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Advice for Students: How NOT to Plagiarize

Advice for Students: How NOT to Plagiarize
An Apple for the Teacher

With final essays and term papers coming due (at least here in the States) I thought I’d take a moment to offer some well-needed advice to this year’s crop of young plagiarizers who are about to fail there classes because of really dumb decisions they’re making as I write this.

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Listen. I know it’s been a tough semester and you have a lot of assignments due in a very short time and you really haven’t gotten any of them started and you’re not sure you understand the material or what the assignment is supposed to be. All that really matters to you right now is finding some way to get something — anything — handed in so you can hopefully pass and move on to next semester or to grad school or into politics or whatever you’re planning, if you can only pass the semester.

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But you’re about to make a terrible mistake. Today’s technologies and the predictability of students make catching plagiarists easier than ever. And if there’s one thing professors can’t stand it’s plagiarism — we get a good laugh out of some of it, but it makes us steaming mad, too, and when your professor is steaming mad, that’s no good for you. At best you’re about to fail the courses that you most likely least want to re-take next fall; at worst, you’re about to get yourself thrown out of school. And you know what happens when you get thrown out of school, don’t you? That’s right — your student loans come due.

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Are you ready for that?

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What follows is a list of things NOT to do if you want to get out of this semester with your integrity and college enrollment status intact. Every item on the list is something I have caught (and failed) a student for. If you’re not convinced your professor is savvy enough to catch you (consider your track record, though: you were not convinced you needed to study, either!) and you insist on plagiarizing despite my warnings, at least don’t make these mistakes:

  • Don’t copy entries from Wikipedia. Or any online source, really, but Wikipedia seems to be an especially easy target for students — and it’s incredibly easy to detect. Wikipedia entries have an identifiable style, and they’re usually one of the first few results on any search. Which means your professor will be easily tipped off that you copied your paper from somewhere else, and will easily find out where. To be honest, any phrase you take from the Internet will be easily found, and it only takes one to fail your paper. Unless you’re willing to rephrase every sentence of your source in your own style and language (in which case, why not just write a paper?) stay away from anything on the Internet.
  • Don’t cobble together the free excerpts from several different “free essay” sites. Material from these sites are easily identified and easily discovered on the Web, with the added bonus of almost always being poorly thought out and factually wrong. So you get a double-F. Use the work you’re putting in to stitch together various sources into a coherent whole to actually do research.
  • Don’t copy my work, or the work of my close colleagues. You can imagine how easy it is to tell when a student has copied something I wrote and handed it in as their own work. And it happens, because students who plagiarize are often not very careful about their sources.
  • Don’t paste formatted text into your papers. If you’re going to ignore the advice above, at least don’t just cut-an-paste with no regard for formatting! Nothing says “this paper was plagiarized” more clearly than a Frankenstein’s monster patchwork of fonts and text sizes scattered across your page because you didn’t take the time to reformat everything you pasted into your document into a uniform typeface, size, and color.
  • Don’t hand in first-person accounts written by people who are radically different from who you are! If the person writing your source material describes their first childbirth at age 30 while finishing graduate school, and you’re an 18-year old college freshman, it’s going to be pretty clear you didn’t write the paper yourself. Since many plagiarizers don’t actually read their source material, this is more common than you’d think…
  • Don’t use fancy concepts that you haven’t covered in class. Any time a student hands in a paper discussing the relation of hegemonic discourses to gender performativity in my 100-level women’s studies course, I get the feeling that they’ve plagiarized their paper. That feeling is usually right.
  • Don’t use writing that is much better than your own. Let’s say your last three papers sucked. And let’s say your final paper rocks. I’m not saying you definitely plagiarized — maybe you learned both the course material and how to be an awesome writer n the last 4 weeks — I’m saying you probably plagiarized. And I’m right, aren’t I?
  • Don’t copy long passages (or many short passages) from your course’s textbooks. Next to her or his own work, the material your professor probably has the greatest familiarity with is th material in your textbook. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s not OK to simply string together a bunch of material from your textbooks without referencing it — and if you do it anyway, your professor will know.
  • Don’t hand in a bunch of really well-written stuff that has nothing to do with the course or the assignment. Like I said, plagiarists often don’t read their sources very carefully, so their finished paper often has nothing to say about the subject of the assignment, or many times even of the class! Aside from making your professor laugh out loud at your ineptness, this will earn you the quickest F you’ve ever gotten.
  • Don’t hire a third-world knowledge worker to write your essay for you. Chances are, they’re much smarter than you and better at writing your native language, so you’ll be easily caught. And stop and think about it for a moment — you’re essentially helping to train them to replace .

Do do your own research and write a unique synthesis of that research in your own words, and draw conclusions based on your own reflections on what you’ve discovered. That seems like the best way to put a paper together and, in most cases, is a lot less work than plagiarizing effectively. If you’ve really blown it, go talk to your professor about taking an incomplete (and finish it as soon as possible — incompletes are nasty, evil burdens to carry for very long) or otherwise fulfilling your requirements. If you’re not sure how to start or move forward on a paper, again — go see your professor.

If you’re just lazy and don’t want to do any work to earn your grades and your degree, my advice is simple (and can be followed with minimum effort, which should appeal to you): get used to failure.

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Last Updated on March 31, 2020

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

Why We Procrastinate After All?

We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

Is Procrastination Bad?

Yes it is.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

How Bad Procrastination Can Be

Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

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Procrastination, a Technical Failure

Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

Learn more about how to fix your procrastination problem here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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