This could have happened: I go to pick up my kids from school, to find that my wife has already picked them up. The neighborhood kid, Johnny, asks for a ride home. “Sure!” I tell him and he jumps in the car. “I probably should tell someone I’m taking Johnny home,” I think. So I explain what we’re doing to a little blonde girl with the Ninja Turtle backpack. She looks responsible, especially for a 6-year-old.

We head out, feeling pretty good about the situation. We even break into a medley of songs.  Johnny has a real knack for harmony. We take some detours along the way because our voices are really starting to blend, and I’m not ready to break up the group yet. That’s when we get pulled over. The officer says Johnny’s mom is mad. Who saw that coming?

It’s not like I make a habit of picking up kids, locking them in my basement and sending out ransom notes. I was just taking Johnny home. Still, the arrest report says “kidnapping” and Ninja Turtle Girl is nowhere to be found; so much for being responsible.

So why am I telling this to students enrolled or interested in online degree programs? The title of this blog says plagiarism, and we’re talking about being arrested for kidnapping? Well, besides the fact that I have nothing else to do while sitting in lockup, I can’t help but to make the connection. The word “plagiarism,” after all, comes from the Latin word “plagium” - to kidnap - and though plagiarizing probably won’t get you put into jail, it can result in failure of an assignment or worse. Sadly, not even NT Girl is going to save you.

What is Plagiarism? 

According to the Grantham University Catalog: “plagiarism is [when someone goes about] presenting the ideas or work of others (including other students) as his/her original work” (“Plagiarism,” p. 46). In other words, plagiarism is cheating.

There is a real difference between those students who plagiarize on purpose, and those who fail to cite their sources correctly. Learning how to cite your sources is something that takes time. Instructors understand this, and generally are willing to work with you.

Is not citing sources correctly plagiarism? Technically, yes, but in early classes at GU, though instructors may harp at you to get citations right, the grading pen doesn’t tend to go for the throat; it just growls and may spit on you from time to time.

There are students, however, who seem determined to cheat the system. Cheating can be hard work if you don’t have a plan.

The Game Plan for Plagiarists

Just like a writer facing a writing task, plagiarists should always start their work with a question. A good question might be: “Do I, or do I not want to be caught cheating?”

If you’re a plagiarist and you’d like to get caught, just find an essay online or get a friend to write your essay and put your name on the top of it. Eventually you’ll get caught, which means you’ll fail the assignment, you may even fail the class, or even better, get kicked out of school!

Sure, you have to deal with the embarrassment of being labeled a plagiarist, but this should be a rather temporary setback, and not being in college does free up your time. Just be glad you’re not one of those plagiarists trying to not get caught; that is much more difficult.

Most plagiarists don’t want to get caught, so chances are, if you still want to be a plagiarist, you’re going to fit into this category. You may be one of those students who is lazy and doesn’t care about his or her education, but it’s more likely that you fit into one of the following categories:

  1. People who don’t feel confident in their writing.
  2. People who are perfectionists in their writing, but put off their writing until the last minute.
  3. People who don’t know how to avoid plagiarism.

Oddly enough, the first two issues are based on the assumption that teachers expect student writing to be perfect.

Here’s a promise: Throughout your courses, you will not write a perfect essay. Your goal is to try, but you’re not going to get there. Just do what you can and try to learn a few things while you’re here.

If you count yourself among those who are looking to avoid plagiarism, there are a few steps you can take to ensure the safety of your work. Want to know how to do it successfully? Come back to the GU blog next Tuesday, March 13, for Part II of the Plagiarism Series.

(To be continued) ...

About the author: Tim Goss is a full-time English instructor at Grantham University.