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Avoiding Plagiarism in Context

Like hepatitis, plagiarism comes in many varieties.
                                                       —Kieran Healy         

Chances are you are working through this module because you are writing a research paper, or you are anticipating a research paper assignment soon.  To help you cope with that assignment, here are several stories about plagiarism in the real world, some funny, some not so funny.  These stories should help you understand just how serious a matter plagiarism is, and how important it is to know how to avoid it.

"Engineered Chickens" Jennifer Royal

Teachers share plagiarism stories, partly to relieve the anger and frustration they feel when their students turn in work that is plagiarized, and partly to share techniques for detecting plagiarism.  And detecting plagiarism these days is easier than one might imagine.  First of all, English teachers are especially adept at distinguishing voices in writing, and any break in voice is pretty obvious—in the same essay, of course, but also between essays.  And it is highly unlikely that a student will be able to turn in 6 or 7 essays from the same source.  Also, material that has been plagiarized off the internet is unbelievably easy to locate: one just Googles an unusual string of words, and Voila! if the work has been plagiarized, the source pops up on the screen.  In addition, a few new internet databases are out there now (Turnitin, for example) to pre-screen essays for plagiarism.  One of the stories I love to share with colleagues is about an essay that was submitted to me in response to a research paper assignment on "the social impact of a recent technology." 

The essay began well enough: Genetically modified foods are slipping into the food supply unnoticed, and these foods have some bad consequences to our health. The writer talked about genetically modified soybeans, corn, and tomatoes pretty effectively, but then he started talking about the chickens used by Kentucky Fried Chicken.  In addition, the tone of the essay became strikingly more energetic at this point. I started to wonder . . . And then, I read

During a recent study of KFC done at the University of New Hampshire, they found some very upsetting facts. First of all, has anybody noticed that just recently, the company has changed their name? Kentucky Fried Chicken has become KFC. . . We thought the real reason was because of the "FRIED" food issue. It's not. The reason why they call it KFC is because they cannot not use the word chicken anymore. Why? KFC does not use real chickens. They actually use genetically manipulated organisms. The so called "chickens" are kept alive by tubes inserted into their bodies to pump blood and nutrients throughout their structure. They have no beaks, no feathers, and no feet. . . .

Needless to say, I became very suspicious of this research, and so I Googled the string "they have no beaks, no feathers." Sure enough, up popped the source and 2 paragraphs of material the student had plagiarized.  Funny thing was the student had not done a good job of evaluating the source: the "research" was taken from a web site on urban legends, or tall tales that get passed around like the story of the hitchhiker that turns out to be Elvis.

More Stories About Plagiarism . . .

"What is the price of plagiarism?" Karoun Demirjian. May 11, 2006. Christian Science Monitor. http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0511/p14s01-lire.html?s=hns

Copycats, Sociology Professor Kieran Healy's weblog on plagiarism.  Funny anecdotes by instructors, students, and graduate students. http://www.kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/2003/05/08/copycats

"My Student Caught a Plagiarist," New Kid on the Hallway (blog) Nov 11, 2005.Just what it says: a student was doing research and discovered two identical texts by different authors.  Hmmmm. http://newkidonthehallway.typepad.com



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