Is it plagiarism?
Comments gathered from LM_Net in response to a parent question, Dec 1999
On December 16, 1999, a parent sent me an email that read:
I just read your web site article entitled : Copy, Paste, Plagiarize — Technology Connection, January 1996. I actually happened upon the site after performing a search on plagiarism.
My high school (9th grade) son was given a zero on a report he handed in for a Physical Science grade. The report was a “gimme the facts” type of report that you allude to (it was on the chemical element Selenium).
In my son’s case, about 75% of the paper was grabbed from the web (different sites) verbatim. In his bibliography, the sites were cited, however, he did not use proper technique with the individual passages (e.g. did not enclose with quotes and put footnotes).
Please answer what should be a simple question … is this what you would consider plagiarism ? Does there have to be an “intent to deceive” as to pass another’s work off as one’s own? Obviously, the bibliography was provided to give appropriate credit to the original authors. So, is this plagiarism ?
Your response is most appreciated.
I thought this was a great question! And I asked the fine minds on LM_Net and MEMO-L how they would respond after getting permission from the parent to relay the message. My message went out early on December 20th.
As of December 21st, I have already received over 50 replies. I expect there will be more, but I want to get back to both the lists and parent as soon as possible. I will update the web page as more responses come in.
The replies generally came in three categories:
You bet it’s plagiarism.
Heck no. It’s not great, but it’s not plagiarism.
Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. Hard to tell without knowing more.
The consensus is that this was plagiarism, but there was a strong minority view as well. “Intent to deceive” is not necessary for a work to be considered plagiaristic, and as one respondent put it “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Another writer made the observation that it’s better the student learn a lesson now, than in college where the consequences could be more severe.
Most of the media specialists felt that this could and should be treated as a learning experience for the student and possibly the teacher. By the 9th grade, the concepts of plagiarism, intellectual property, and citing the work of others should be firmly established in student’s minds. To no small degree, the teacher was held to task for possibly not making the assignment clear. Most of us softies felt that a 0 for the assignment was harsh.
I urge you to read through the responses below. I kept names with responses and edited responses only for mechanics, and have left them in the order in which they were received.
Thanks to everyone who replied.
You bet it’s plagiarism.
- Citing sources was correct. However, if the quotes were not enclosed in quotation marks, he attempted to pass off someone else’s work as his own. Georganna Krumlinde
- My reaction is if other’s work is turned in as own it is plagiarism, intent is not the issue. More to the point what has been said in class about what is acceptable? How much has been done with teaching students how to take notes in own words, only phrases not complete sentences etc.? If the foundation is not in place than it is hard to enforce only at the end point. Is the only part of the assignment that gets graded the final paper, or are notes, rough draft and revised/edited final product all turned in and evaluated? The obvious other point is in the design of the assignment that fosters regurgitation without individual interpretation. M. Ellen Jay
- I believe it is plagiarism. The works-cited page is only that — a works-cited page. That does not give anyone leeway to use others’ work verbatim. If it did, researchers across the country would have “freebies” galore! Quotes are acceptable as long as they are in proportion to the length of the paper. (That was my policy, anyway, when I was an English teacher.) Quoting long passages from books or sites, then stringing them together is not an acceptable form of research, cited or not. The student may or may not have intended to plagiarize, but he did. He needs to learn now what is and is not acceptable. We can have mercy on him without letting him by. If we let him by, it will only be worse later. Carolyn Reid, LMS
- As a former high school English teacher, I gave “0” to anyone who copied information verbatim even with a bibliography. I spent many hours in the classroom teaching students how to take notes and synthesize their notes into their own words. This is a skill which can be taught, and its use shows that the student has tried to internalize some of the information. Note taking skills on opinions as well as facts (such as a science paper) can be taught to overcome the verbatim plagiarism. I realize that the citations were given for the information; however, I don’t believe that this exonerates the student from plagiarism. Style as well as content can be plagiarized. Basically, what this student could just as easily have done was print off the information, stapled it together, put his name on the front, and handed it in. I haven’t read your article, so I don’t know what stand you have taken. I will read it after this e-mail is sent. Murry Edwards
