The Dangers of Plagiarism

Being a student is hard. Whether you're in high school, or college, the amount of work always seems overwhelming. Our entire lives we're wired to believe that education is the most important thing. We spend hours upon hours studying to get that A on that exam, or getting a paper just right to impress our favourite teacher. Unfortunately, that pressure builds up, and sometimes, we are unable to deliver the quality we want. In lots of students, this means resorting to some form of cheating. Let's break down what that means, and the implications of different types of academic integrity violations.

1. Reading Background

A practice very popular among introductory humanities classes, and all levels of fundamental STEM classes is googling homework questions. This phenomenon is so wide-spread in the United States, that very rarely are you going to experience any real punitive consequences on behalf of the administration. However, you should consider that by foregoing homework - an essential part of the educational process - you're only hurting yourself. You will have gotten less practice, which can sometimes significantly affect your potential for success in the course.

If you feel stuck on a homework question, google similar phrased ones! You'll get some help, but you will also learn something in the process.

2. Paraphrasing

Writing a paper from scratch can be intimidating. We've all sat there, staring at the blinking cursor on the white screen, thinking "wow, all of my thoughts sound incredibly awkward." In particular, research papers or analysis papers can provide a challenge. Long-term assignments like those require forethought and advance preparation, something students from 9th grade to seniors in college struggle with. It's fairly easy to find a wordy diatribe on your topic of choice, and incorporate fragments of it into your writing. Your argument may be, well, I cited the source, AND all of the words are technically mine! What is the problem?

Confession: I was one of those students. For a Russian literature class, my freshman year of college, I adopted an argument from one of the analysis sources. By not citing properly, the teacher saw me taking credit for someone else's work. The current anti-plagiarism technology is intelligent enough to see past small linguistic modifications, like omission of articles and rearrangement of words in a sentence. Similar techniques apply for verifying plagiarism in students' code for CS assignments.

Although paraphrasing can be simply a case of mistake in execution, sometimes, the magnitude of the action and the consequences can be much greater. Most schools and universities have a zero tolerance academic dishonesty policy, and extensive paraphrasing encroaches on that territory.

3. Copying Verbatim

This is what is very clearly considered "cheating" by all students. Copying-pasting text, and passing it off as your own is an obvious moral wrong, and as such, very rarely seen. However, some students think they can cheat the system by using their papers from different classes, translating text from a different language and passing it off as their own, or just hoping the software doesn't pick up a text they found deep on the internet. Unfortunately, software isn't advanced enough to be able to cross-reference students' alleged work with that available online in different languages, however, the other options are definitely catch-able and constitute punishable offenses. Like always, frequent punishments include docking of grade on the assignment, in the class, or some path towards expulsion.

4. "Phone a Friend"

If automated systems are the only thing preventing students from getting away with cheating, the natural conclusion is to use text that does not exist on the internet. Tons of businesses (even on university FB pages) advertise selling papers to students, and it's not uncommon for students to ask their friends to write their assignments for them in exchange for equal value goods or money. This is easier to catch than you would think, especially at the high school level. Each person has a highly distinct writing style, that a TA, or a teacher, would become acquainted with over the course of a semester. Having speech patterns, or ideas, incongruous with past works immediately raises a red flag. In this scenario, the cheater is not the only one getting punished. The accomplice usually faces similar dire consequences, which is why it is advised to not engage in such behavior.

5. Exams

This is the most commonly portrayed instance of cheating in movies. Writing notes on your arm, fake piece of candy, on a water bottle. As a college test proctor, I assure you, we have seen everything, and we will catch you. Cheating on an exam is just never worth it. The level of stress required to pull it off without being caught is sure to affect your performance. The amount of time you've spent developing this elaborate ruse, you probably learned something from taking down the notes on paper, or you could've spent the extra time on more studying. Consequences for this type of cheating are usually the highest, and at most universities pending evaluation from an integrity committee constitute immediate expulsion. It's a stark contrast to the attitude towards cheat-sheets on exams in various European countries, where it's almost an implicit agreement between the professor and students.

TL;DR: Unless something is 100% your work, cite your sources properly, and don't bother cheating on tests. Honesty and integrity are the foundation of your professional reputation, and it is your responsibility to start building it now!

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