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Academic writings are important methods in evaluating students' learning progress; forming an integral part of the curriculum and contribute significantly to grades and degree. Academic writings develop and enhance various qualities such as developing language skills and knowledge of a particular subject, organization and time management, and also critical thinking skills. Such qualities are not only important to students in their academic life but could also be beneficial to them in their future career. Among style, content, vocabulary, grammar and many other concepts, to cite resources correctly and effectively in order to avoid plagiarism have always been considered one of the greatest challenges of academic writing; especially to international students whose first language is not English. Does the major problem of plagiarism among international students always lie in cultural influences have been a controversial issue. This essay aims to explain what plagiarism is in the academic concept, and the main reasons of international students in committing plagiarism. This essay also evaluates the usefulness some websites on how to prevent plagiarism.
2. Plagiarism in academic writing
According to The Merriam Webster dictionary, "plagiarize" means 'to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own; use (another's production) without crediting the source; or to commit literary theft: present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.' (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary) In short, plagiarism means to take other people's language or ideas and to use them in your own work, pretending that they are original. Plagiarism can be committed both accidently and deliberately. There are many different types of plagiarism, such as: turning in someone else's work as your own; copying words or ideas without citing; failing to put a quotation in quotation marks; giving incorrect information about the source; changing words but copying the sentence structure without citing; copying so many words or ideas that it makes up the majority of your work, whether cited or not and also self-plagiarizing, coping your previous work. (Retrieved from http://www.scanmyessay.com/plagiarism/what-is-plagiarism.php)
The following is an example of plagiarism adapted from an article by Williams (n.d.):
The joker in the European pack was Italy. For a time, hopes were entertained of her as a force against Germany, but these disappeared under Mussolini. In 1935 Italy made a belated attempt to participate in the scramble for Africa by invading Ethiopia. It was clearly a breach of the covenant of the League of Nations for one of its members to attack another. France and Great Britain, the Mediterranean powers, and the African powers were bound to take the lead against Italy at the league. But they did so feebly and half-heartedly because they did not want to alienate a possible ally against Germany. The result was the worst possible: the league failed to check aggression, Ethiopia lost her independence, and Italy was alientated after all (J. M. Roberts, History of the World. New York: Knopf, 1976, p. 845).
The student's version:
Italy, one might say, was the joker in the European deck. When she invaded Ethiopia, it was clearly a breach of the covenant of the League of Nations, yet the efforts of England and France to take the lead against her were feeble and half-hearted. It appears that those great powers had no wish to alienate a possible ally against Hitler's rearmed Germany.
As Williams concluded, even though the student paraphrases the source, he still borrowed entire phrases and therefore it is a form of plagiarism. (Retrieved from: http://baervan.nmt.edu/Petrophysics/group/avoiding_plagiarism.htm)
At present, pursuing a degree in English speaking countries has become a fashionable trend which is on the rise. According to BBC news, there was a 48% increase in the number of international students between the year 2000 and 2006 in UK Universities. Among others, China was the "most significant provider of students". "In 2007-2008, a total of 19,385 Chinese students enrolled on first degree courses and 21,990 took up places for post-graduate study." (Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8271287.stm) Universities have made various efforts in helping international students whose first language is not English such as language support and financial aid. In their studies, academic writing has proved to be one of the greatest difficulties. Very often, a student who has been accused of plagiarism innocently states "I did not realize that I plagiarized". The stereotype that plagiarism means something different in another culture (especially the students who come from Confucian heritage cultures) is generally formed. Sowden was one of the scholars who seemed to believe that culture influences is a major issue in students committing plagiarism, even though he was aware of the danger of stereotyping. According to Sowden, in the Chinese heritage; 'The philosopher's words were known and belonged to everyone, and being able to reproduce them, without citationâ€¦was considered an appropriate strategy.' (Sowden, 2005a) However, I am more persuaded by Dilin Liu's commentary essay on Sowden's work, in which he firmly states that to copy others' work is never encouraged or allowed in China. Even in ancient times, writers are expected to cite their source. For instance, the famous Confucian masterpiece, Lun Yu is actually written by Kong Zi's (the creator of Confucianism) followers but not himself; in which nearly all sentences started by "Zi saidâ€¦" or "Zi Gong (one of Kong Zi's followers) askedâ€¦" (Liu, 2005) Sowden's another argument was that Chinese students shared knowledge by collaboration and group work and seeing it as mutual while western students were more self-reliant and independent. (Sowden, 2005a) As a matter of fact, while visiting secondary schools in Scotland, what shocked me most was that the amount of group work that the students were expected to do. Even in universities, students are expected to finish group projects together, and in some majors, students could even write collaborate dissertations. We rarely have group projects in China; in fact the only one that I can recall was in the fourth grade of Elementary School, where we were asked to make posters in groups of four. The Chinese that I know of do not share opinions, especially when it is directly linked to their studies and grades. The idea that one group share the same score is novel to us. Also, as Liu indicated, "why does a practice (collaboration) found in both Chinese and Western cultures present a potential problem for plagiarizing in China but not in the West?" (Liu, 2005) If collaboration is to be accounted as an excuse for plagiarism, then the students from the western culture definitely have greater problems than Chinese students.
