University Survival Kit

Scholarship Essay: Is Plagiarism Always Cheating?

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Academic integrity is a fundamental implication in teaching, learning, college entrance exams, and private scholarships. Common examples of cheating include copying test answers from another student, unapproved collaboration of projects, using notes while taking an exam without the professor’s approval, falsifying and misrepresenting results, or submitting your own work for multiple different assignments.

Plagiarism, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is defined as “the act of taking and using another persons ideas and presenting them as your own.” Does it follow that plagiarism is also cheating? As students, we are the collaborative sum of all past learning experiences.

Regardless of ones academic major, every student builds upon their previous academic learning to structure new thought processes that lead to innovative thinking and new discoveries. As a biomedical engineering major, collaborative research and discovery is critical for the advancement of this field of medicine, and all innovations are readily shared among colleagues.

My research discoveries have become common property as I relinquish all rights to them for the sake of the advancement of medicine. There is certainly a delicate distinction between plagiarism and the sharing of my laboratory results among fellow students and colleagues. There is also a subtle, but genuine, difference of definition regarding plagiarism within the United States as compared to its definition globally.

My parents have hosted international exchange students in our home for a number of years and I have come to realize that plagiarism is viewed and defined differently among many other countries. Many ESL teachers encourage “patch writing” as a transition means for foreign exchange students to master English language independence.

Patch writing, for many of these students, is simply a failed attempt at paraphrasing and might be considered a form of intellectual dishonesty that falls slightly short of actual plagiarism. A portion of their manuscript is original, valuable thinking while a larger portion of their work is merely the rearranged work of other writers. This is patch writing at its finest and nearly ever paragraph in most articles could technically be footnoted.

Many facts, however, are generally accepted as truth and do not require attribution, but this distinction is difficult for some international students to grasp. Other students simply lack the necessary language skills and do not feel that they can improve upon what has already been written. In some cultures it is even acceptable and flattering to copy the work of their masters.

Students who study abroad in the United States often view paraphrasing as a strange phenomenon when they consider that the actual source itself makes the point much better than they could ever reword it in an imperfectly mastered secondary language. These students do not grasp the many subtle nuisances of plagiarism and many have not been fully instructed on proper use of footnoting.

Plagiarism is clearly a complicated and complex issue for many scholars and it is not an easy black-or-white issue to identify. Was it plagiarism or sharing? Was the motive behind the writing intentional cheating or was it the inability of the individual to discern that what they were doing constituted plagiarism? Was this inadvertent plagiarism the result of a foreign exchange student being less skilled than their American counterpart on the proper convections of referencing? Who judges if a document is plagiarized and should there be a different standard of enforcement between an American-schooled student and a foreign exchange student? I think that foreign exchange students studying in America should be judged by the same standards as their American counterparts.

Likewise, an American student studying abroad is held to the standards of the country of study, not their host country. I also uphold the belief that international students should be properly educated on our standards of plagiarism and convections of referencing and given every opportunity to explain their intentions if accused of plagiarism.

 This is an essay submitted by Peter J. Satonick, the Unplag Scholarship participant. Are you willing to read another one? Click the link to proceed.