A Handy Guide to Not Plagiarizing

Via Hoyden About Town‘s Lauredhel* on Twitter, I just discovered this Mediaite post by Glynnis MacNicol** discussing a piece by NYT public editor Clark Hoyt*** regarding the latest plagiarism scandal to be blamed on the fast pace of blogging. Like Gerald Posner before him, Times business reporter Zachery Kouwe says his problem wasn’t that he meant to lift whole passages from other writers, but that when he was gathering information, he’d dump it all in one file, then totally forget which parts he’d written. And the real problem, if you want to know the truth, was tight online deadlines, which prevented him from carefully looking over his work for typos, awkward sentences and parts he did not write.

Yeahno.

I mean, it’s possible they’re both that fucking stupid — I can’t rule that out. But I can tell you I’ve been blogging on deadline for some time now, and I have yet to steal substantial amounts of writing from anyone else. Sure, I could probably thank Dooce every time I use all caps for emphasis, and Sady Doyle every time I get exclamation point happy, and I don’t always correct people who credit me with coining the phrase “rack of doom,” even though I’ve explained a bunch of times that I stole it from someone on Fatshionista ages ago. I’m not saying I’m perfect. But you know what I don’t do? Copy other people’s work into my own files and then magically forget that I didn’t write it.

And you know how I don’t do that? It’s a pretty simple process.

1) I don’t copy other people’s work into my own files. When I find something I want to quote later, I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.

2) I read everything over multiple times as I’m going along, and at least twice before I hit “publish.” Even this doesn’t keep me completely typo-free or prevent me from sometimes publishing dumbassed shit. But it’s a pretty reliable way to familiarize myself with what my own writing looks like, lest I confuse it with someone else’s.

3) I link to every online source I quote, and when it’s a longer passage, I often use the fancy internet blockquote function. This also helps minimize my own natural confusion between my writing and other people’s.

Here’s an example. Felix Salmon writes:

Kouwe once wrote, in an email quoted by Teri Buhl: “Things move so quickly on the Web that citing who had it first is something that is likely going away, especially in the age of blogs.”

Anybody who can or would write such a thing has no place working on a blog. If it’s clear who had a story first, then the move into the age of blogs has made it much easier to cite who had it first: blogs and bloggers should be much more generous with their hat-tips and hyperlinks than any print reporter can be.

I did not write any of that. It really works!

4) On the rare occasion when I do hit “publish” without remembering to include an appropriate link — it happens**** — I usually notice it when I read the piece over again. Things that tip me off to missing links: The name of another writer, the name of another website, quotation marks, blockquotes, phrases like “As X at Y put it…” If you routinely include such markers when you quote another writer’s work, you will have no trouble later identifying where your own work would benefit from a link to the source.

5) Also, I don’t pretend I wrote things I didn’t write.

That’s it — my whole system for not plagiarizing! And since this blog is coming up on its three-year anniversary with exactly zero instances of a writer here being unsure of whether she wrote something or stole it, I feel confident recommending that system to others. Please feel free to pass my advice along to any veteran journalists you know who understand nothing about online communication and thus assume they won’t get caught — er, rather,  get all confuzzled by the pace of blogging and can’t remember who wrote what. Just don’t fucking forget where you found it.

*See how I credited another blogger, and included a link? Not actually hard.

**And again!

***Works for old media types with an online presence, too!

****In fact, I forgot to link to the Fatshionista Livejournal community where it’s mentioned above before I first pubbed this post. Oops!

329 thoughts on “A Handy Guide to Not Plagiarizing

  1. That is an absolutely pathetic excuse. I copypasta things into documents when I’m working on it–although as an English student, not a blogger. But I also put it in a separate document, mark it with quotes, and where I got it from. If you aren’t, you’re basically setting yourself up for plagiarism anyway, because you need to give credit, and how do you give credit without knowing where you got it from? Not to mention it’s just stupid, what if you want to directly quote it, recheck context, or find another passage from the same person? Either this person was so dumb (okay, and perhaps this incredible stupidity was caused by being overworked) I have no idea how they manage to use a computer in the first place, or they’re definitely intentionally plagiarizing.

    You don’t get the benefit of the doubt when you plagiarize, especially if the accusation is for anything more than a phrase. It’s the writer’s job to make sure that what they post is their own words, and their own ideas!

