Plagiarism: Committing literary theft

Plagiarism is literary theft. The term might be new to your teens, but they understand cheating. Simply put, plagiarism is cheating at writing.

You sit down to grade a stack of essays. As you read through one particular paper, it occurs to you that the information seems familiar—so familiar, in fact, that you recognize it as the text from an Internet article you yourself printed out in preparation for another writing class. When you look up the article and compare it with this student’s paper, you’re shocked to discover they are identical.

Defining Plagiarism

The term plagiarism might be relatively new to your students, but cheating is not. When it comes to writing, especially in a formal setting, these two words mean the same thing. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines plagiarizing as:

  1. Stealing and passing off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own.
  2. Using (another’s production) without crediting the source.
  3. Committing literary theft.
  4. Presenting as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.

Establishing a Policy

Whether you homeschool one student, tutor several, or teach creative writing or English classes, it’s wise to establish and distribute a policy on plagiarism. Here’s an example:

Plagiarism is the illegitimate use of another person’s words and/or ideas without giving appropriate credit to the original source. Such attempts to copy someone else’s work and call it your own is a very serious offense that will not be tolerated and will have significant consequences. All work done for this class must be your own original composition. When writing, you are required to properly cite any source you use—published or unpublished, from a book or from the Internet. Failure to do so will result in a zero grade for the assignment.

Reinforcing the Rules

Stand firm regarding plagiarism. In any other class setting—whether in a public or private high school, college, or even the workplace—plagiarizing an essay to the extent that our hypothetical student has done will result in an instant F on the assignment, disenrollment from the class, and/or institutional disciplinary measures. Because most educational institutions have a zero-tolerance policy for plagiarism, submitting a plagiarized essay like this could, at best, result in a lower grade, or at worst, cost the student a scholarship or expulsion over something he may have thought was “no big deal.” It’s so important to drill into your students that trying to save a few hours’ worth of work by cutting and pasting a two-page essay from the Internet is just not worth the consequences.

Copyright 2010 © Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.

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Homeschooling the Middle & High School Years

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5 Comments

  • Posted September 25, 2010

    209 Valley Jobs

    When I was teaching for a while I always taught my students that Plagiarism was the #1 thing you did not want to do in school – especially college. My father who works at a university has kicked several students out for this! Its a serious thing at the college level and I advise everyone to avoid it.

  • Posted 24 days ago

    Victoria Luckie

    What do I do if I suspect someone has stolen the story idea that I have been working on since 1996/7?

    • Posted 23 days ago

      Kim Kautzer

      Victoria: I’m sorry to say that ideas can’t be copyrighted. Hope this article is helpful in explaining the reasons why.

      • Posted 23 days ago

        Victoria Luckie

        Thanks. The idea and basic plot was in fact written down in 1996/7. I wrote the first couple of chapters in a library and emailed them to myself some years ago. (I also screenshotted the email). I have also approached a couple of publishers and put the synopsis online on a writers forum for a course I’ve been doing with New York Book Editors (Query Mastery) last year.

        • Posted 23 days ago

          Kim Kautzer

          Victoria: General ideas, plot lines, etc. can’t be protected by copyright. Even if someone runs with your synopsis, it’s not a violation of copyright. What someone cannot do, though, is use your exact words. That’s why written works are copyrighted. Now, if someone has plagiarized your first two chapters, that’s another thing altogether. But it’s a sad truth that most aspiring authors don’t have the financial means to pursue the matter in a court of law.

          I hope you decide to pursue your book! It sounds like a dream of yours, and regardless of what the other party does with your ideas, they aren’t YOU. Your words, your style, your voice, your characters, your plot twists, your settings will make it YOURS, and no one else’s. Best of luck!

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