Writing for students: why plagiarism sucks

HTWB Students logo 3Avoiding plagiarism: it’s a touchy subject. You’re probably sitting there thinking, ‘Oh, I don’t need to read this, I’m never going to cheat like that’.

You’re wrong. Well, sort of.

Plagiarising is not as black and white as just choosing to steal someone else’s ideas. You could plagiarise without even knowing it.

You could be plagiarising right now. You’re probably not, but you can never be too careful.

The thing is, universities aren’t so keen on the whole ‘nicking other people’s work’ thing, whether you meant to or not. In fact, they’ve dedicated entire floors of staff and developed complex computer software specifically designed to weed out any infractions.

Therefore it’s kind of in your interest to not plagiarise. I’d advise reading the upcoming words, even if you weren’t planning to break into your mate’s room and download all his files onto a USB stick (and while waiting for it to download, change his Facebook profile picture to an image of  Attila the Hun).

First I’m going to go through the various ways that you could unintentionally plagiarise and how to avoid each. Then I’ll turn my attention to you naughty people out there who are actually considering either stealing or buying essays, and give you a bloomin’ stern talking-to about why that’s just plain stupid.

Do your research

This might sound like good advice for essay writing on the whole (which it is; it’s what I’m here for), but it’s also key to avoiding accidental plagiarism.

Read around your subject as much as you physically can. Okay, at least open a book that’s not on your required reading list. Okay Google it; but make sure you at least get onto the second results page.

small__154097854Find out what anyone who’s anyone has had to say about the topic. Digest it like a Saturday morning bacon sarnie and then regurgitate it like a Saturday night burger meal. Whatever you do, don’t just steal a sentence here and there; that’s like eating a cold burger on a Saturday morning – just plain wrong.

Keep referring back to others’ work to make sure you’re not just reeling off a sentence that you think you created but actually robbed.

Don’t collaborate with your friends too much

It’s not just the leading thinkers in your field that you need to be careful about copying; it’s those mates of yours who are only really leading thinkers in their field when they’re in an actual field, unless that field has cows in it.  Then they’re a close second.

Anyway, the point is it’s quite likely that you’ll want to discuss your essay with others doing the same essay. That’s great; in fact it should be encouraged.

What’s not great is trying to ‘crowd-source’ your essay. Aside from the whole ‘too many cooks…’ adage, it will only end in tears. Well maybe not tears but certainly mild irritation.

The markers (whether they be man or machine) will be able to pick up on any abundance of similarities between essays, and will penalise you both accordingly.

So chat about the essay together by all means; just don’t write the essay together.

Sources and references

Reference EVERYTHING! The caps mean this is the most important bit of advice I can give you, so read it as if I’m looking at you from 3 feet away with my serious-face on and shouting at you repeatedly. You can imagine I sound like Jeremy Paxman if that helps.

Seriously though, this is the one area that will trip up most students with regard to plagiarism. Referencing at school is preferred but not exactly strictly enforced.

References at uni are serious business. Forget to reference that great quote about Churchill or Hemmingway or Katie Price and you could find yourself in the hottest of waters.

The Harvard system is generally considered best practice so learn it, understand it and be able to use it in your sleep. Unless your uni uses a different system; in which case don’t do that unless you’re obsessive about referencing. That would be a bit weird though. Each to their own I suppose.

Don’t buy essays online; invest in study guides instead

Avoid the pitfalls outlined above and you should prevent yourself from accidentally plagiarising. But what about those of you who still want to give plagiarising a go, by going down the ‘buying essays route’?

Maybe you’ve reached the end of your tether. You just can’t bring yourself to write that essay, all of the course material looks like alien hieroglyphs or maybe you’re just a bad person. I don’t know (or care) why you’re considering it – but don’t.

dogshiteHonestly, I can’t stress this enough; bought essays are a pile of what you get miffed about getting on your shoe. Not only are they often extortionately over-priced, often written by those to whom English is a second language (or third or fourth or not at all. Seriously), and… oh yeah, pretty damned unethical and dishonest, plus they’re unlikely to get you a good grade.

And isn’t that the whole point of this wild, 3 (or more) year ride you call university?

Buy study guides; ask your lecturers for help, heck even pay a professional tutor. All of that is time and money better spent than buying an essay online.

Right, rant over.

Don’t just assume you won’t get caught

Final thing to say – you will get caught. Universities are wise to every trick in the book and the punishment will be anything from failing that particular assignment to getting kicked out of uni, depending on the severity of what you do.

So instead of bothering with all that, keep reading these words that I write each week, read lots of stuff generally and ask yourself this: why bother coming to uni if you’re not going to do the work?

If the answer to that is ‘partying’, go and work as a tourist rep in Ibiza instead.

Until next time, I’ve been and will continue to be …


 (Note from Suze: plagiarism is something we have already looked at here on HTWB –  here, here and here, but Jackson’s advice is a very useful progression onwards. His advice applies equally to anyone considering plagiarizing other people’s writing, whether for articles, blog posts or other content.)

Jackson Rawlings on HowToWriteBetter.net

Jackson Rawlings.

Go say hi and link up with Jackson on Twitter – he’s (@jacksonhraw) … and on Google Plus, too…

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photo credit: Moe_ via photopin cc