  2. This is a pet peeve of mine. There are a couple folks in the email marketing blogosphere who never hat-tip but clearly use my blog and a couple others as story idea generators, and, even more annoying, a few others who quote whole, entire articles and think they’re doing us favors by stealing our traffic.

    In this case, if these two are really that stupid and it wasn’t malice — if they really can’t tell who wrote what, if they can’t track multiple, discreet bits of data, then maybe they better stop writing and close their laptop lids before somebody puts an eye out.

  3. Oh please, plagiarizing is for idiots. Personally, I don’t copy other people’s work into my own files. When I find something I want to quote later, I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing.

    *looks around furtively*

  4. Seriously. If I ever reblog somthing someone else wrote, I aways give them credit and link back to their site. It’s not difficult. And that tab/toggle thing? Wow, just genius.

  5. But seriously, people have ‘ounded me for linking the big lebowski whenever I use a piece of dialog in my writing, but hell, I didn’t write that screenplay, so I give my props.

    At least it’s an ethos, dude.

  6. I mean it is not like we’re asking them to write the dreaded research paper biography in MLA format. It’s just a hyperlink and a name, this is not hard. 15 year olds are expected to use more complex citation than this.

  7. It sounds to me like people are just using the “lol it’s the internet” excuse up front and then rationalizing it when they caught. That somebody could do this by accident just strains the credulity.

    I have my own tips for avoiding plagiarism: When I find something I want to quote later, I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.

    Oh, whoops… stupid netbook has the Original Thought key and the Ripoff Someone Else key right on top of each other. Maybe these journalists are using the same model?

  8. Ok, quick side story, today I stupidly thought that Customer Service was supposed to Service Customers instead of treating them like the red-headed step-child. My step-father, who has been dead for a few years now, was the name they used when they talked to me. I’m already emotional (the anniversary of his death is coming up on the 20th), so when they had the audacity to use that name instead of correctly calling my husband by OUR name, I ended up bawling in my husband’s arms for a good half-hour. After, we had a good laugh that the only way the store could have contacted my late step-father about our broken and still warrantied chair was to use the Great Customer Service Ouija Board.

    My husband now says that all the jokes you are making are incorrectly cited because he had the thought first and you stole them off the Store’s Ouija Board.

  9. See, in my academic life, I totally do copy other people’s stuff into my own document. I like my papers to be research-driven, so I put a bunch of quotes in there first, then write around it (ok, mostly I like that it looks like I’ve written a bunch of stuff really fast. There’s nothing like working on something for an hour and having a thousand words, albeit none of them mine.) I still don’t plagiarize. You know how I do it? EFFING QUOTATION MARKS. NOT HARD. If something is a quote, I denote it with quotation marks, because this is how grammar works. Do the New York Times not know what those do anymore?

  10. “Times business reporter Zachery Kouwe says his problem wasn’t that he meant to lift whole passages from other writers, but that when he was gathering information, he’d dump it all in one file, then totally forget which parts he’d written.”

    Yeah, I’ve heard this from my first-year uni students. I don’t believe it when they say it, and I don’t believe it when Kouwe writes it, either.

  11. harveypenguin, I had the same thought. I copy text into my notes for papers all the time. I just use all of FOUR EXTRA KEYSTROKES to add quote marks before and after – and copy and paste names and article titles along with everything else.

    But I guess in the fast-paced world of internet online blogging where time is money and 30 seconds is worth like a thousand spacebucks, taking that kind of time could be the end of your career as a journalist.

  12. I first had my work plagiarized at seventeen years old. A local paper lifted an article I had written from my high school newspaper, in its entirety, and reprinted it. I wanted to sue. My father said I was being ridiculous. I still think I could have had a case. Would it really have been so difficult for them to have offered me a byline? Actually, it probably would have, considering that at seventeen years old I was already a professional freelance writer making $20 an article, writing for a local paper owned by a different publisher. Assholes. I got a $5/story raise right after that.

    The plagiarism is a large part of why I stopped blogging. It made me too angry to see my stuff show up all over the internet under other people’s names.

  13. I teach college freshmen and they get expelled for this shit. I have had that EXACT same argument before from a student confused as to why he’s in the Dean’s Office.

  14. Oh for Pete’s sake….I’m a lit geek, and I love my Derrida and neverending zomg THE INTERNET IS THE PURE TEXT as much as the next girl, but say it with me—

    That whole “the world is an undifferentiated text and there is no point in citing because everyone has said everything before”?

