Plagiarism v. Paraphrasing

plagerismPlagiarism is a BIG PROBLEM with young students who are just learning the do’s and don’ts of research and writing. Perhaps, it has always been a problem but now that we can easily cross-check a student’s work against the zillions of websites and overwhelming amount of information in internet-land we can identify the true source with a click of a button. Although youngsters are admittedly more tech-savvy than their Moms and Dads, they have not quite figured out the rules of paraphrasing versus plagiarism. Here’s how you can talk to your kids about this weighty issue.

Would you want your friend stealing your jokes?

A teacher-friend of mine deals with plagiarism every time she assigns a research paper to her class. She mentioned that it is best to address this issue head on but in a way that is age appropriate. For her middle school classes she lets them know that plagiarism is stealing by asking them this question: Would you want your friend stealing your joke and then making a million dollars from it? Let’s say you, little Aaron, thought up a funny joke and wrote it down on a piece of paper in your notebook. You showed it to Sam and he laughed and laughed and the he showed to David, Juan, and Celeste. They loved it and thought it was the funniest thing in the world! It turns out Celeste’s Mom works at a top publishing house and she was putting together a book titled ‘Funny Jokes for Middle Schoolers’. Her Mom asked Celeste, “Where did you hear that joke? I would love to use it in this new book”. Celeste said, “I wrote it, Mom. Isn’t it funny?” Celeste knew that she did not write the joke, that really Aaron wrote it. However, Celeste took credit for it and when the book made the New York Times Top Ten Best Seller List for 60 weeks in a row, Celeste and her Mom made millions. Aaron didn’t get anything.

This little vignette hammers home the ramifications of plagiarism for our money-driven middle schoolers.

Is Cutting&Pasting Stealing? YES! What if I write it out, instead? STILL YES!

I know it seems far fetched for those of us who can’t fathom that any man, woman, or child would sincerely ask whether the act of cutting and pasting is actually stealing but I have witnessed these words coming out of one of my student’s mouth. As a tutor, I am getting better at deciphering sincerity versus laziness. When a student of mine truly doesn’t understand the severity of plagiarism they will argue their point in the “Court of Christine” for several minutes before I finally have to say, ” Yes, Cutting and Pasting is still plagiarism. End of story!” Sometimes though it is a matter of just plain laziness. This is often recognized by lame excuse after lame excuse, albeit with a pretty adversarial argument reminiscent of those finely-tuned negotiation tactics previously discussed here. You must learn to discern sincerity versus common laziness.

When it truly is a matter of sincerity we run through what is and is not plagiarism:

  • Plagiarism is taking another person’s work and putting your name on it.
  • Plagiarism is copying something from the internet and pasting it in your paper.
  • Plagiarism is not paraphrasing. Paraphrasing is looking at someone’s writing and putting ALL of it in your own words with your own thoughts.
  • You can avoid plagiarism by paraphrasing or quoting.

My older brother/sister pays for someone to write his/her papers. Why can’t I do that too?

I have had this question presented to me as well and here’s how I respond to it: Well, your older brother or sister should know by now that stealing is wrong. If the school finds out they were paying someone else to write their papers for them or copying and pasting a paper from another source, they will be given an F for the course. Then they will be required to attend a student hearing where the student council and Dean decide whether the student will be kicked out of school for violating the Honor Code. Stealing is wrong. You wouldn’t steal a toy from Target even though it would be easier than saving up to buy it yourself. If you steal someone else’s words this is what you’re doing. If you pay for someone else to write your paper, this is what you’re doing.

After all is said and done, however, there are some people in this world that will do whatever it takes (ethical or not) to get ahead. It’s not right, but it’s reality. Of course, I try to hold off on sharing this truth my younger students until a little later on. No need to tarnish their black and white world yet.

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