Plagiarism is defined as “The expropriation of another author’s text, and the presentation of it as one’s own” (Dichtl, p. 372). It is an epidemic in many schools – it frustrates teachers and lands students in a world of trouble when caught. It renders the whole education process moot, and can even ruin academic careers, as well as scientific disciplines that are being contributed to by plagiarized papers. It is a symptom of a greater disease known as academic dishonesty.
When participating in a school or academic setting, it is absolutely vital to maintain academic honesty. Academic honesty must be maintained for the following reasons: it ensures that the student is receiving a true education, and that they are exercising critical thinking and actual learning; it allows for fair grading of quality papers, and ensures a level playing field for other students; and it prevents the appropriation of other people’s accredited, legitimate work by others. In this paper, we will examine these reasons, as well as their importance in an academic setting.
Schools, for the most part, execute an honor system for academic honesty; faculty trusts that students will not plagiarize, and will provide original, appropriately-cited content. This is often accomplished “through promotion of academic honor codes and various rituals and pledges from students” (Levy and Rakovski, p. 735). The reason for this is because of the reason that students are sent to school: to learn. Honest students are a prime receptacle for learning; as they go through the work, they become familiar with time management, study skills, and the ability to think critically on their feet. These attributes will help them in future careers and pursuits; academic dishonesty merely teaches students how to be deceitful and learn the path of least resistance to an education. While this may come in handy for some, it prevents them from being able to deal with a difficult situation. There are only so many ways you can cheat yourself out of a real life scenario.
When in class, the aim is to teach students concepts and facts that they will retain and learn, as well as skills that they must exercise both in class and in the outside world. Writing is one of those skills – the ability to come up with an idea or an opinion about a subject and articulate it in a skillful and complex manner. This creates a new perspective upon which others can learn as well.
With academic dishonesty, however, this cycle is meaningless; the student no longer is interested in learning, but in getting the work done and out of their hair. Therefore, they are not retaining or practicing the skills and facts that were given to them, instead relying on others to speak for them (others being the academic papers they appropriate from). If academic dishonesty were allowed, there would be absolutely no point to attending school – it would merely become a degree mill where, as long as you could fake it appropriately, you could pass. Pretending that someone else’s work is your own robs the student of the chance to think for themselves and present their own ideas – this is a death sentence for critical thinking.
One reason to keep academically honest factors in the possibility that there are students who get away with cheating. In these instances, they are not working as hard as the rest of the students, putting those who are maintaining academic honesty on an uphill battle with those who simply plagiarize and don’t have to do the hard work of thinking about their assignments. Those who cheat and are academically dishonest are also punishing the other students by forcing them to work hard for the grade they simply took a shortcut for – this is unfair to both the other students and the cheater himself, due to the academic dishonesty that preventing them from learning.
It all has to do with integrity – the ability to look yourself in the mirror and be happy with the things you’ve done. Can an academically dishonest person say that they did the best they could with their day or what was put in front of them? Or did they take the easy way out? Answers to these questions vary depending on the student’s level of commitment to their education. Regardless of that level, the job of schools is to teach, and therefore they must learn. They cannot be allowed to get away with “gaming” the system through plagiarism and cheating. This places them in contempt of the entire school system, and prevents them from learning anything outside of their own sphere of influence.
One of the most important things to consider about academic honesty is that, when writing a paper, you cannot simply take from what others have done – you have to provide your own context for their ideas, and be sure to credit them appropriately. Stealing the work of others denigrates both yours and their hard work; they took the time to come up with the original idea, write the original text, and get it published and peer-reviewed. If you wholly copy and paste the words that someone else wrote and claim them as your own, the original authors are not benefiting from its usage.
The way to prevent this is to be sure to cite and quote any work that you are applying to your own paper. Using outside sources is a fantastic way to lend credence and support to your paper’s arguments, but it is only academically honest when you are up front about where these words and notions came from. It can even happen without you realizing it – “Copying can be unintentional and yet still amount to infringement” (Alfrey, 2011). In some instances, this may be forgivable, but far too often this is used as an excuse by those who are truly guilty in order to get away with the offense. While you may find it difficult to come up with a new idea – after all, as some argue, there are no new ideas – you can at least make the effort to mention where this old idea came from in your paper.
A student must make sure to exercise appropriate academic ethics – these are tenets of performance and behavior that indicate an air of professionalism and integrity in the classroom setting (Hall, 2004). When an assignment is given, it must be followed to the letter. When sources are required, be sure to not use them as the complete basis for your paper – this prevents even structural elements from being taken in your paper. Even basically rewriting their paper amounts to plagiarism.
There are disastrous consequences to plagiarizing and being academically dishonest – the most blatant of which are grade reduction, suspension and expulsion. Many schools have zero-tolerance policies for academic dishonesty, making it possible to end your academic career with a single plagiarized assignment (Levy and Rakovski, 2006). In these instances, getting an education can get exponentially more difficult, making it a fairly successful deterrent for cheating.
In this age of the Internet and instant access to information, it is extremely easy to plagiarize. Many people simply look up whatever they need, snatch up a few sources, and steal the text wholesale. This temptation can hit many students in their time; however, it is vital to repress those instincts to take the easy way out of a hard assignment. The struggle to perform an assignment becomes an incentive for learning, a reason to study and pick up these concepts for oneself. This is knowledge that is being given to a student for a very good reason; it enhances their understanding of the world. If they allow others to do their work for them, it takes away from the significance of that, and turns them into a cheater. With all of this in mind, it is important to be academically honest – not only are you cheating your teacher out of an honest grade, you are cheating yourself out of an education.
Alfrey, P. (2011). Petrarch's Apes: Originality, Plagiarism and Copyright Principles within Visual Culture. MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Retrieved June 23, 2011, from http://web.mit.edu/comm-forum/papers/alfrey.html
Dichtl, J. (2003). Teaching Integrity. The History Teacher, 36(3), 367-373.
Hall, K. (2004). Student development and ownership of ethical and professional standards. Science and Engineering Ethics, 10(38), 383-387.
Levy, E., & Rakovski, C. (2006). ACADEMIC DISHONESTY: A zero tolerance professor and student registration choices. Research in Higher Education, 47(6), 735-754.
Ruderman, J. (2004). Faculty Play Crucial Academic Integrity Role. National On Campus Report, 32(5), 1-2.