    No one is buying that as an excuse for plagiarism, kittens. Do the (minimal) work, or when the apocaplypse comes and we have to put that little shelf in Book of Eli back together again, no one will remember how to do so.

    (did any other academics/librarians feel incredibly validated by the ending of that movie?)

    Great post Kate!

  15. I believe “rack of doom” may come from caprine.livejournal.com, it sounds like a phrase I recall her using before there was LJ, and she was an early fats participant.

  16. So, wait – they’re going with the “I’m a moron” defense? If I’m ever caught plagiarizing, it’s going to be because I’m so blind drunk I can no longer read what I’m writing, and I’m going to use “I’m a jackass” defense. It’s just waaaay more plausible.

    Besides, I don’t copy other people’s work into my own files. I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. Pass the fucking scotch.

  17. Kouwe is a dumbass, but not dumb. He plagiarized multiple times across different articles, so I’d say it was intentional.

  18. Why would anyone need to quote/credit we silly bloggers anyhow? It’s not like we are SRS BSNS! Aren’t we all just hacks in pajamas anyhow who couldn’t get real jobs at the NYT? I mean, really!

  19. It’s usually pretty easy for me to distinguish between my writing and someone else’s. Usually, theirs is much, much better.

    I already loved Snarky’s Machine.

    The thing about linking and citing is that it’s a service to the reader (you know, the reader, the person who all this newspaper writing is supposed to be for.*). It says, “if you want to find out more about the background of this story, here you go,” and “if you want to see exactly who said what to whom, here you go,” and “if you liked this little snippet, here’s more.”

    Without links, a bunch of who-said-what-to-whom gets confusing fast, and starts sounding like a kid recounting a playground argument.

    I notice that the NYT piece by Chris Hoyt has had links put in now.

    * Yes yes yes, in large part the newspaper exists to sell advertising, but if the articles weren’t there, the reader wouldn’t be reading and wouldn’t get to see the adverts at all.

  20. Actually, it amazes me in this age of Google that people think they can get away with plagarizing at all. It’s simplicity itself to type a sentence into a search engine – my husband does it all the time when he’s grading essays. The funniest time was when the students were supposed to write a code of ethics – two of them plagarized something off the ‘nets, and one simply copy/pasted the example. *eye roll*

    I may not get paid for my blog, but I’m pretty funny at times, and people often ask to link. I also maintain a research site with original articles I’ve writtern, and even though I state in the FAQ that printing out the articles and giving them to students isn’t allowed, I still get requests to do just that (hey, at least I get requests). I’ve also had people copy/paste my stuff and then remove all identifiers that it’s mine before giving it on to other people. Hey, I iz (unpaid) writer! I want credit!!

    In the earlier days of online journals, I caught someone with a high reader count regularly posting slightly re-written Dave Barry essays under their name. I recognize DB instantly – he’s got a distinctive style – and I thought everyone did, but no. Apparently, people want fame more than they want to work for it. Who knew? :P

  21. Ugh. The “But I just put it all in one file and couldn’t remember which was which!” excuse sounds like the kind of thing my students would tell me when they’re caught plagiarizing. And, I don’t buy it from them. It’s certainly a completely unacceptable excuse from a professional writer.

    I’m usually a pretty understanding teacher, but I have no patience with the “But I didn’t know it was plagiarism!” excuse, even from first-year college students. You just copied and pasted two paragraphs straight out of a Wikipedia entry: you KNEW it was plagiarism. It’s so frustrating. I don’t think I’ve ever, in the eight years I’ve been teaching, had a student own up to the fact that they’d plagiarized. They always just had absolutely no idea that you aren’t supposed to take an essay somebody else wrote, change around the word order in a few sentences, and submit it as their own.

    Wow, I’m glad I’m not teaching this term.

    Anyway, I think “I don’t pretend I wrote things I didn’t write” is probably the best advice ever for avoiding plagiarism.

  22. Why does this guy still have a job? Like there aren’t scores of other journalists they could hire instead? This is so bogus.

