Teachers and Professors - Plagerism (minor)

A question for the teachers and professors - how do you handle cases of minor plagiarism? What do you do if a student fails to enclose a source’s exact phrase in quotation marks? For example, if a student were to write:

According to Steven Jones, American steel production increased…

instead of

According to Steven Jones, “American steel production increased…”

What would the punishment (if any) be for this? Would this be an automatic fail for the class?

Could you please include the subject and the (grade) level you teach.

That’s just a grammatical error. Failure to cite is a minor sin unless it is being passed off as original work by the student. Minus 1 point, maybe, and some red pen on the paper.

High School, 10th and 12th grades.

I’m not a teacher / professor, but one of my professors has pretty much unscrewed the tops of our heads and stuffed Joseph Gibaldi’s MLA Handbook directly into our brains by this point.

If Steven Jones directly says “American steel production increased blah blah blah” in his text, you put the quotation marks in and a citation like so: (Jones 93).

If not, you don’t need them–just the citation from the text if it’s not common knowledge.

Are you this guy ?

I do not think that is correct. If the author is named in a signal phrase you do not include the author’s name in the citation when using MLA style. You just include the page number. The correct form would be:
According to Steven Jones, “American steel production increased… by 1994” (93).

I think the problem comes in with phrases like “common knowledge” and “substantially original” and the dreaded “in your own words”. How many words are allowed to be contiguously identical before it’s plagiarism?

For example, here’s most of the first paragraph from the wikipedia entry on Steel :

How do you determine if this is plagiarized?

I didn’t use a word in there that didn’t come from the article. I have no knowledge of steel, before or after writing that - I’m just moving words around, putting the information “into my own words”. I think it’s pretty clear that it’s plagiarism by a reasonable person’s definition, but I can also see why some students would consider it fair game and their own work.

quick Google check …$#*&@!

I’m just going to shut off the computer and go to class very quietly now.

I taught at the college level and I agree with this. They’d get downgraded depending on how much they let their cited sources write the paper for them, but if it was minor, I’d just give them a somewhat lower grade and assign them a source where they can bone up on the proper way to include direct quotes.

That is not a grammatical error. It is plagiarism - cut and dry plagiarism. It may be a minor form of plagiarism, but that does not mean the act itself is minor. Plagiarism is a serious matter; it is not just a failure to cite. If the student does include the text after a signal phrase in quotation marks, he is claiming to have summarized or paraphrased the source in his own words. How can a high school senior not know to include a direct quotation inside quotation marks? I could see giving a sophomore a lower grade, but a senior should fail the assignment. And college student has no excuse.

I teach 8th/9th grade English, and I wouldn’t do much other than count them down a few points for punctuation, and do a reminder on how to correctly quote. Below that – I teach science to 6th/ 7th grade…I wouldn’t make a huge production out of it.

I’d chalk it up as an error and point it out to the student in my comments. Yes, technically it is plagiarism, but if I failed every student who did that, over half my class would never make it out of English 101.

Sorry to burst your bubble, 2.5, but a lot of college students don’t know how to properly use citations because they never learned properly in high school, and they make a lot of mistakes in good faith. Penalizing them by marking their paper as plagiarized and giving them an F may be sticking to principles, but it is hardly what I’d call good teaching.

It’d be different if it were a grad school student writing their thesis/dissertation.

Besides, they did try to cite by writing the author’s name and did not pretend that it was the student’s own work. It’s a punctuation or grammar error by that point.

Are you telling me half of your (college-level) students do not know to put a direct quote of a source in quotation marks? That is just sad; this does not even seem like something that really should have to be taught. It is just common sense. What exactly are students being taught in high school English?

It is not error of grammar. Grammar has nothing to do with the issue. If the student does include the text that comes after a signal phrase in quotation marks, he is claiming to have summarized or paraphrased the source in his own words.

Dude, half my husband’s students (freshman composition at a major university) don’t know how to write a complete sentence. I’m not exaggerating here.

Not a clue. Nor do I understand why they’re in college.

I wish I could show you my students’ papers. Before their first essay was due, I gave them a handout in which the essay format was very clearly laid out. I went over every single detail with then. Margins. Page numbers. Citation format. Paragraphs, headers, title, spacing - everything. Less than half of my students got it right. You’d think it’s pretty self-explanatory, but it’s not.

Hell, I have friends that worked as TAs during grad school (at the University of Chicago) and most of the undergrad essays they saw made them want to cry.

If it’s a freshman comp class: Knock the grade down to C-level or lower, highlight the parts that are identical with the source text, give them the option of turning in a rewritten, properly documented version for a maximum grade of B-. They’re still learning this stuff.

If it’s an upper-level class: If the plagiarism is as minor as you describe (a sentence or two of text quoted word for word without quotation marks, but the source is attributed) – usually, an automatic C or so without the option of rewriting. Anything more serious than that earns a D or an F for the paper and a note to the Dean.

I disagree–the students I taught in a intro level course on Information Literacy at a 2 year career college did not understand the distinction you are making. They demonstrated little or no ability to rewrite things in their own words, and were prone to quoting whole paragraphs from the source (generally in quotes). My job (well, one of them) was to teach them how to write better, how to quote better, how to cite stuff better.

In theory what you are describing may be plaigerism, but in practice? Not neccessarily. So I’d correct it, give it back and make them try again. And they still wouldn’t get it.

But there is no error of grammar. Grammar is about structural relationships in language.

What you seem to be describing is students who have no ability to understand and use information. How does a student who cannot understand something that should be learned before 4th grade get into college (even a junior college)?

From my friend who is a visiting college professor, he would be quite happy to see that they at least identified the author, so he would not even consider it plagiarism at all. They made no effort to conceal the original source and pass it off as their own work; they just failed to use proper quotation style.

That’s a pretty minor item, compared to some examples he’s seen:

  • including a section lifted word-for-word from a book that the professor had edited, identified in the supplemental reading list as his book, and actually discussed in class. Used without any attribution at all, or any indication that it was not the students own work.
  • including a direct copy of several paragraphs from one of the seminal works of a founding father of the field, again without any attribution. And this was from an 1880’s German professor; even in an English translation, the writing style was so different from the students work that it stood out immediately. (Worse, it actually weakened the argument in the paper, by saying this in his own words rather than identifying it as a supportive quote from one of the founders of the field!)

And this is after covering plagiarism in the class syllabus, discussing it in class, and turning back the first paper to “re-do”, with obvious examples of plagiarism marked in red with “source?”.

Perhaps worse is the attitude of the students to this – they can’t see what is wrong with this (or at least claim that). They say “But in our culture, repeating someones words is considered a compliment.” (Which is probably not even true.) And certainly not relevant here, especially after the effort to clearly cover plagiarism.

Definitely worse, in his view, is the attitude of the school administration to this. They seem to refuse to deal with the situation at all, mentioning that many of these are foreign students, with their governments paying both out-of-state and foreign additions to the normal tuition, and if they switch to another university, the school would be out a lot of money. And if the class gets a reputation as ‘too hard’, students will avoid taking it, and then there won’t be enough demand for them to hire him as a professor again next semester.

The department has actually stopped using turn-it-in.com for checking papers. The reasons they gave was that it was too expensive, and that it caused too much trouble. The trouble was that it was catching too many cheaters, and then the administration had to deal with them.

Rather a frustrating situation for a teacher. Certainly doesn’t encourage you to be rigorous about academic standards!