~ In Writing, Why Be a Copycat When You Can Be an Original!
As a former university professor, I am not new to plagiarized submissions for assignments that require writing. Yet, I do admit surprise that plagiarism has shown up during my ten-year stint as editor of a newsletter for a nonprofit group. Thankfully, I don’t see plagiarism often—and from only one individual. When they are submitted, I find that these submissions often contain additional material (i.e., they are not entirely copied from another source), and that errors and misleading statements typically abound in the additions. This is so even though one of the positive features of the Internet is that it increases both the ease and speed of getting the facts. In contrast, the Internet in particular makes being a copycat rather than an original easier now than ever before.
A Recent Example
A recent submission to the newsletter, for example, cites generally (publication and date) a source for the stated “information and statistics” provided. It contains six paragraphs.
Paragraph 1: Half is word for word from a source other than the one cited. Additional text spells out the URL of a website and indicates that a link there is not functional, although the link worked fine the day I received the submission.
Paragraph 2: The two sentences of this paragraph provide incorrect information about the who and the where, although correct information was readily available at the time of submission. I did not search for the source, if any.
Paragraph 3: Words and ideas are very (i.e., too) closely paraphrased from the source cited.
Paragraphs 4, 5, and 6: Words are—well, word for word from the source cited.
I do encourage and value submissions; I appreciate as well as respect the time, care, and thinking that people put into contributing information and ideas. Even so, copying the work of others is none the less unacceptable—for all of us.
My sense has been that those who copy may do so for lack of time, lack of confidence in writing, or simple laziness. Perhaps the practice stems from lack of time for the newsletter, too. Perhaps it is based in lack of confidence in writing as well. Or perhaps it is simple laziness. Given that submissions are not assignments, none of this makes much sense to me. I have raised the issue with the contributor—to no avail. Perhaps it is related to ego in the sense that “the more press, the better” and copying makes it easier to get more. There may be no way to ever know.
We all have much to share about our interests and concerns. We all can do better than this.
Steps Toward Being Original
Taking steps to avoid plagiarism in our writing may involve learning, especially for those who are young, inexperienced, or both. Yet, in valuing integrity, personal and professional, we do need to take such steps. In this, consider the following:
*Note: Guidance in use of materials from the Internet is taken from guidelines I wrote (and were approved by the other members of the committee) for the Oregon Master Beekeeper Program.