  23. This is so maddening, and this thread is so funny. I love you Shapelings!

    My one known case of this was when I was in the Washington Post “Style Invitational” joke contest, and later found our (wilfully naive) winning entries being circulated as if they had been quipped by schoolchildren. Someone carefully deleted all the winners’ names and added fake (Eighth grader) type attributions. This did not make it funnier – in some instances (someone suggested the Fourth of July should always be on a Monday, for the long weekend), it made zero sense to pretend a schoolchild had said that. Does it actually ruin some people’s enjoyment to believe that some other adult wrote a joke, on purpose?

  24. “Things move so quickly on the Web that citing who had it first is something that is likely going away, especially in the age of blogs.”

    I assume this will eventually be true, once we’re all tweeting whatever thought pops into our heads straight to the hivemind with attached pics taken using our iris-cams. And yes, it is difficult to go and find who had it first out of everybody, but it’s a doddle to link to the person who had it right before you did, and zomg if everybody just did that then it’d all work out, wouldn’t it?

  25. I think my favorite part of all of it is the eager hunt for excuses as to why the dude plagiarised – “I have a bad information-keeping system/I was under a deadline/it was raining and my shoes got very very wet/they forgot to put the extra shot in my coffee/my dad never played catch with me”.

  26. Well, I have my own idea for avoiding plagiarizing someone’s work: When I find something I want to use later, I open a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab while I’m still writing, I simply bookmark the page!! It works perfectly, and I never, ever plagiarize!!

    p.s. it’s not plagiarism if you change a word here and there, amirite??

  27. harveypenguin, I had the same thought. I copy text into my notes for papers all the time. I just use all of FOUR EXTRA KEYSTROKES to add quote marks before and after – and copy and paste names and article titles along with everything else.

    Yeah, I currently have 498 sources in my Endnote library (dissertation ahoy!) and have yet to plagiarize from any of them. That is because of the magic of using quotation marks and typing someone’s name afterwards. MY SYSTEM IS FOOLPROOF

    Of course, that is the slow slow pace of non-internet writing, so clearly the time I take to type an author’s name after a quote could be used in finding more awesome scoops to steal. I’m so 20th century!

    Seriously, I have never understood this “I had a copy and paste file” thing from students or reporters. You write your source’s identifying information down the first time. Why on earth would you count on having the time, patience, and memory to be able to reconstruct all that info after the fact?

  28. OMG. This topic. It makes me so STABBY and CAPSY.

    I plagiarized an entire paper when I was in high school — just copied and pasted from TEH WEBZ and threw that shit together with, like, three original sentences. D’ya know why? BECAUSE THE TEACHER WAS A FRICKING IDIOT and wouldn’t have known the difference. In other words, I was an arrogant asshole. THIS IS WHY PEOPLE PLAGIARIZE. They think their readers are MORONS.

    I once called my hometown paper because I discovered one of their articles had been blatantly swiped from an online source. (I noticed this, incidentally, because the article went, “Incoherent incoherent OMG SUDDENLY COHERENT incoherent incoherent.”) The editor of the paper angrily and condescendingly informed me that it actually WASN’T plagiarism to take entire paragraphs of someone else’s material and cram them in around your shitty writing. I was so mad I was actually shaking.

    STABBY and CAPSY, I said!

  29. I used to run a video game Web site, featuring reviews etc. I had someone e-mail me about posting his review. It was barely in English, typo-ridden, grammatically atrocious, and largely incomprehensible. I e-mailed him back and told him no, I have standards.

    He promptly e-mailed me another review. That he had copy-pasta’d from IGN. And as if the suddenly massive improvement in spelling and grammar couldn’t have tipped me off on its own, he left the byline on.

    I sent him a scathing e-mail, and notified IGN promptly. With his name and e-mail.

    I know that occasionally interesting ideas get lodged in my under-brain when I read them from other people, but I try to root around and figure out where such things came from, and give credit where due. And for a direct quote, citations. Always. This isn’t hard! I don’t even get paid for this! Why do I do it more correctly than newspaper nitwits?

  30. Seriously, I have never understood this “I had a copy and paste file” thing from students or reporters. You write your source’s identifying information down the first time.

    Yes. It’s really very easy. It’s not like you need to write up a full citation after every single quote you pull while you’re taking notes. You just write down the information once, then keep all the material from that source underneath that heading. Presto–now you know where various quotes came from.

    It’s just silly to claim that you were planning on later going back and tracking down where you got every quotation from. Nobody would set out to make that much extra work for themselves.

