Quick Ways to Miss the Point: Plagiarism

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Quick Ways to Miss the Point:  Plagiarism
Plagiarism is a big issue in academic circles.  If there were a single, unforgivable crime, it would be it.  You can make mistakes.  You can be wrong.  You can tally up all the evidence, research and learning you do and put forth a conclusion others will think is ludicrous.  But never, ever plagiarise. 

What is Plagiarism?
Plagiarism is, in a nutshell, copying the work of others and passing it off as your own without crediting the original source.  Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines it as:

The act of using another person's words or ideas without giving credit to that person.” [1]

Whom is copied is not generally important.  You could be copying the answers of a fellow student or the thesis of a learned expert in a field.  If you’re trying to pass off someone else’s work as your own, it’s plagiarist. 

Why it’s a bad thing
Imagine you made a discovery nobody else had made.  A cure for cancer perhaps, or a profound insight into the nature of reality.  Consider the hard work it would require to assemble the evidence, test your theories and write the report to present to the world.  Then imagine the outrage you would feel if somebody effectively stole your report and your work and presented it to others claiming they made your discovery.  It’s a pretty rotten thought and a theft of ideas is no less that, a theft.

However it goes far beyond the feelings and thoughts of the original creator and brings into question not just the character of the plagiarist but everything he claims to know.  Education is, above all things, the pursuit of knowledge and self-improvement and all of the work and study involved, trivial or demanding, is focussed towards two goals – to improve the understanding of the student and to allow the student to show their understanding to others and prove their learning.  

But copying another’s work, i.e. plagiarising, requires no thought, no study, certainly no understanding and it does not reflect what you have really learned or not learned.  It shows only that someone can sit at a keyboard and copy word for word the works of others.  And if found to be plagiarising, it’s suggests that they do not understand at all the things they have written.  Consider: Would you want to seek health care from a Doctor who did not understand medicine, or cross a bridge built by an Engineer who did not know how to build but in both cases merely copied the words of others who did?

 Why it matters.
Whenever a student is granted a certificate from an institution, that school, academy or other place of education is saying, “We recognize that this student understands this topic”.  These accreditations then translate into recognition in the larger world beyond to employers, and others alike, that this student understands the focus of their study.  When a Doctor graduates from a medical school we trust that they have learned the skills they require to do their job.

Consider instead however, an institution that allows people to copy the works of others, to plagiarise and yet still issues certificates, diplomas and more.  Graduates would have certification that meant they were good at copying documents.  Again consider the Doctor who knows nothing about medicine or biology – only how to copy someone else’s work.  The qualifications then become worthless and prove nothing.

That’s why any serious Academic Institution has strict rules against plagiarism.  Plagiarism undermines the value of qualifications offered by any place of learning, it undermines the worth of the Institution, its faculty and the other students who have worked hard to demonstrate their ability and worth.  And that is why they will strip qualifications awarded in a heartbeat to those who fraudulently obtained them by cheating in this manner.
ADL is no different and has a strict policy against Plagiarism.  We will not pass work deemed to be plagiarized.

Quotes and Excerpts
Naturally some students might be confused to see such vitriol against the idea of copying work from others.  In some educational cultures for instance it is regarded as proper to learn word for word, by the book, in the orthodox manner.  And even in Academic circles, journals, articles and papers are filled with quotes and excerpts from others work.  Is this not plagiarism?

In answer – no it is not.  Remember firstly that plagiarism is when you do not credit another person’s work in assembling your own.  It is fine and even expected that you will use the learning and findings of others to build upon your argument.  But when you do so, you must credit the source of your information – check the study guide with your course to ensure you are doing this correctly when you do. 

Secondly remember that the purpose of your work is to demonstrate that you understand the topic.  This is why your work must be original and, while you may incorporate the work of others into your own, in quotes and excerpts, you must always strive to ensure that the case your assignments make is your own. 

And even if you do not understand the topic, never resort to plagiarism.  At ADL, Your tutor is there to help you understand and you’re learning always proceeds at your own pace.  If there is every anything you do not understand just ask.  We’re here to help.

Why cheat on your own potential?  Don’t plagiarise.

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/plagiarism

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