- It most definitely is plagiarism. A bibliography is provided for sources used, true enough, but each author has to be given specific credit for his particular contribution. It’s as simple as (author’s last name, pg. #), but it is required. At the same time, it is the teacher’s responsibility to inform students of this, especially freshman who might never have encountered this before. I do. I also issue a zero when it’s not done properly. Jennifer G. Newman Bigioni
- That’s a tough one to answer but here is what I would say: No, intent has nothing to do with plagiarism. Using another person’s work and turning it in as your own is plagiarism - whether or not the act was intentional. That said, I think it is time to have a talk with the classroom teacher. Don’t put the teacher on the defensive by complaining about the zero but ask the teacher questions about what kind of responses s/he was looking for. Ask for tips or hints on how to help the child rephrase a response so that the work is in the child’s own words rather than clipped from the Internet. Ask about how the assignment could be worded differently in the future so that the student must make inferences and connections that are not simply facts (that anyone can find, cut, and paste) but thoughtful responses to questions. Ask the teacher if s/he has given thorough instruction on how to incorporate another’s work into a report/assignment (quotes, footnotes, etc.) and then if the answer is positive, ask for a copy of any guidelines that would help parents at home when their children are completing their work. The incident you described is very unfortunate and a hard lesson for a youngster who may have put a great deal of effort into that assignment. However, if parent, teacher, and student work together to improve the situation all the way from assignment to report, there can be a positive outcome from the experience. Susan Grigsby
- In our school, it would be considered plagiarism. If a student submits a paper with his name on it, it is assumed that HE COMPOSED IT. If the student does not want to deceive, he should have placed quotation marks around the used material and cited it. The purpose of writing a paper is to learn the material. If the teacher just wanted information, he would have assigned each student to print out a web page on the chemical, or photocopy a book. Margaret Bedle
- “Intent to deceive” has never been part of the formula as far as I know. If something is “75%” copied, it is clearly plagiarism. Sue Miller
- YES, it IS plagiarism! Because he did NOT put quotes around the quoted material he was indicating the thoughts were his own, when in fact they were not. He could have been “dinged” for having too much quoted material and not his own thinking, but at least then he would not have plagiarized. Rod Carr
- In the strictest sense, yes the paper was plagiarism. However, I don’t know if I would have given the paper a Zero (although it makes quite an impression). I would have given the paper an Incomplete with a temporary grade of Zero. It’s time to learn to be precise or learn how to write from notes. Each quoted section should have been set off by quotes. The references could be in scientific format. This is where the reference is referred to by name or given a number from the order in the bibliography and the page number included in the citation. e.g.: (Milbury, pp. 2-10), or ( 10, pp. 2-10). Either way the writer is referencing each specific instance of copying. Or, the student could have rewritten the facts in his own words…. and then the bibliography would have probably been enough. References and their particular structure can be important. A student needs to pay attention to them. If you look in various professional journals, they will usually tell the author which system they prefer for references and bibliographies. The paper won’t be accepted if the author doesn’t follow the directions. Dan Robinson
- Naturally I don’t have the original paper to compare, but from the facts presented I would say that yes, this was plagiarism. The parent states that 75% of the paper was verbatim, but none was enclosed in quotes. Any wording in a paper not enclosed within quotes is considered to be the words of the author of the paper. So essentially the student was claiming that 75% of the paper was his work when it was actually the writing of others. Carol Simpson
- It seems to me that ignorance doesn’t bar you from the fact that it *is* plagiarism, just as ignorance of the law doesn’t save you from prosecution if you violate it. I think that perhaps the teacher should have discussed (reminded … however you see it) the proper way to cite information and to quote within the text. But certainly by ninth grade, a student should know the difference between their own work and someone else’s verbatim, and the implications of copying, particularly when more of the writing was someone else’s than his own. Perhaps the “just the facts” assignment promoted the result, as critical thinking skills are important and might have prevented the problem of copying word for word, however that doesn’t absolve a student of responsibility for his actions. Learning this lesson now, while he is essentially getting a “free education” in the public schools seems to me to be preferable to when he’s a freshman in college and paying for the credits (and the poor grade). Just my opinion :) Kim Ault
