Throughout much of my time as a student, if I had to pick one word that has come up in nearly every class that requires writing, it would be plagiarism. Let me start by saying that I hate how plagiarism is spelled, since I can never seem to get it write the first time I write or type it. This is very frustrating; however, what’s more frustrating is people trying to pass off other’s work as their own (hehe, see what I did there? I set myself up for that so nicely). I have personally watched plagiaristic situations multiple times over the years, never involving myself, thankfully, but when someone is accused of plagiarism the rest of the story seems to always go the same way.
In middle and high school, I must say that Rutgers Preparatory School did a great job of preventing plagiarism by educating about it, the consequences, and the easy alternatives ALL the time. Between the library’s book collection and the online databases that we were provided, sources for research were easily accessible. Additionally, with many significant assignments, we were required to hand in parts of the paper little by little to space out the workload and ensure that we weren’t headed in the wrong direction. Usually the writing process began with a rough thesis statement, perhaps a paragraph fleshing out some of the other details, and a handful of sources that we were planning on using. While in the moment moving that slowly on a paper is infinitely frustrating, all students were forced to see if their topic was feasible weeks before a paper was due, instead of finding out the night before that their topic was a dead end, which may lead to some not so good ideas.
Freshman year at UNH, I was in a Composition class that was paired with a Western World history class. The last paper in the class was a research paper that was handled much like I was used to at Rutgers Prep; however, I sat back and complained that it was pointless to go through all of the trouble the process required since I could handle my workload just fine on my own! Flash forward to spring semester sophomore year and I felt a little differently. One of my classes required a very large research paper and the only due date was the last class to hand it in. It’s moment like the end of that semester when I can understand one way that plagiarism could start. When students have no direction except for the length that a paper needs to be, it’s easy to get desperate or reckless. I ended up finishing that paper with fewer sources than I would’ve liked (and less than what I was supposed to have) but it was a bit of a learning experience. That paper is what made me change my mind on how I think professors should assign large papers.
If a large paper is assigned, I think any professor in their right mind should set three dates right at the get go. One, a date to hand in a topic, a brief explanation of the topic, and a few sources, two, an optional date to meet with the professor around the halfway point to get some feedback on the progress students have made, and three, the actual due date. The first date gives the professor a chance to push students in the right direction and maybe even offer some helpful tips for sources. The second date acts as “protection” for the professor because when that student shows up on the last day of class saying he or she didn’t know something about the assignment or has a problem with his or her grade, the professor can point out the easy opportunity for help the students were given. Lastly, I don’t think I need to explain the purpose of a due date.
If more professors treated papers like progressive works that take time and multiple attempts to perfect, I think they would be pleasantly surprised by the increased quality of work that students produce. I doubt all professors realize just how much work that gets handed in is not top quality but what the student felt would be satisfactory for an acceptable grade. Additionally, if professors put in that little bit of extra work, plagiarism could be warded off a little bit by making sure that students have even a handful of sources prior to beginning their work.
Plagiarism is never the way to go, so please don’t do it! If you don’t get caught, you haven’t learned anything because you didn’t create what you handed in, putting yourself back where you started. If you do get caught, you may have just ruined your time in that class or this university. Be smart!