Plagiarism and Honor
Page 1 of 5: INTRODUCTION
Plagiarism is theft of words.
A thief doesn't have to break into people's houses or offices to steal some of their most precious possessions. If a plagiarist takes the words someone else has written and passes them off as his or her own, that's an act of theft of a unique creation, the fruit of the writer's hard work.
You have only to enter "plagiarism" in a web search engine and find nearly 100,000 links to know that plagiarism, theft of words, is a serious matter for writers, lawyers, law enforcement agencies, publishers, teachers, and students.
Why would teachers and students care? So what if a student downloads an essay from the web and hands it in as his or her own?
A Virginia Tech Teacher--
Last semester, two students plagiarized papers in my class.
They stole about 15 hours of my time from my other students--if I had not had to track down their sources, print and save evidence, consult with the Honor Court President, worry out how to talk with the students, consult with other teachers, and follow through with the Honor Court, I'd have had other students' papers back to them much sooner, I'd have had time to hunt up a video I wanted to show, and I'd have had more hours for conferences with other students.
These plagiarists also stole freedom of topic choice from my future students. For the first time in several years, I had allowed students considerable freedom to choose topics that really interested them. That opened the door for these two students to cheat. In the future, I'll go back to restricting topics much more, and I'll devise writing assignments that focus narrowly on particular texts in ways that published materials aren't likely to address.
Why do I care? I care because I'm here to help students learn, and they can't learn from work they steal.
I'm also uneasy about graduating students who would lie about their work. Should we send them out into the world to construct bridges for my children to drive across or to develop medicines that my grandchildren will take? What if they lie about the quality of materials they build with or plagiarize their medical research?
We need to be able to trust each other if we're going to keep on learning together. Plagiarism not only wastes the students' and teachers' time, but it destroys trust. I'll be more suspicious of my future students because of the dishonesty of these two.
--Cheryl Ruggiero, Department of English
A Virginia Tech Student--
Plagiarism is the basest form of parasitism. A leech may make a living from other organisms, but even a leech doesn't take credit where credit is not due. Thievery of words, scourge of the intellectual arena, Plagiarism festers most prominently on college campuses worldwide.
The Internet has ensured the profusion and accessibility of this germ, this disease that debilitates creativity and scholastic equality. While the government and university honor courts have discouraged many potential plagiarists with the threat of severe punishment, the only hope of a cure lies in the students' own virtue or vice.
Most plagiarists know how dishonest their actions are, but they are ignorant of the damage they do to their own creative growth. The writing process, especially in the form of freshman English papers, may seem an arduous and superfluous task, where a "harmless" act of borrowing from another source could mean a better grade and less hassle; however, the writing act--the struggle to convert ideas into words, the gestation of opinions from the broiling cerebral broth--is an essential skill for personal expression and the workplace.
When you struggle, curse, and claw out your hair over that term paper, you are undergoing an important human trial: growth. This growth can be painful, difficult, annoying, but you will find yourself inexpressibly better for having survived the crucible.
Writing is much like lifting weights--you must be the one doing the work. If someone always benches the bar for you, your muscle development will be abysmally low. Flex that brain! Work out that writing finger! The road is always uphill at first, but the rewards are multifarious.
The truth, unfortunately, does not always convert. Some of you may continue your lives of intellectual kidnapping. But we all reap what we sow.
For those who make a habit of plagiarism, there will be moments in the future, perhaps at a board meeting, where you are required to contribute something idiosyncratically meaningful and original but you will flounder, because your creative center has atrophied from lack of use. You will have nothing to say, because someone else has always said it for you.
--Josh Reid, Virginia Tech Class of 2000
We believe that you're in school to learn. We think that you want to do your own best work and to credit the author of any work you quote, paraphrase, or use as a source of information.
Therefore, we have three pages of guidelines to help you do your best, a tour of the Honor System website, a self-test on the issues covered, and a short writing project that will give you a chance to work out your ideas about this important issue of honesty in writing.
To receive course credit for the Plagiarism Module, you must COMPLETE ALL THE STEPS BELOW.
1. Read the next 3 pages . . .
- Page 2. Definitions and Case Examples;
- Page 3. Three Plagiarized Paragraphs and Two Revisions;
- Page 4. The Virginia Tech Honor System.
. . . and Take the Honor System Website Guided Tour (beginning on Page 5).
2. Pass the Self-Test, which reviews information in pages 1-4 and the Honor System Website.
When you pass the Self-Test, you will receive the password that gives you access to the last step, the Honesty in Writing Project.
3. Complete the one-paragraph Honesty in Writing Project.
Module Success Tips from Users (Who Have Asked to Remain Semi-Anonymous)
You can do this module in about 30 minutes, LONGER if you try to take shortcuts! You really need things from every page in order to pass the quiz. I wasted a lot of time trying to take the quiz first and skipping over parts.--"Just Call Me Sue"
Some of this [stuff] everybody knows, but some not. This module could save you a lot of trouble you never want to get into. --BJ
Ready to proceed? Go on to Page 2: DEFINITIONS AND CASE EXAMPLES