[Editor's note: Is it an honor offense if the student didn't know what constitutes plagiarism? Boss suggests one way to avoid having to ask that question.]
I write on the board: "The rain in Spain falls mainly in the plain." After having students identify the quote, I ask them to paraphrase it.
Volunteers write their versions on the board, which tend to fall into two categories:
The following are extreme examples of the actual results:
I encourage students to ask themselves soul-searching questions like these:
Most students ultimately come to see that they must give credit for ideas they did not originate. They also discover that they have distorted the meaning of the original -- in this case, an elocution lesson to change Eliza Doolittle's cockney accent into that of a highborn "lye-dy."
I stress to students that proper documentation, in addition to being "fair play" to the author, is a safeguard for themselves. If a strange thought has been quoted exactly and referenced, the strangeness will be laid properly at the doorstep of the author. If taken out of context, the thought can be checked by the reader. In the event of an error on the author's part, the careful student remains blameless.
I am convinced that paraphrasing -- making changes line by line -- inevitably leads to plagiarism. Paraphrasing has a legitimate place only in rare cases, such as translations of colloquialisms like "Chill out!" or in technical documents that must be digested for a lay audience (as in computer manuals).
My students have three options for documenting:
All of these entries must be referenced to give the authors credit. Some students, believing that quotation marks are necessary only when they appear in the original source, are shocked at the notion of secondary quotes being plagiarism.
In my class, I teach how to plagiarize and then trust that no one will commit plagiarism knowingly. I also help students to avoid lifting whole chunks of text to patch together quotes without comment or analysis (input- output, with no processing), often a result of desperation from time pressures. We work hard on summarizing, outlining, discussing, and careful quoting so that my students have alternatives to paraphrasing or "chunking."
Reprinted with permission from the University of Maryland's University College newsletter, Faculty Focus, 4:8 (Fall 1992).