In Reply to Dilin Liu, Sowden made another assumption in cultural factors which contribute to Chinese students' plagiarism, indicating that the students are used to memorizing and reciting. He gave an example of one of his own Chinese students who said that he had to "recite everything" in History. (Sowden, 2005b) However, History itself is a subject composed of fixed dates and events; there are hardly any other ways to study it instead of reciting. We do recite ancient poetry to prepare ourselves for tests; idioms, phrases, and even events of famous people to prepare us for IELTS but we were always told to quote it. I specifically remember one of my teachers saying that "who cares what you think, Shakespeare is always more persuasive than you." Besides, when a student argues that "I did not know what I was doing" or "It is allowed in my country"; there always is the possibility that they are lying. There is no way to judge if the students really forgot to cite or just attempted to get away with it; and not reliable to base arguments on the statements of single individuals. From the points listed above, the argument that culture influences being a major issue in plagiarism among international students is an weak argument based on false assumption and unwarranted conflations.
According to Phan He La (2006), as thought the important role of culture can not be neglected in plagiarism, the main problem in academic writing for international students is insufficient training. To be admitted to a university in English speaking country, a student must pass the IELTS or TOEFL. However, in some occasions, an IELTS or TOEFL score does not equal to language ability; it might just be test-taking skills. Thanks to the training of such tests though, many students have the misconception of academic writing. For one thing, such writing tasks do not teach anything about citation and referencing (Phan, 2006); for another, students are not familiar with academic style or writing long essays. Unable to write a good essay, discouraged to, laziness or wanting to get higher score are the main reasons linked with inadequate language skills. What the students need is more training in academic writing, note-taking and citation skills included, not using "culture influences" as an excuse and be categorized as a stereotype.
Plagiarism is not limited to international students; even native speakers could easily make the same mistake, both intentionally and unintentionally. "According to a 2002-2003 survey of 3,500 graduate students in US and Canadian universities, 23%-25% of students acknowledged one or more instances of 'cutting and pasting' from internet sources or published documents." (Das, 2003) When students plagiarize intentionally; coping another's work or buying papers from websites such as http://www.cheathouse.com/, they know what they are doing. Yet they are still tempted to do so. In the academic world, students who plagiarize unintentionally by not citing properly or forgetting to do still face severe penalty. How to help students avoid plagiarism has become an important issue for both students and teachers. The following section will briefly evaluate several online resources which aim to help students avoid plagiarism.