- Sure looks like a case of plagiarism to me. Gabe Gancarz
- Interesting dilemma, huh? As a former English teacher, I would expect to see the 75% quoted and footnoted if the text was not changed. And just have changed a few words wouldn’t cut it in my English class. Just listing the source in the bibliography tells me that student has paraphrased the information from the source and not pulled the material directly from the web with no changes. Joanne Troutner
- It’s plagiarism, if it isn’t in quotes, italicized or comes with some footnotes. With WWW, there are considerable problems with citations, because I have seen three or four different formats for citing. Some merely list the address, while other have the full bibliography, plus the search engine or database they took it from. MLA, APA and others credible sources may also have different ways of citing web sources. A uniform standard needs to be established as much as possible to avoid such inconveniences or problematic interpretations… Jeff Herringa
- It is plagiarism, assuming the classroom teacher gave the class the methods for properly citing within the body of the paper. I really don’t think plagiarism only involve the intent to defraud. That student knew he was using information verbatim from other sources, and knew heshould indicate such. If he didn’t know HOW, he should have asked. If the parent is on top of the issue enough to have read your article and to email the question to you, where was that parent when the student was putting the paper together?? (Just wondering…)Barb Kane
- My response would be that if the citations were not correctly done, it is plagiarism. I guess it would depend on the age of the student and whether or not he/she was taught the correct format” in context” for indicating that information was copied. The comment “verbatim” sounds to me like plagiarism. Just my two cents. Susan Heinis
- Plagiarism is plagiarism, whether the intent to cheat exists or not. However, if the student made an attempt at citing the works at the end of the paper, maybe he should be given a second chance to practice his ‘citing’ technique. When it comes to words lifted from a source, without a page number or quotation marks, or something to indicate they are not the words of the paper’s author, it is plagiarism. Mary Bischoff
- Here’s what I learned once upon a time… You must site anything that you could not have learned from direct experimentation or observation that you conducted. Every time you switch sources you should cite with at least (author, date). Any word for word copying must be in quotation marks. I would suggest lots of ‘According to blah, blah…’ and ‘Experts say….’ Such student “research” papers should be full of references to sources—every line if the source of the information changes with every line—to avoid plagiarism. Jane Prestebak
- When writing a paper, just giving the sources is not enough. In the body you have to either name the sources through parenthetical enclosures or with numbers that are contained in the footnotes or endnotes. Otherwise the reader does not know what information was taken from which sources. Roberta Gleeson
- Unfortunately, I would consider this plagiarism, but I would not have given the student a zero. The student did not cite the sources he used properly but he did acknowledge where he found his information. The student may not have intended to plagiarize but because he did not give accurately credit the authors whose ideas and words he used, his work is an example of plagiarism. I wish the teacher had used this student’s work as an opportunity to *re-teach* bibliographic styles (e.g., Turabian, MLA, APA) and the correct way to cite a source (assuming that the students had been taught how to cite sources in their writing!). I suspect this could have been a *learning* opportunity for all the students in this teacher’s class… Janice Hardy
- Unfortunately, I believe that yes, it is plagiarism. But not using quotes and internal reference indicators (i.e. footnotes or whatever format the school uses) the student neglected to delineate someone else’s information, and synthesis thereof if any, from his own. It is especially important that students learn to do this when using the web for information, since much of what is found there might be questionable. If the student is offering as “fact” something found on a web site, the reader needs to understand the source of that fact (and the validity of the source). The only way for that to happen is if the information is properly cited. Linda Greengrass
- Yes, the example cited by the parent is plagiarism. I think the key is lifted verbatim without quotes. The question to ask the parent and student. Is this report written in your own words? If not, a direct quote from any source must be in quotation marks and footnoted. The reader should not have to guess which sentence is from the source and which sentence is an original thought. Lisa Von Drasek
