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Internet Plagiarism Among College Students

by Kris Fields, studioD

When it comes to methods of academic dishonesty, few if any are more serious than plagiarism. A charge of plagiarism can have a devastating effect on not only a student's academic career, but his professional future as well. This becomes even more difficult in the case of Internet plagiarism, as it is much more pervasive and widespread. Students resort to cyberplagiarism for a number of reasons, from being overwhelmed to having a lack of interest in the course, but none excuses the behavior.

Plagiarism Causes

Rutgers University performed a survey of more than 20,000 students, faculty and staff on 23 campuses and noted that 40 percent self-reported some form of Internet plagiarism -- a 400 percent increase over the 10 percent that self-reported plagiarism two years earlier. While only 5 percent stated that they had used something as drastic as a paper mill to copy papers, 50 percent stated that they felt “cut and paste” was not a big deal at all. Further, the less likely students were to be policed by peers when cheating, the more likely they were to engage in the behavior.

Lack of Ownership

There is a Brave-New-World concept of Internet plagiarism that when everyone owns everything, no one really owns anything. With the current generation, there is a feeling that they are not really stealing anything because there is no ownership on the Internet. Because music, ideas and information are shared freely through social sites, web sharing and music downloading, everything is public domain; therefore, no one can own anything. This is further heightened by the anonymity of the Internet and the fact that many articles don’t have a name attached to them, so obviously there is no ownership established.

Lack of Research Skill

Particularly when engaging in research-based writing, whether it is for educational or business use, writers must follow a myriad of rules. Frequently, these writers -- particularly beginners -- aren't aware of the rules of citation or the importance of proper citation. Proper ways to research and cite sources are often overlooked in a desire to just get the work done. Gaining familiarity with the rules of citation is critically important, however, as inadvertent mistakes can lead to charges of plagiarism.

Confusion on Rules of Citation

There is some debate regarding a lack of standardized views about what needs to be cited and how and what constitutes plagiarism. APA formatting is very clear-cut and stringent about what parameters are to be used with APA documents, and despite being less rigorous and inflexible, MLA still follows very specific guidelines as to what constitutes plagiarism and how to cite work that is not your own. In addition, they both are exceedingly clear on not taking credit for work you didn’t create.

Cultural Views on Plagiarism

There is a view that it is the school's fault that students have to plagiarize to survive in the college culture. If teachers taught differently, requirements for grades were different or focuses for schools were different, then students wouldn’t have to plagiarize. Comments such as “If my teacher doesn’t know it’s taken from another source, it’s not my fault,” or “If they didn’t focus so much on grades, we wouldn’t have to do this” tend to rise after charges of plagiarism are levied. While one would hope all plagiarism could be easily detected, it is not the instructors' jobs to prevent students from cheating -- academic integrity should dissuade them.

Information Overload

Given that there is a treasure trove of information readily available and easily accessible on the Internet, it is no wonder that cybercheating is so much on the rise. With the prospect of being able to access information on any subject within seconds, it hardly seems necessary to actually research a topic when you can find the paper already written. But while it seems redundant to re-create information that has already been generated, for the sake of academic integrity it is a necessity.

About the Author

Hailing from sunny Florida, Kris Fields has been writing professionally since 2000 when she started out working in the Business and Community News sections for "The Florida Times Union." Fields holds both a bachelor's and a master's degree in English from the University of North Florida and teaches English and business writing for college.

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