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Perspectives on Plagiarism

Posted by Janett Perry on Aug 4, 2010 2:25:00 PM

police 150x150 resized 600The New York Times recently published a piece that discussed today’s younger generation and their views on plagiarism.  The article analyzes several perspectives on plagiarism, coming from college students to teachers to parents. 

One primary perspective that could explain a recent increase in cases of plagiarism:

The younger generation simply doesn’t know what plagiarism is, and overall has a more laissez faire attitude towards copying content without proper citations.

From the New York Times:

“But these cases — typical ones, according to writing tutors and officials responsible for discipline at the three schools who described the plagiarism — suggest that many students simply do not grasp that using words they did not write is a serious misdeed. It is a disconnect that is growing in the Internet age as concepts of intellectual property, copyright and originality are under assault in the unbridled exchange of online information, say educators who study plagiarism.

The article also discusses a second possibility:

Kids know what plagiarism is, but are lazy and don’t have the writing skills to keep up with a vigorous load of college courses. 

To keep up the pace they make a conscious decision to plagiarize even though they know it’s wrong.  For this viewpoint, the writer interviews Sarah Wilensky, a Senior at Indiana University who has written on the topic of plagiarism:

“If you’re taught how to closely read sources and synthesize them into your own original argument in middle and high school, you’re not going to be tempted to plagiarize in college, and you certainly won’t do so unknowingly.”

There is a third scenario that the article doesn’t discuss: 

The possibility that even though people know they are doing wrong, they simply don’t think they will be caught. 

For some, plagiarism may be a gamble, but a risk worth taking due to the notion that they have good chance of getting away with it.  For these students, it could be akin to breaking the speed limit in a car:  if they don’t see any traffic cops around they may take the risk.

That’s why one possible solution to the plagiarism problem is to let the new generation know that technologies are in place to ensure students (and authors) are employing best practices in writing. 

Modern plagiarism detection software like Turnitin and iThenticate are leading the way in detecting instances of plagiarism by scanning both massive databases of archived content along with more recent internet sources. 

Many iThenticate users have seen a similar scenario:  letting people know that their submitted content is going to be scanned by a sophisticated plagiarism detection solution in many cases serves to further curb instances of plagiarism.

In a sense, plagiarism detection software can act like a cop on the side of road – the simple presence of the squad car makes drivers slow down.


Gabriel, Trip. “Plagiarism Lines Blur for Students in Digital Age” The New York Times 1 August 2010.