- It seems pretty obvious to me that the instructor’s failed to: 1) Make clear what procedures one should use when quoting facts from sources. 2) Failed to create a meaningful research assignment that actually sought some facts with which to form a hypothesis, evaluate, and draw conclusion. In short if the teacher wanted a “just give me the facts” paper he/she got it. The fact that the young man seemed not to intentionally pass the work off as his own indicates to me that the plagiarism is not intentional. However, if he signed his name to the paper as in: My Paper by John Doe, he did commit plagiarism “to steal or purloin and pass off as one’s own (ideas, writings, etc. of another).” If he had signed his name to the paper as in: “My Paper: A Collection of Ideas from Various Sources” by John Doe; that would not have been plagiarism. However, the paper would not have been significantly changed so the question comes back to the failure of the instructor to construct a meaningful research experience for the students. Sharron L. McElmeel
- As an author, I would consider this to be plagiarism, in the accepted term of the word. I believe that you should reply to the mother and say that despite offering a bibliography, that such cut and paste and rebuilding is plagiarism … but perhaps she could talk to her son to find out what he felt was the purpose of the assignment; had he read and interpreted the assignment direction correctly and completed all its elements; what he felt he had learned about selenium by using the cut’n’paste method; how he could have taken the information from the web, or whatever source, made notes and then rewritten it in his own words so that there was some learning happening for him - if not about selenium, then about the process for future assignments which cannot be answered by this ‘technique’; what he would do differently next time, (and cross-fingers, he won’t say he’ll do a better bibliography!)She and her son could also talk to the teacher who set the original assignment to find out how many others also received zero for doing the same thing; how the teacher intends to reword that assignment or future questions, so that cut’n’paste cannot be used to answer them; what were the anticipated outcomes of the assignment for the students; did most students achieve these; what sort of instruction of the information literacy skills will be offered to provide support for students experiencing difficulty in that area; if he son could do a resubmit showing that he had learned from his experience. By offering some suggestions for further action, not only is the problem acknowledged, but there is also a pathway forward for all concerned. The son will have learned something from the experience, even if it’s not about selenium, and there is more to an assignment than the grade at the end; the mother will have a similar understanding; and the teacher should be able to build on the experience and set better questions in the future. So it’s win/win for everyone. Barbara Braxton
- I would think you could respond to the 75% part of the paper being taken from the Internet. I do not believe a student can claim ownership to a paper with 75% being taken word for word from another source, even if the sources were cited. The next question would be why didn’t he use quotes and foot notes if he did not intend to deceive. This would still be plagiarism I would believe, because he did not use quotes, etc. Even if he had used the proper techniques, what teacher would give him credit for a paper that he had very little of his own words? Susan Ryan
- That’s a tough one! I think I would have to say that yes, it is plagiarism, even though there may not have been intent to deceive. Certainly by 9th grade a student should know what plagiarism is and that it is wrong. Simply including the information in a bibliography does not absolve one from a charge of plagiarism if they did not properly cite the information within the text of the report. I would hope, but may be mistaken, that a 9th grade student would know the basics of report writing, whether or not it’s a “gimme the facts” report or one requiring more critical thinking. If I were the teacher and I did explain how to do the report and what constitutes plagiarism, then the 0 is deserved. But, not knowing all the details (such as: did the Science or English teacher explain how to do the report, is this student generally a good student: assignments done, paying attention, etc.) it might be advisable for the teacher to err on the side of mercy. In that case, I would give the student half credit or the lowest passing grade and a stern warning that should this occur again, the result will be a zero. Rosanne Zajko
