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How Students Plagiarize at GW (Student)

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Student Resources > Understanding Plagiarism >  How Students Plagiarize at GW


How Students Plagiarize at GW



Below are synopses of real plagiarism cases at GW supplied by the Director of Academic Integrity, Tim Terpstra.  These tales are presented to demonstrate that a student's presenting someone else’s work as his or her own—no matter what the reason or situation—is unacceptable behavior at GW.


The Talking Sleepwalker

This case involved two roommates: One was the plagiarist and the other a chronic sleep-walker and sleep-talker.  At the Academic Integrity hearing the two roommates were asked how their two papers came to be identical.  The plagiarist said that her roommate routinely woke up in the middle of the night and would walk and talk in her sleep.  It was during one of these sleep-walking and talking episodes that the roommate alleged she granted her permission to use her paper.  This came as news to the roommate, who not only was unaware of being a sleep-walker or a sleep-talker, but was shocked to find out that the roommate claimed she had given her permission to copy her paper.

The Abused Roommate

This type of scenario has been repeated several times at GW: A student steals the paper of a roommate and submits it as his own work without the roommate’s knowledge.  In one case, the professor charged both students with plagiarism because the papers were identical and it was unclear who borrowed from whom.  When the students were called to speak with the GW Academic Integrity officer, one student finally confessed to stealing the paper of the roommate and to the roommate’s innocence.

The Great Facilitator

Sometimes several students are involved in a case of plagiarism.  This tale involved four students who all submitted identical papers.  The paper assignment clearly stated that students could not share or talk about their papers once they had started writing.  In this situation, it was determined that one student was actually the sole author of the paper and three others had copied the paper.  If it hadn’t been for the great facilitator sharing his paper, which was wrong and a violation of the assignment, there wouldn’t have been three plagiarists.

The Greedy Plagiarist

A student, unhappy with a grade on a paper, complained to the teacher and asked the teacher to reconsider the grade. The teacher agreed.  Upon rereading the paper, the teacher noticed that some of the passages were in a different style and checked them on Google.  The teacher then discovered that the paper was peppered with plagiarized passages.  Instead of getting the original grade, the student ended up with an F.

One variation of this case involved three graduate students—two males and one female—who did a group project.  The paper was submitted and received an A-.  The two males in the group were satisfied with the grade, but the female was not.  She thought the paper deserved an A and requested a re-grade.  The professor agreed to look at the paper again, and that’s when he detected plagiarism.  The two male students accepted the charge, but the female contested.  Then there was a hearing.  When asked what portion of the paper she was responsible for, she identified the sections of the paper that contained the bulk of the plagiarized material. Consequently, in this case the greedy plagiarist hurt herself by 1) requesting a re-grade rather than being happy with the original grade of an A-, and 2) admitting she wrote the parts of the paper that contained the majority of the plagiarized material.

The Careless, Sloppy, Stupid, but NOT Cheating Plagiarist

This is a very common type of defense students charged with plagiarism use.  These students admit to being careless with their research, sloppy with their citations, or stupid in not paying attention when they were being taught how to properly paraphrase or use quotations. However, they claim to not have intentionally plagiarized the material.

The Inadequate Paraphraser

This is one of the most common types of plagiarism that occurs at GW.  The Inadequate Paraphraser does not seem to understand what constitutes adequate paraphrasing: putting someone else’s ideas into your own words followed by proper attribution.  This type of plagiarism is detected when a professor is reading a paper and notices something changed in the writing—a passage seems familiar or the style of writing is different.  The professor then Googles a sentence or paragraph and finds the original source, which is almost identical to the passage in the student’s paper. 

When speaking to a student charged with inadequate paraphrasing, the Director of Academic Integrity, Tim Terpstra, asks the student what constitutes adequate paraphrasing.  Terpstra does this to determine if the student understands the concept. Terpstra has had students respond with from one word to a set percentage of words.  To demonstrate the inadequacy of merely changing one word, Terpstra recites the first phrase of the Gettysburg Address: “Four score and seven years ago today.”  He then asks if changing it to “Four score and six years ago today” would be an adequate example of putting the sentiment of the address into one’s own words? He uses this example to drive home the point that paraphrasing is not merely a matter of changing one or two words.

Oops, I Sent the Wrong File, Twice!

This situation is the electronic version of “Oops, my dog at the paper.”  A student submits a paper electronically to a professor.  The professor confronts the student with suspicions of plagiarism.  The student responds by claiming that the paper submitted was actually the rough draft that still contained cut and paste material and not the corrected and final version.  The student then requests permission to resubmit the real final draft.  When the professor grants the request, sometimes the new version doe not appear for several days.

In one case, this happened twice.  The student submitted the paper electronically.  When the professor questioned some of the text, the student claimed he had accidentally sent the rough draft instead of the final version because both drafts had the same file name.  The professor accepted the explanation and pointed out that there were some questionable passages and that the student needed to cite his sources better.  A few days later the student emailed another version that had more questionable passages.  The professor brought this to the student’s attention.  The student replied: Oops, I sent the wrong file twice!”

You Made Me Do It- It's Not My Fault, It’s Your Fault 

This is the classic case of shifting responsibility:  the student blames the professor for the plagiarism.

In this scenario, if a professor reviews a rough draft and makes constructive comments and criticism without detecting plagiarism and returns the paper, the student takes this as a green light. If the professor catches the plagiarism in the final version, the student claims that if the professor had only pointed it out in the draft, the student would have fixed the questionable passage.  The student insinuates that the only reason plagiarism occurred in the final draft was the professor’s inattentiveness.


Another twist on this is when a professor requires a number of short papers.  The professor detects plagiarism in the first assignment and the second and the third.  The sequencing of the papers is such that it may be several weeks before all the papers are returned.  The student does not accept responsibility for his actions; rather the student blames the professor for not returning the first plagiarized paper earlier.  The bottom line is that the responsibility is the student's.  Professors don’t enter into grading assuming and looking for plagiarism.

The Wikipedia Conundrum

Sometimes a student misunderstands a professor's instructions to not use Wikipedia as a source.  The student uses Wikipedia in his initial research anyway, but fails to cite it as a source because of the professor's prohibition.  And where an even larger problem occurs is when a student uses text directly from Wikipedia without proper attribution thinking that this is a workaround to the professor's baring use of Wikipedia.



Comments (1)

Anonymous said

at 7:05 pm on May 31, 2007

in the section how students plagiarize at GW, which is a great section that illustrates the problem, there should be an informal statement of consequences at the end. in a way this section might be the only one most students will read so might as well include main points of the website.

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