  31. I have a bad information-keeping system

    Hee. This is particularly ironic given that the excuse is coming from a goddamn journalist. Your job is to disseminate information but you can’t keep your information straight? Righty-o! No problem there!

    It’s doubly ironic given the hissy fits the MSM is pitching over pj-wearing bloggers having the gall to quote from and link to (dear god, the horror!) MSM stories.

    And, you know, back in the day, my buds and I had a surefire way to avoid plagerism: we used a thesaurus and some sentence structure changes. Nowadays, of course, I would never reproduce someone else’s thoughts in my personal workspace. Using modern technology, it is quite simple to initiate a fresh window and consult that as needed while recording my original thoughts in my personal working file. I find that documenting the location of my internet resources facilitates relocating them if, for some reason, I must pause my work before completion.

    Christ, does no one take pride in a job well-done anymore?

  32. You know, I’m betting a lot of you haven’t had this thought already, but I have a foolproof way of not plagiarizing. When I find something I want to quote later, I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.*

    *Hmmm…I’m not sure but I think perhaps in the fast-paced atmosphere in teh Intarwebz I may have accidentally dumped something someone else wrote into my file and forgotten whether I wrote it or someone else did. Oh well, I’m sure it’ll be okay. After all, it’s not like I meant to plagiarize. I just don’t recognize my own writing from a hole in the ground.

  33. It used to make me SO MAD when I found plagiarism in the stuff I was grading. (I mean, it still does, but I got the hell out of academia so I don’t do so much grading anymore.) It makes me even MORE mad when grown-ass adults do it: they should fucking know better. Not that freshmen in college shouldn’t, but by the time you have a journalism degree you should have had it pounded into your head that you don’t do that shit. As Laura said above: it’s sheer bloody-minded arrogance, and it’s really really irritating.

    SEE I TOTALLY GAVE CREDIT. HOW HARD WAS THAT.

  34. My students’ plagiarism is always easy to recognize because the plagiarized parts are invariably about a billion times better written than their own writing. How did I know you plagiarized that part? Because that part is GOOD. Unlike the rest of your paper, you see.

    My husband has the best plagiarism story ever. He had a student (who worked as a prison guard) who submitted a paper that was identical to the model paper my husband had given out to the same class a few semesters before. So, he confronts the student, who tells him, “I didn’t plagiarize.” His proof? “I didn’t even write this paper! I paid one of the inmates to write it for me, and just gave him the sample so he’d know what you were looking for. He plagiarized.” IIRC, he also claimed that the paper could not have been his because the author had inserted superscript footnotes, and the student didn’t even know how to make those.

    Yes, his defense against plagiarism was that, since he’d paid somebody to write it for him, he couldn’t be held responsible for the content.

  35. In other news Mr. Posner:

    Didn’t see that stop sign, it was hidden behind the tree, was just holding those prescription drugs for a friend, and promises he will call you next week.

  36. This isn’t journalism, it’s laziness. The whole process of writing is a time consuming and painstaking ordeal that takes countless hours of thought, editing, and rewriting. For those journalists who are a slave to online deadlines I’m sure the pressure can be overwhelming at times, but not enough to excuse outright plagiarism! A true professional will maintain their integrity throughout the entire process and give credit where credit is due. Props to whoever uncovered this whole mess and exposed the truth.

  37. Wow! I work as a copy editor for a website, and I have definitely seen a few shady articles.

    I do like how most bloggers I’ve seen tend to be great about leaving hyperlinks to other blogs.

    I also agree with Marjorie (2 comments up): “yeahno” should definitely be a new phrase!

    How does someone forget what he wrote and what he didn’t write????? WTF? I call bullshit.

  38. @Lori – I would have been very tempted to just flunk him for the paper, the class, everything I could get my hands on!! Geez!

  39. My new favorite excuse from my students:
    “Turnitin.com says my paper is fine; therefore, I haven’t plagiarized.”

    I used to like turnitin.com, but now it almost causes as many problems as it solves.

  40. Press-release driven “churnalism” (journalists simply churning out reheated press releases with a sentence or two in their own words: comes from the book “Flat Earth News” by UK journalist Nick Davies) doesn’t help. It gets journalists into bad habits. The related trend of cutting down on newsroom personnel doesn’t help either — fewer people to do fact checking, less time to get a story done. But it isn’t an excuse to be lax on fact checking and lazy about original research, and it sure as hell isn’t an excuse to treat everything you didn’t write as if it were a press release that you’re allowed to copy ‘n’ paste. Journalists know better. They were taught better.