- If student had been instructed in the proper forms for footnotes and understood what he was suppose to do, then it is plagiarism. He gave general credit, but he copied word for word without giving credit for the specific sections. I realize some assignments make this very easy to do. Note taking and changing phrases into your words, not the authors, is time consuming and difficult for some students depending on the grade level. Perhaps it could have been handled differently. Obviously, he did the work of looking for the information and citing the sources generally at least. Could he have been made to rewrite it in his own words, and loose some credit for copying the first time? The basic problem is that he did not make the work his own, on paper and probably not intellectually. Just copying is not processing the information. It is a pretty mindless task that doesn’t enable the student to learn the information. Learning the information is the goal, and copying does not give the student any reason to think about and understand what he is writing. Pam Hatton
- I would say since the student used verbatim quotes but did not cite them within his text (i.e., with quotation marks and provenance), it is indeed plagiarism. He still has to cite them in his bibliography at the end, too, of course. Faye Gottschall
- Yes it is. That’s my gut response. His only defense would be if he had never received instruction in what plagiarism is, but by the 9th grade I’m sure that ground’s been covered. As a former classroom teacher, (speech and English), I have dealt with similar situations. He should have known to use quotes for his direct quotes. I’m sure it’s disappointing for the parent. Marsha Hauser
- Difficult question to answer, but I believe that if he did not paraphrase the information but included it verbatim even though it was in sections, I would consider that plagarism. I recognize that your son noted the source in the bibliography and so was probably plagarizing more by ignorance than intent -if any intent. But what better place to learn what you should not be doing than in high school where it is safe, rather than in the world of work where lawyers and lawsuits can call you to task. So, if I had been the teacher, I would have talked to your son, ascertained that it was not his intent, explained to him the importance of giving credit to the writers of works by using quotes, footnotes, etc. But I would still have given him the zero……in other words I see it as a learning situation for your son. I believe plagarism is using someone’s work as your own. Intent does not have a function in the definition of plagarism. In the dictionary it says “to steal and use the ideas or writings of another as one’s own.” If he did not quote them or footnote them, to me that is using them as his own, hence plagarism, and intent is not included in that definition. Mary Lynn Potter
Heck no. It’s not great, but it’s not plagiarism.
- No. it was not plagiarism, as there was no evident intent to deceive. Yes, positive remediation, with the intent to HELP the learner achieve an acceptable completed assignment, through adequate and accountable instruction—either before or after the fact of the misunderstanding—is and remains the responsibility of the instructor; the administration; government; society. Thus, no, simply (twice, at least) failing the learner is neither responsible nor professional, nor consistent with our mission as educators and human beings (It might be considered criminal; but then the instructor, the administrator, the government and the society represent learners who need to be respectfully helped, too, eh?). Jeff Kirkpatrick
- Our kids also do those element reports. It’s a dilemma since younger students so often do those fact type of reports. I think the students need to put information in their own words, but that’s not always easy to do with a fact type of report Mary Alice Anderson
- I would say that the intent wasn’t to plagiarize, but a failure to follow proper quoting techniques. The student(s) need to be taught this, then enforced. Points should be taken off for failure to give proper credit. For most student learning to write and give proper credit is a learning process and is not always a deliberate act of plagiarism. My elementary students have a very hard time with this. Debbie Balsam
- I would not consider it plagiarism if he had a bibliography of his sources. If he did not use the proper citation form or footnotes, that is a format problem. If the teacher did not offer an example of what he wanted the students seldom will research that on their own. I would pursue this. Kay Goss
- I would not consider what you described to be plagiarism. I *might* consider it sloppy work (scarcely shocking, all things considered), but that depends on the specifics. (Were the passages in question mere statements of fact, for which quotation marks would be superfluous, or were they excerpts that required quotation marks?) I would inquire as to whether the teacher did a poor job of instructing the students on how to prepare and present the paper and on how sources of facts were to be cited. Ken Umbach
- I did ask an English teacher and a social studies teacher in my building what they thought of the situation based on the parent’s e-mail. I agree with both teachers that this was not plagiarism but rather a matter of not citing the sources correctly, in which case the teacher might mark the paper down and/or ask the student to cite the sources properly. Doug Howard
- Gee, I am in a primary school so I probably should not even answer but it seems to me the student made errors in proper form not plagiarism. I think a zero was a bit harsh. Wanda Nall
