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Academic Kidnapping: Plagiarism and how to Avoid it

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Plagiarism. The wrongful appropriation of another author’s words, thoughts, ideas or expressions and the representation of them as your own original work. The term comes from the Latin word for kidnapper, and ‘kidnapping’ the work of another person is a serious offence in academia that could mean the end of not only your university studies but also your legal career.

How plagiarism can happen, and what happens next

Plagiarism comes in many forms and can be deliberate or accidental.

A form of deliberate plagiarism is presenting your work as your own even though it has been entirely produced by someone else or in collusion with another person. This includes providing your work to another student for the purpose of plagiarising, paying another person to complete your assignment and submitting it as your own, or submitting an assignment (in part or whole) that you have already completed for another course. A form of accidental plagiarism can include using the same words as the original text and not acknowledging the source, or forgetting to add the quotation marks around the words.

If you commit accidental or deliberate plagiarism, serious consequences can follow. The repercussions for plagiarism can include failing that assignment or that subject, however further penalties can include meeting with the Associate Dean of Education in regards to your future enrolment at your university.

Most seriously for law students, it may mean that you will not be admitted as a lawyer. As a prerequisite of being admitted as a lawyer is that you are a ‘fit and proper person’ of ‘good fame and character.’ Honesty is a requirement of this ‘good fame and character’, and copying the work of another person can be enough to satisfy the Court that you are not an honest person.

I have only been working as a marker for two years, but I already feel that I’ve seen every trick in the book. I have come across students copying each other’s work, students purchasing essays from the Internet, students resubmitting assignments from previous units, students copying and pasting from websites (sometimes without removing the hyperlinks from Wikipedia!), the forging of doctor’s certificates and students taking large chunks of text from articles.

Every time I come across plagiarism, I am disappointed and saddened because I know of the possible repercussions for the student. I am also disappointed as I have provided the student with the time to complete the assignment and therefore there should be no need for cheating.

How plagiarism is detected

People always ask ‘but how do you know it is not the student’s work?’ The simple answer is, you just know. Often the language changes. The font changes. The style changes. Something seems amiss.

As a marker you will often have access to a student’s previous assignments and you can compare their language style and see if something has changed. When I found a purchased essay, I noticed out-dated references and the use of more American terms (college instead of university, fall instead of autumn, attorney instead of lawyer, etc).

Programs such as URKUND or Turn-It-In can also tell markers how much of a document is taken from other sources (including previously submitted assignments) and direct the marker to the exact source the information was taken from.

How you can avoid plagiarism

Plagiarism is often the result of two cases. Either the student has decided consciously to copy the work of another, or the student has poor academic skills and has not copied deliberately.

To avoid plagiarism, you should ensure that you find your own voice and develop a clear argument. Learn to improve your writing style. You should ensure that you manage your time effectively and take the time to research widely and make effective notes. Learn to acknowledge your sources (start using Endnote to organise your sources). Take an academic skills workshop at your university, speak to your unit convenor, and make an appointment with your librarian to improve your research skills.

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