  41. Advance apologies for off-topic post if it’s inappropriate. (I will take any and all deleting or lumps with much humility.)

    I’m hoping some of the ladies that have been fat for longer than I have will be willing to lend their wisdom to my clothing challenge. Every pair of pants I have fits most of my body nicely, but cuts into my belly painfully. My mad google skills turn up only (surprise surprise!) articles on how to lose belly fat, how to squash (“shape”) my belly, how to camouflage my belly, and how to shop for maternity clothes. I don’t want to hide my belly, I just want it to be comfortable in clothing that fits the rest of me. I suspect some good plus-size clothing would do the trick, but am an in-betweenie, so some lines don’t have a size for me.

  42. Point well taken, hell, even if you don’t get the finer points of adding HTML bits or even a link, simply pointing out it is a quote goes a really long way in avoiding plagiarizing a work. Wait, did I just copy that? Maybe I’m safe.

  43. seriously y’all I don’t copy other people’s work into my own files. When I find something I want to quote later, I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.

  44. @Rachel – Have you considered pants with a partial elastic waistband? Also, when you say it cuts into your belly painfully, is it a sort of pinching thing in particular places or is it just all around tightness? I ask because if you have a pinching feeling going on, wearing something like a belly band around your waist might protect your skin from your waistband. Also, I find fold-over waistbands to be the most comfortable. They are unfortunately, not that common. I love them, though, because not only do they a) not gap in the back, they also b) keep my belly from being exposed when I lift my arms, and c) are super comfortable.

  45. Rachel, a lower cut pair of pants might help you. I’m short with a short waist/torso and low cut pants fit me the way regular cut pants fit most other women.

    An elastic waistband, full or partial, as hsofia suggests, is also a good idea.

    Maternity pants might work for you if you have a stomach that is fatter than your butt and hips. They’re cut with more room in the stomach/elastic side panels.

    Back on topic, I’m really baffled by this plagiarism. How can a reporter not know his sources? That’s just appalling.

  46. seriously folks I don’t put other people’s work into my own files. When I find something I want to cite later, I do this new jack internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I switch between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.

  47. I failed 20% of a class last fall for plagiarizing their final papers. The irony was there was no need to do it. All they had to do was summarize their own notes to write the paper, but a bunch of them went to Google anyway.

    I’ve had a couple of students who got caught just admit the truth to me. “I ran out of time and panicked.” That actually inclines me to be more lenient than the person who keeps whining “well I didn’t know that was wrong/I didn’t know about citations/this was how I did it in high school and nobody said anything.” At least the one who admits to the offense is being honest at that point.

    Somehow knowing how constant this offense is at the student level, I’m no longer surprised to see it cropping up in supposedly pro environments.

    DRST

  48. In “Ex libris: Confessions of a Common Reader” Anne Fadiman has an essay on plagiarism and journalism called “Second Hand Prose.” It’s a terrific book, and “Second Hand Prose” is a terrific essay*.

    It’s sad (someone stole work from her mother, which is what the essay is ultimately about) and funny (she documents where every literary reference in the essay comes from in hilarious style).

    *seewhatididthere? I cited!**

    **I always figure citing sources makes me look well-read, a state I can hope to achieve some day. As opposed to being a brilliant writer, which I happily leave to the likes of our fine bloggers.

  49. DRST: “Somehow knowing how constant this offense is at the student level, I’m no longer surprised to see it cropping up in supposedly pro environments.”

    YES. THIS.

  50. Rachel, my basic advice would involve plagiarizing hsofia and Brigid Keely. But also, if your existing pants fit well everywhere else, I’d just take them to a tailor. Depending on how much extra room you need, you could have the waistbands let out a bit or have elastic panels inserted on the sides or something.

  51. I use Snarkysmachine’s expression “Chow Chow” at every possible opportunity. It’s a true multi-functional tool.

  52. As a hundred people already have pointed out: if you go to college at some point in your life (which, um, you would hope that journalists like those mentioned above have) you learn doing your citations pretty damn early. Of course, when you can no longer get a big fat F on everything you write, maybe it’s ‘harder’ to cite sources properly?