- I’m hung-up on how the assignment read and what the rubrics were…. If the 0 is because the directions were not followed in constructing the paper I’m all for it. If the question is whether lifting from electronic sources is any different than lifting from print, the answer is no. If the question is whether a bibliography is enough vs. direct quotes, my feeling is again no. If the question is whether changing a few words so that technically there is not a direct quote is fair game and is not plagiarism, my concept is again no. If you lift an idea that is not yours originally and therefore is not a contribution to the vast amount of knowledge and you don’t say so specifically, I call that lifting. It is possible to have an idea independently and discover that someone else has had it as well. Example: When teaching Reference at university I do it by type of reference and I ask my students to produce information on their topics from each of specified types of reference materials so that they learn about a broader range of reference sources. One student brought to me an article written by a prof out West who was doing the same thing and saying the same arguments that I used with my class. She wanted to know if I knew the man or his work. Never heard of him. I asked her to write him and tell him about our experiences with the concept. So, how did the assignment read????? Hilda L. Jay
- I think it does technically qualify as plagiarism since neither the ideas or direct quotations were specifically cited. It does sound as if the student “tried” to do it correctly since he included a works cited page or bibliography. There is not really “intent” to plagiarize, but does that really matter? I guess if I’m reading between the lines correctly, the parent doesn’t feel the son deserves a 0. I think it depends upon how carefully the teacher covered the use of quotations or end notes when the work was assigned. In any event, the student should now take it upon himself to learn about how to properly cite ideas and direct quotes. Cynthia Gulden
- Since Internet research is still a relatively “new” means of procuring information, teachers and students have a hard time figuring out the boundaries although they are not so different. From the time teachers have been assigning these “information please” reports, students have gone to the nearest encyclopedia and rearranged the wording ofperfectly good articles in the name of originality. So, the teacher assigns this type of report and the student uses his newly acquired”copy and paste” skills to do basically the same thing. It’s hard to know how to answer this question because we don’t know the parameters of the assignment or how the teacher communicated his/her expectations to the students. 1. Were the students told and shown how to do internal citations? 2. What education have students had in what constitutes plagiarism? 3. How much help/interaction did the teacher have with the student as they worked? I guess I have a problem with the “intent to harm” reasoning this parent mentioned. In almost every case, unless it is blatant, a student can look at a teacher with big sad eyes and say, “But I didn’t mean to!” There needs to be a line somewhere. I guess I don’t have problem with the teacher having drawn the line. I just wonder how well defined the line was before the assignment was handed in. Zero points seems like a pretty severe consequence, so maybe there are ways to make up at least some of the points. Even if this is not possible, the student has learned a valuable lesson about writing these types of reports. And if he learns the lesson in 9th grade, he’s miles ahead of many students!! Just my $.02!!! Cyndi Gates
- The issue of intent to deceive may not to apply to this situation but it can be seen as plagiarism if the student had been instructed in the skills necessary to create an accurately quoted paper. Obviously the teacher felt quotes should have been used. Why weren’t they? To the parent and son, I would say that whenever you create information you will share with others you are beholden to use the conventions culture has in place to insure fair and accurate use of information. Sometimes it is pretty inconvenient to do so, as for a relatively unimportant school assignment, but, again, the issue is correct process as much as product. Doug Bancks
- If this was the first time, it may have been a learning experience, not plagiarism. The student should be given another chance to “go forth and sin no more.” This may be a teachable moment if there was honestly no intent to deceive. However, … If the chemistry teacher, or a communications teacher, or any other teacher, provided instruction regarding plagiarism, proper quotation methods, et al then our young researcher should be held accountable and receive no credit. Should s/he have known better, given the school district’s curriculum? Are standards for original composition consistently taught? Can the instructor reasonably assume such standards are simply understood? There’s almost always more to the story than the part Mom and Dad (or the letter reader) hear. What does the chemistry teacher have to say? I must admit, if I were that teacher, to weighing past performance, reliability, and other character traits when deciding if the claim of “honest mistake” is to be considered valid. Chuck Pauley
