makes referencing an empty exercise, jumping through hoops, without real understanding.

Teaching the right, accepted, scholarly way to write, to use other people’s material, that is  having high expectations. Students learn to write well, to use other people’s material to support their arguments, build on what is know, show the extent of their research, demonstrate their awareness of authority, demonstrate scholarship.

They learn and demonstrate integrity.  A much better game altogether.

[Addendum, 31 August 2015: The link to the EasyBib poster no longer works – if you have just clicked on the thumbnail, you’ll have got an error message.  Using Internet Archive, I see that the page was removed soon after this post. The original poster is available, as saved by the Archive on 18 January 2013, and it is still available on the EasyBib site. The main difference is that the original title How to Tell if You’re Plagiarizing, the sentence which inspired this post, has been removed.

[This is not the first time that EasyBib has made changes to its product after I have made comments; perhaps they should put me on the payroll?]

2 thoughts on “Avoiding “Plagiarism Avoidance”

  1. Pingback: No, we don’t! | Honesty, honestly…

  2. Pingback: How much rewriting? | Honesty, honestly…

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