    Seems like it, anyway.

  53. To chime in with my unnecessary 0.02:

    For my research, sometimes I do make a file with block quotations, because I am lazy. BUT!!!!! I put everything that isn’t my own words into a different color font! GASP! I also manage somehow to put the author’s name and the page number of the quote.
    I also, both in word documents and when I am taking old-fashioned pen and paper notes, any “brilliant” thoughts I can claim as my own are preceded by <>. So, even if I am blown away by my staggering genius, or more realistically horrified at the lack there of, there is little doubt what is mine and what is not.

  54. From a get-off-my-lawn musician type who remembers kinda vividly how the (publishing- industry-only, not publishing-industry-also-lyrical) writers kinda seemed to glory in directed-our-way ridicule, complete with added dismissive vitriol, about wanting to hang onto some vestige of original copyright law in the face of all the gleeful downloading, ’cause that’s, you know, so modern and now, I just have to ask —

    did y’all really not see this coming?

    So …
    now what??

  55. I use Snarkysmachine’s expression “Chow Chow” at every possible opportunity. It’s a true multi-functional tool.

    Which is equal parts my mother and an expression Samantha Jones used in reference to the way in which the other girls (Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte) were always prattling and processing in their relationships, as well as her own relationship woes with Sonja Braga.

  56. seriously folks I don’t put other people’s work into my own files. When I find something I want to cite later, I do this new jack internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I switch between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.

    What Snarky said x1000.

  57. seriously folks I don’t put other people’s work into my own files. When I find something I want to cite later, I do this new jack internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I switch between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.

    What Snarky’s Machine AnthroK8 said x1000.

    (I am always impressed when student plagiarism comes in and you can tell because the font is all funny and they haven’t squared their formatting. It’s like an unorthodox form of tell-tale citation. Only by accident. Watch my attempts at bad formatting not work now…)

  58. As much as plagiarizing students bother me, at least I can often catch them. (Seriously, students, I have the same internet that you do.)
    It’s the ones who have clearly paid others to write their papers that bug me more, because there’s usually no original to be found online, and because it’s almost impossible to ‘prove’ the cheating to the satisfaction of the institution. With so many unemployed graduate-degree holders, there’s never any shortage of people willing to write undergrads’ papers for a little desperately needed cash, and no lack of students willing to pay for this service.

  59. p.s. @ Vidya, who hates the paper-buyers:

    1.Not all the store-bought papers are all that good; I find I can usually find enough things wrong w/htem to fail or at least give them a really lousy grade, thereby discouraging the student from spending $$ on them again

  60. p.s. @ Vidya, who hates the paper-buyers:

    1.Not all the store-bought papers are all that good, and they frequently fail to meet all the requirments of the assignment. I find I can generally find enough things wrong w/them to fail or at least give them a really lousy grade, thereby discouraging the student from spending $$ on them again. Cheaters usually are not ballsy enough to challenge a grade on a purchased paper, b/c they know you might start asking them questions they cannot answer.

    2. would it be possible to include in-class assignments writing as a requirment to pass the course? Again, there’s not much point in paying for papers, if you can still fail for the stuff you had to write in class.

    p.s. I love teaching. Most of my students do not cheat.

  61. Y’know, I get plagarizing or cheating as a student. I GET it. (I never did it, but I get it.) A lot of the stuff students do is busy work, no one is ever going to read it or use it again once it gets graded. And while it is a learning exercise and that is important, sometimes, for me, as a student, it felt pointless. And of course when you’ve got a bunch of different teachers giving you busy work at some point you just want to get it all done and you don’t care if it is good, you just want to get your grade and go to sleep/the bar/yourfriends house/play worlds of warcraft.

    I also get why students cheat on tests, tests are important, you want to pass, you don’t want to do work, this all makes sense to me. (When I was a TA in college we had a super elaborate anti cheating system involving tests printed on different colored paper that actually had nothing to do with the version of the test at all. People still cheated, and we laughed at them, alot.)

    But why, on earth, would an adult, who chose their career and is being paid to perform a task that serves an actual purpose feel the need to plagarize? Don’t they have any pride in their own work? Or sense of responsibility to the people paying them and consoumers of their work?

    I mean it is not like it is hard to not plagarize! I don’t copy other people’s work into my own files. When I find something I want to quote later, I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.

