(1) What is plagiarism?
Define plagiarism and explain reasons why students may plagiarise.
Most academic institutions have definitions of plagiarism. Plagiarism is usually defined as ‘the act of using the words of another without giving the originator credit’ (Anderson, 1998, p.1). Diderot’s Encyclopaedia defines a plagiarist as ‘a man who, wanting at all costs to become an author, and having neither the genius nor the talent necessary, copies not only sentences, but even entire pages and passages of other authors…’ (Quoted in Randall, 2001, p.17).Diderot thus describes plagiarism as originating from the bad faith that informed that act. In this sense, plagiarism is simply a deliberate usurpation of the property rights held by the author.
This definition holds true for the concept of plagiarism up to a point. First, it does not take into account the possibility of unintentional plagiarism, which is perhaps not as reprehensible as intentional plagiarism but is still defined as such (Northwestern University, 2013). Although this might not be morally reprehensible, the error in this case would be not taking a proactive approach to avoid the crime (Anderson, 1998). Plagiarism can therefore be defined partly by what it is not; any imitation through improvement, enhancement, or extension of the original work is often not viewed as plagiarism (Randall, 2001).
In many examples of these, the line between plagiarism and scholarship may be difficult to discern (Katz, 2013). Limited direct borrowing from a passage where the mosaic of the original text is presented may constitute plagiarism (Neville, 2010). Even where direct borrowing from the original passage is limited, the reflection of the argument without modification or attribution may result in the charge of plagiarism (Finch &Fafinski, 2013). The best protection against such mistakes is to cite where possible, unless it can be assured that the ideas are original (Otit, 2007).
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Students can plagiarise for a number of reasons. It may be accidental as the repeated reading of a text may affect style, and thus this may be reflected in a student’s own work (Neville, 2010). It may be for more prosaic reasons, where the student may run short of time and seek short-cuts to writing a good essay. Sometimes students may not have received much practice in essay writing and with the spectre of continuous assessment, may find themselves required to write a good essay without being afforded the luxury of practice. The determination to succeed may quite easily spill over into cutting corners through plagiarism.
However, there is a distinction between the deliberate theft of material and plagiarism because of a lack of awareness of where the boundaries lie (Neville, 2010). In particular, given that definitions of where these boundaries are can vary between institutions, many students may unwittingly plagiarise by mistake (Otit, 2007) There is a distinct difference between plagiarism that involves the cutting and pasting of material directly into an essay and plagiarism that constitutes a failure to cite material that reflects another’s ideas. Students should be educated on plagiarism in order to avoid such mistakes (Otit, 2007).
(2) Do free online essay examples encourage plagiarism?
Free online essay examples constitute material that is published on the Internet. To some extent, this does not differ from other published material. If a textbook is published on Google Books, or a paper is published on an online site, then this provides the student with information they can use in their own work. All published material can constitute lines of argument that might be regurgitated as part of a student’s work and thus form part of an essay (Otit, 2007). Plagiarism is, in such cases, an action by the student to use the material without attributing its source. Therefore, any material can be used, regardless of its origin (Smith, 2012).
Free online essay examples are, however, viewed with concern (Smith, 2012). They differ from much material written on a specific subject by the fact that they often provide specific answers to the type of question a student might encounter in a course (THE, 2007). Therefore, they are seen as assisting students more than might be the case with a textbook or scholarly article (Smith, 2012). Example essays refer to specific lines of argument related to a question. Essay questions are formulated to provoke a discussion concerning a key line of argument in a subject. This may require a synthesis of the existing material, or the critical analysis of more than one source, and few articles will simply do so in their entirety.
Furthermore, the potential for free online essay examples to be plagiarised may be increased by the fact that they are written in a style that befits a student (Neville, 2010). A textbook dealing with the same subject will use a syntax that would be far more easily detectable when reading. The marker is likely to be aware of the main contributions to the subject, otherwise they would be unable to assess the work effectively. Therefore, when a student provides the gist of an argument advanced by a known expert in the field, it is easy to spot. Free online example essays do not offer the possibility that the marker will easily identify an incidence of plagiarism in passing (THE, 2007).
Despite these issues, it is difficult to see how free online example essays can support plagiarism. They are free, and published online, and are thus available to all. There are easy solutions to suspicions of plagiarism through online scanners and plagiarism checkers (Otit, 2007). It is far more difficult to identify plagiarism if the essays are not published online, and therefore not identifiable through scanners such as Turnitin (Otit, 2007).
Example essays are a manifestation of the ease with which material can be published online, and that means it is not possible to absorb all the sources and thus spot plagiarism through a thorough knowledge of the subjects. If publishing free online essays encourages plagiarism, then publishing anything online holds the same potential. The ease with which this possibility can be countered through plagiarism scanners means that this threat can be nullified relatively easily. No student would pass off something as his or her own work, knowing how easy this might be found out.
(3) Do essay writing services encourage plagiarism?
Essay writing services are often seen as encouraging plagiarism (THE, 2007). They can do so because it is easy for a student to pass off work as his or her own, as each essay may be custom-written, and thus difficult to detect through plagiarism scanners (Otit, 2007). Furthermore, there are a number of reasons that a student might wish to turn to essay writing services rather than complete the work themselves, such as a lack of confidence, a desire to do well, and a willingness to cut corners (Moore, 2014). In such cases essay writing services will offer the means by which this can take place and offer an easy target for condemnation (Smith, 2012).
This does not, however, mean that such sites encourage plagiarism. For those wishing to take the shortcut to academic success, opportunities for plagiarism exist regardless of whether or not essay writing services provide them (Smith, 2012). This problem has been prevalent for as long as schools and universities have set papers for the students to complete (THE, 2007). Should essay writing services be removed from the equation, the problem will still continue: writers will be recruited individualy on internet sites, or in person at universities (Katz, 2013). A lazy or feckless student with money will always be able to find an able student to complete the work. The desire to plagiarise another’s work is not easily undermined simply by changing the location of where such services are sought.
Providing the possibility of plagiarism is not the same as encouraging it, and there are several stages that the student must work through before they will be guilty of this. If any writer has his or her work plagiarised, this does not mean that they have encouraged the act by writing the piece in the first place. The work must be submitted without attribution, and no good student will do this. However, they might be interested in reading another attempt at the question to consider how their work will be written. Such essays can form part of the material available to a student in completing their work. Therefore, essay writing services do not offer a service that encourages plagiarism, but the opportunities are certainly there for the work to be plagiarised. However, the responsibility to do so remains with the student as it always has done.
The choice of the student to use essay writing services to plagiarise may rest on the perception that they will be easier to pass off as original work. Custom written essays are not published elsewhere and thus present a challenge to teaching institutions when identifying plagiarism (Moore, 2014). However, this is a challenge caused partly by the structure of courses. A module that depends entirely upon written work completed by the student out of class will mean the authorship of such material cannot be guaranteed (THE, 2007). A module that offers an examinable component or requires presentations to be written and delivered on the subjects of such essays will afford the module leader to better know the student’s capabilities and spot discrepancies (Haines, 2004). There are thus safeguards against custom written essays being plagiarised that can be instituted.
The means for students to plagiarise is not what causes the problem. Students will find a way to cheat if they are so minded. The problem is being unable to identify plagiarism when it occurs. This requires tackling at the point at which plagiarism takes place, which is when the work is submitted without acknowledgement of the author (Smith, 2012). If essay writing services are removed from the equation, the problem of plagiarism will remain largely unaffected.
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Randall, M. (2001).Pragmatic Plagiarism: Authorship, Power and Profit, Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
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