- It seems to me that it’s hard to tell without actually seeing the paper. On the one hand, you could say that if the information he included is common knowledge and is built from information that would be found in virtually every source one would consult on the subject, it’s hard to tag him for plagiarism. It seems much more that he’s guilty of expediency or youthful ignorance. The parent asks about the necessity of an “intent to deceive”. It’s very difficult for readers to ascertain intent. The question turns more on result. I doubt that anyone reading a ninth grader’s paper would believe that the student was reporting original research. The importance of the lesson — the importance of learning to cite and give credit — is to avoid problems in the future when he is working with material that is more subtle and subjective. If the paper is built from information that isn’t commonly found, however, then things get a little more serious. He minimizes the infraction if he cites the source for each, even if he didn’t indicate that he was quoting. For example, if he wrote that Selenium is x, y, and z. but only listed the source of that in his bibliography, he has erred more than if he wrote Selenium is x, y, and z (Smith, 1999). The bottom line, though, is that if the student is now in high school, he needs to recognize that every piece of information he uses is simultaneously two pieces of intellectual property: (1) the first is the content, and (2) the second is the language. “Our fathers created a new government 87 years ago….” isn’t quite the same as “Four score and seven years ago ….” The language belongs to the author as much as the idea does, and he needs to give credit for the language as well as for the material content. Were he in the fifth grade, I’d probably explain just what I outlined immediately above regarding a citation in the text or in a footnote. A high schooler, though, should recognize the distinction and act accordingly. Were I still teaching high school history — and this was the first time the student had done this — I would regard this as plagiarism, explain the reasons, show him the appropriate form and format, and return the paper to the student to be redone. Repeated plagiarism would draw sanctions. Gary Hartzell
- Before answering I believe you need to ascertain the expectations of the teacher who gave the assignment. Did the teacher make clear that copied work needed to be handled in a certain way? Or does your district have a standard policy that says material copied but not properly punctuated (quotation marks around direct quotes) is plagiarized? Unfortunately all teachers do not deal with this issue in the same fashion, and what one might deem acceptable is unacceptable to another. I would think that the teacher should have some specifics for you of what they have communicated to the kids. That would be my first step before responding to the parent. Jim Aufderheide
- Direct quotes should be noted within the paper and referenced to the bib page, regardless of how much information is taken verbatim. Surely, the teacher taught the proper procedure. It is a lot of work to cite, quote, and reference…did the student take the easy way out or did he actually know the proper procedure? This should be the question. Was it done out of ignorance or ease? Joy Hendrickson
- I’d like to see the criteria/checklist that the teacher used for evaluation. Was it required for the student to use his own words? Was it required that the citations be correct? Also, I’d want to find out what the purpose of the report was. Is the grade on the research process or just to share the information with the class. I hope the teacher gave the zero for more than the possible plagiarism, and also hope that the teacher did clearly explain why the resulting score. Susan Wilmes
- I would suggest that the parent meet with the teacher and student to discuss the expectations and the consequences. Regardless of what happens with the paper given a zero, the child should use this as a learning experience for the future. (I’m wondering if the teacher was clear in setting out the expectation for crediting sources within the text. Many teachers in my building do not teach this skill and only “require” a bibliography, thus students are left to their own devices.) Good luck with it! You’re a skillful wordsmith; I’m sure you’ll be diplomatic. Jeanne M. LaMoore
- The question appears to be more complicated than she thinks. First how much of the paper should be original thought and how much of others’ words? Facts cannot be copyrighted; however, the way one presents those facts can. One can take the same facts and place them in their own words. It is important for all students to learn to do so. Also, How does one distinguish that a certain phrase is not your words unless you place it with in quotations or block quote it. There may not have been an intent to plagiarize but we are assuming that the zero was just for plagiarism. When I was teaching, I assigned an in-class research paper on dinosaurs. I spent one week on paraphrasing, one week on plagiarism, and two weeks on the format of writing the report. A child wrote the worst paper I had ever read. It