WriteCheck Blog

"OK or not?" A new poll series about plagiarism

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Written by K. Balibalos and J. Gopalakrishnan

OK or not? This is an age-old question on plagiarism that arises during the writing process, whether from researching a topic, incorporating and paraphrasing sources, or supporting arguments within a paper. Students commonly find themselves in situations in which ethical questions are raised, and, all too often, students wonder whether the decisions they made were the right ones.

This new poll series brings to light common scenarios—specifically focused on plagiarism and perhaps a few examples on other forms of academic misconduct—and helps students better think critically about situations in order to make ethical choices. All polls can be found on the WriteCheck page on Facebook.

POLL QUESTION #1

“OK or not? You and a partner collaborate on a paper by sharing notes and paraphrasing the same ideas.”

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11713 Ok or not Pic

We started off the series by asking about collaboration because collaborating with peers is a common thing to do among students. Students “collaborate” to complete schoolwork and to help their friends in need. But collaborating with peers can sometimes cross ethical boundaries. For example, in this question, has the student copied-and-pasted the other student’s work? The question doesn’t really get into that concern, but we do know that the students shared the same ideas by “paraphrasing”. This is where the question gets tricky. If done properly, meaning the student writes the idea in his/her own words and included citations, then paraphrasing is acceptable. Plagiarism is, by definition, the taking of another person’s work or ideas.

The Results

The majority of respondents (28) chose “not OK” in response to student collaboration on a paper. However, two viewers who weighed in had a different perspective.

English Instructor, Beth Calvano, made the following comment: “If the paper is supposed to be individual, this scenario is not okay. If, according to plagiarism rules, it is not acceptable to use another person's ideas without citing that individual, collaborating in this way is not ethical. Your paper should consist of your own notes and original ideas.”

Facebook fan Quenna Corchado agreed with Calvano, adding: “I think it's okay if they are citing. It doesn't matter if they are using the same sources as long as they cite it. They are helping each other out, so it makes sense that they are using the same notes and paraphrasing the same thing. What is important it to cite everything accordingly, which doesn't make it plagiarism.”

Overall, it can be concluded from these responses that it is “OK” to share notes and paraphrase the same idea with proper attribution, unless the assignment is supposed to be done individually.

POLL QUESTION #2

“OK or not? You do a Google search of your subject and use Wikipedia, blogs and other social sharing sites as sources because of their easy access.”

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050213 WCOK

This situation resonates with students because of the amount of free, available information due in part to the mass connectivity of the digital age. Nowadays, Wikipedia is synonymous with accessibility and reader-friendly information since it provides accurate information on nearly every topic one might be researching. The number of blogs on the internet grows exponentially by the day since anyone has the ability to create a blog and share their thoughts. And, of course, social sites are a normal part of millions of people’s lives. However, just because information is available on the web doesn't mean that it’s reputable to use as a source in your academic paper.

The Results

Based on 34 respondents, “depends” was the top answer, followed by “not OK” (20 respondents).

To provide some insight, Jason Chu from Plagiarism.org weighed in with the following comment: “It's OK to use Google search, Wikipedia, and social sharing sites as the starting point for doing research for a paper. But you should NOT rely on these sources alone. In fact, Wikipedia entries typically list references that are great to use in your research in support of your paper. But, by and large, sources that rely heavily on crowd-sourced or shared content--like Wikipedia or Yahoo! Answers--do not carry the same authority as a peer-reviewed journal article, for example.”

Jessica from WriteCheck argued that it was “not OK,” citing educator insight that social sites should never be cited in research papers. Academic writing requires looking at primary or secondary sources, which are typically presented in academic journals, whereas Wikipedia is written for the general public.

Overall, it can be concluded that the answer is “depends”. Social sites like Wikipedia can be used as a starting point for research papers, but adding academic credibility to your sources will result in a more thorough and scholarly research paper.

POLL QUESTION #3

“OK or not? You get 2 assignments with enough overlap to submit the same paper to both.”

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060613 WCOK

The most recent poll was inspired by a recent article on the Ethicist, a blog on the New York Times, entitled, Can I Use the Same Paper for Multiple College Courses? Some readers see it as a stroke of genius, while others view it as the mark of laziness. Some suggest that it is cheating, while others opine that you are only cheating yourself. International Business Times writer James DiGioia disagreed with The Ethicist in his article, The Ethicist is Wrong: Self-Plagiarism is Cheating. Given those different opinions, we wanted to see what our WriteCheck community thought. “Is it ok to submit one paper for two assignments?”

The Results

The results were evenly split among the poll respondents between “not OK” and “OK”. The Ethicist describes why this situation is tricky, explaining that emotionally, our hearts cry that “this must be unethical, somehow,” but aside from these emotions, he argued that there were no grounds that inherently make submitting papers to multiple assignments unethical.

Unlike James Digioia, Jason Chu of Plagiarism.org agreed somewhere in the middle, saying: “OK--if instructor approval is received. Not OK otherwise.”

In summary, although debatable, it could be concluded that submitting a paper to multiple assignments is “OK” with approval from both instructors. Otherwise, it may be a violation of university-wide academic integrity codes and generally accepted principles that assignments are unique to a class.

Conclusion

These three scenarios are real-life situations that students may face at one point in their academic journeys. Some scenarios may appear more straight-forward than others, however, no plagiarism allegation is simple. Self-plagiarism, for example, may make more sense in a professional or scholarly environment because of copyright issues. Self-plagiarism is a grey area, and a relatively new term within academia, and is still to be explored. Wikipedia also is a newly introduced site, becoming popular only within the last decade.

While definitions and rules of plagiarism are debated, learning the definitions and how to cite properly, as well as working with instructors when a question arises are all ways to avoid plagiarism and academic misconduct.

Have you encountered situations where you asked yourself “OK or not?” Continue the conversation on Facebook and stay tuned for more installments to the OK or Not? poll series!

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Published on by kennethb.