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The Facts on Plagiarism in College

by Neil Kokemuller

Plagiarism occurs when an author uses the copyrighted work of another without proper attribution. It has become increasingly common in college writing as students find easy access to written works on the Internet and copy sentences, paragraphs or entire articles and claim them as their own. Schools normally have significant consequences for plagiarizing, including failure, suspension or expulsion.

Copyright Law

In 1989, the legal requirement for copyright infringement changed, such that original works no longer needed to bear the © symbol to have copyright protection. Thus, the use of already published work, whether online or in print, is plagiarism. Plagiarism doesn't necessary mean the original was duplicated exactly or entirely. Instead, claiming that your paper or report is original while borrowing material substantially similar to the original violates the 1989 Copyright Act, according to the Youngstown State University website's "Plagiarism FAQ."

Prevalence

A May 2010 Rutgers University study of 24,000 high schoolers in 70 schools found 58 percent self-reported having plagiarism on a written assignment. A similar study by the school from 2002 to 2005 showed 36 percent of undergraduates and 24 percent of graduate students said they wrote work that amounted to plagiarism using a Web source. Similarly, 28 percent of undergrads and 25 percent of grad students indicated they had copied content without citation from written works.

Detectors

Several prominent Web-based software programs have become available to college professors for combating plagiarism, including a program called Turnitin. Using such tools, professors can easily run papers through the program, which compares it quickly to other articles from the Web. The tool typically indicates what percentage of the words in a paper are directly copied from sources and what percentage are copied without proper quotations. This puts the professor in a better position to determine whether a student met the threshold for "substantial" use of someone else's material as his own. According to a February 2009 CBS News article, the cost of the Turnitin program is $2,941 per year.

Causes

From a behavioral standpoint, students generally cheat to cut corners on coming up with original work or because of a simple lack of understanding of plagiarism. An August 2011 study by the Pew Research Center and Chronicle of Higher Education suggested that growth in the Internet and online education has ramped up problems in the early 21st century. In the survey, 55 percent of 1,055 college presidents said plagiarism was on the rise. Nearly 90 percent attributed plagiarism growth to greater use of computers and the Internet.

Education

In some causes, colleges are trying to combat plagiarism by offering education and workshops for students. Some college academic support centers offer regular workshops and seminars on proper research paper writing and the use of in-text citations. College instructor Jeff Karon indicated in a September 2012 article in "The Chronicle of Higher Education" that professors who assign research papers bear some responsibility in motivating positive behaviors versus just punishing plagiarizers. Showing students examples of properly cited papers and giving them handouts and instruction prior to a major paper can serve as effective preventatives. Instructing students about plagiarism on homework and smaller assignments can also help deter students from doing the same on more critical projects.

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