was incomprehensible. The child tried to rewrite the sentences she had copied without dropping or adding a word. So “Dinaosaurs were once considered cold blooded animals; however recent research has determined that they in fact were warm blooded.” became “once considered cold blooded Dinosaurs were animals in fact were warm blooded; however recent research has determined that they.” The parent became enraged that I presented her daughter with an F. But it was more that just plagiarism. That was just a small part of it. But let us say the zero was just for plagiarism. A bibliography is just that, a bibliography. I have a bibliography on ballroom dancing on the web. Many of the entries have never been quoted from. They are just possible resources for future researchers on the subject. It comes down to this; without the proper format signifying whose words are whose, the reader must assume that the writer is taking credit for all words in the paper. If a professional writer forgets to give credit where credit is due, is the writer open for a lawsuit? A child may not be in the same league but must be made aware of such consequences. I would suggest the parent sit down with the teacher in a non-confrontational setting and work out the fine points. What days were these format issues covered? Were the children provided with style sheets? If these items were not covered or provided than the parent may have the opportunity to ask the teacher to allow her child to clean up his paper and turn it in for another grade. However, if everything was covered and provided for then the grade should stand. Kevin Clement
- It would be interesting to see what kind of criteria/instruction/ direction for the report was provided by the teacher. Does the student know how to do parenthetical documentation? Does the student know that word for word information requires quotation marks? When assignments are given in my school the good teachers provide an assessment sheet with point values for various parts when making an assignment. For example - a works cited page grading criteria may include the following with point values : double spaced, alphabetical, proper indentations, punctuation, and all needed data for each item included - author- title- publication data etc. each work listed must have at least one parenthetical notation, Since the student included a bibliography the intent wasn’t to deceive the teacher. A low grade even failure may be appropriate if directions were given but not followed. Since the student attempted to do the assignment the teacher may want to give some points. Sometimes in cases such as this a teacher can give back the paper and ask the student to make appropriate revisions following the established criteria and resulting in some kind of a passing grade but the not a perfect score. The teacher may want to give the student a timeline -the longer the revisions take the lower the possible grade. D. Marger
- My response would be that the parent needs to talk with the teacher as to what that teacher considers plagiarism and if the teacher had discussed this with students before the assignment. Sometimes teachers take for granted that students understand all the gray areas of plagiarism and also forget that students have other teachers that don’t care if they copy. It sounds like this student was trying to give credit to his sources but didn’t understand how that was done within the body of the work. I think the teacher was a little harsh and maybe just needs to do some reteaching. Research writing is a difficult and cumulative process. A 9th grader isn ‘t going to get it right the first time. Diane Wallace-Reid
- This is an interesting question. Since it is simply a factual report, and he reported the facts, and cited his sources, and he wasn’t required to do original research, …… I appreciate that students are supposed to use “their own words”, but sometimes it seems so contrived to ask them to change a little bit of the wording of a factual sentence, just so they can pass it off as their own. Often the original writer is a much better writer, why water it down? There would be some argument to putting it into one’s own words if the student did not understand the original wording. However, if quotation marks are used correctly, and everything is properly cited, I would not call it plagiarizing. Change the assignment if this is a problem. Liz Dodds
- Did the child receive the failing grade for plagiarism or for not following correct form? If the teacher gave specific directions for how to cite works from the Internet, using quotations and footnotes, for example, and this student chose not to follow the directions, I can see where that would justify a low grade. On the other hand, if the teacher just assumed that a 9th grader would know how to correctly cite Internet sources without teaching/reteaching it, the student probably did the best he could. It would be hard to blame him for a less-than-satisfactory result and a 0 for the assignment is not fair. As a librarian and a parent I am constantly amazed at the (fortunately few) teachers who expect marvelous results from sloppy directions and who penalize students for not knowing something that was never taught. Jeanne L. Clark