3. Evaluation of resources
UEFAP is the abbreviation of "Using English for Academic Purposes--A Guide for Students in Higher Education". (http://www.uefap.com/writing/writfram.htm) The website is created by Andy Gillett (2010), a renowned scholar who has written many books on academic writing. UEFAP contains many sections in helping students develop their English for higher education purposes. There is a page dedicated to Plagiarism in the writing section organized under five subtitles: definitions, reasons for plagiarism, types of plagiarism, advice and exercises. On how to avoid plagiarism, UEFAP fist gives definitions of plagiarism from various dictionaries. Then UEFAP listed the reasons for committing plagiarism under the categories deliberate and accidental. According to Hamp-Lyons & Courter (1984), UEFAP distinguished between four types of plagiarism: outright copying, paraphrase plagiarism, patchwork plagiarism, and stealing an apt term; providing examples for each. In the Advice section, UEFAP listed three reasons for not plagiarizing: it is not helpful, need to come to one's own conclusions and against the regulations. The main advice provided is to develop good note taking strategies, understand how to cite sources successfully and write a reference list. There are links which leads to other pages in UEFAP that helps students to develop such skills. The three exercises in UEFAP aim to help the students to review what they have learned. The first one is theoretical, listing some circumstances and asking which is acceptable. The other two are more practical, providing the original script and what the student could have wrote. One requires the students to identify the types of plagiarism and one listing several ways of how the original piece was used, asking the students to identify which is acceptable. The language of UEFAP is direct and simple, which speaks to the reader. The exercises are also very helpful in making students to realize what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.
Indiana University Bloomington
Indiana University Bloomington (https://www.indiana.edu/~istd/) offers an online tutorial which aims to help students learn to avoid plagiarism. The tutorial is organized into five sections: definition, overview: how to cite properly; plagiarism cases links; Examples: word-for-word and paraphrasing plagiarism; practice with feedback; test and resources. The general organization of the tutorial is quite clear, however, it did not list the different types of plagiarism and potential reasons. As shown in the examples, the website only identified between word-for-word and paraphrasing plagiarism. There neither is any advice on how to avoid plagiarism or warnings about certain consequences. Generally, the tutorial tells students what not to do without telling them why. The practice and the test are very useful, but quite limited as well. Providing the original script, the practice asks student to identify which of the two writings are plagiarism. After making a choice, instructional feedback will be given to the students. Similar to the practice, the test is also limited. For one thing, the format of the test is monotonous, only giving students three choices: word-for-word plagiarism, paraphrasing plagiarism and not plagiarism. Also, like the examples given, it only identifies between two types of plagiarism. But what is interesting about this tutorial is that after getting all the answers right, the students can print out a "certificate" showing that they have passed the test. In conclusion, this tutorial might not distinguish between the various types of plagiarism, but it does emphasis on the two major types of plagiarism that most students normally commit.
Academic Phrasebank (http://www.phrasebank.manchester.ac.uk/index.htm) is a writing resource designed by the University of Manchester, primarily for international students whose first language is not English. The phrases are "content neutral and generic in nature" which could be used directly in students' writings. (Academic Phrasebank) While the first two websites focused on avoiding plagiarism, this resource aims to help students develop better citation skills. The phrases are organized under several subtitles such as "reporting results" and "writing conclusions". The section "referring to literature" provides various verb phrases and sentence structures which the students could use to cite resources in their writings. There are ways which indicate quotations, reference to other's ideas description of the relevant literatureâ€¦ect. This website could be helpful to students to avoid monotonous patterns in citation, and understand what needs to be cited.
Despite the three that I have listed, there are also many other online resources and tutorials that aims to help students to avoid plagiarism, such as the writing advice from the University of Toronto (http://www.writing.utoronto.ca/advice), and Purdue Online Writing Lab (http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/589/1/). Compared to books and articles, online materials are more feasible and direct. The focus is summarized into key points which are more likely to receive students' attention. The tutorial combines theories with exercise and tests, providing the students an actual chance to practice.
As important as culture influences may be in SLA, when it comes to plagiarism, culture should not be of the main concern but language proficiency. Culture could be seen as a source of influence from the outside, but it is what on the inside that counts. If the students have enough confidence in their own writing, they will not risk their grades by plagiarizing. As though there are also other influential factors such as time management and thinking that they would not be caughtâ€¦To avoid plagiarism, students require training in writing skills, including note-taking and citation; as well as language. There are various online resources that teachers could introduce to students and help them understand the concept of plagiarism. Most importantly, students need to understand that plagiarism is just the same as cheating and stealing, if not any worse. And also, it is never worth the risk. What the students could learn from academic writing; i.e. knowledge, organization, time management, critical thinking skills are valuable qualities not only important to their studies but also beneficial in their future career and work field.