  62. @Vidya108 – I once knew a guy in an engineering program who basically supported himself by attending the classes and writing the papers, and taking the tests of other (well-off) students who couldn’t be bothered to go to class. I don’t know how he maintained his sanity, but he was one busy-ass MF.

  63. Another obvious tip for anyone who writes… most writers have a fairly distinct style, if they’ve any developed skill at all. I know when I proofread my stuff I can tell it’s been written by me. Times when mine and a colleague’s work has become mixed up it generally takes no more than a minute of speed-reading to be able to tell whose work is whose.

    The ONLY way you can “forget” whether or not you wrote something is if you either wholesale copy as a habit, and therefore haven’t developed a style of your own, or if you don’t bother to read over your work before submitting it for publishing. And that is just sloppy.

  64. And besides, I don’t put other people’s work into my own files. When I find something I want to cite later, I do this new jack internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I switch between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.

  65. @snarkysmachine – I’m going to like saying “chow chow” a whole lot more now knowing it’s been used in the splendid Sonia Braga’s airspace. I can’t even see her without hearing Sammy Davis Jnr’s National Anthem song from Moon over Parador in my head, which HAS to be a good thing.

  66. My Google Alerts recently alerted me to an entire blog post lifted from my company blog. (The plagiarizer forgot to remove the company name from the post. Bonus points for dumbass.) I got all excited, thinking someone had linked to us, but then went, “Hey, wait a minute… them’s MY words!” Also? Who doesn’t recognize their own writing style??

    Personally, I don’t copy other people’s work into my own files. When I find something I want to quote later, I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.

    And that’s not plagiarizing because I taught Kate everything she knows. I’m older. I said it all first.

  67. What I find infuriating is that this kind of crap takes away from the real discussion we should be having about plagiarism and copyright in this country–i.e., is the Gray Album copyright infringement, should an author’s grandchildren or great grandchildren maintain a monopoly on the concept he came up with financially? To what extent can you “own” an idea? Why can’t my friends who write good fanfic get paid in some derivative way for it?

    I mean, for real, these are all big questions. (yes, even the last one!). But these people just make the whole think look like a bunch of louts with no integrity. Because that’s what this comes down to. Integrity and laziness.

  68. Forgive me if someone mentioned this and I missed it, but years ago, in the pre-internet days, there was a columnist for a Chicago paper who claimed that, while he was working on his column, he came across another column on the same subject, which struck him so much that he actually typed a few paragraphs of the other column into his piece, just for reference, mind you, And then, what do you know? He forgot to delete those “reference” paragraphs! Naturally, he had not cited them or even put them in quotations, on account of how he was going to delete them and all. His reward? He was made an executive, and according to the Peter Principle, kept getting promoted until he reached the limits of his incompetence.

  69. I’ve been writing a MSM dead tree column for 30 years — on the web for 15 — and I’ve never been accused of plagarism. For one thing, I like the sound of my own phrases too much; for another, it’s really really embarrassing if you do it and can lead to financial and social penalties. And, as you say, it ain;t that hard to avoid.

    Thanks. Good post.

  70. Aww, Hannah C and I have much the same system and she said it first! This is why research sucks. (Heh.) As I first year undergrad I too put anything I C&Ped in from somewhere else in a different colour (with its source beside it in the same colour) so I would be really rreeeeeaaally clear about which was mine and which wasn’t. And anything where I was like DUDE DID I JUST THINK THAT I AM GENIUS went in these [] jobbies so later I could be like “No no brain, no no, that was *I*. Inorite? Thanks.”

    I also got another handy pointer on when you should hat-tip: did you know this thing/have this thought before you read [X]? If the answer is no, you need to hat-tip minimum. If I knew that at 19 what’s this asshole about?

    You write your source’s identifying information down the first time. Why on earth would you count on having the time, patience, and memory to be able to reconstruct all that info after the fact?

    ‘Sactly. Am I going to remember through sheer force of will which of the 80-odd primary papers I read for my dissertation gave me quote [Y]? Am I bollocks. And not bothering to even note who said it will reduce my chances to? Zero. Almost as if I never really intended to acknowledge them at all. Hmmmm.

  71. My theory is that if you want to cut down on the number of students stealing essays from the internet, the best way to do it is to put a few Trojan horse papers out there yourself. I’m waiting for the day that the Magna Carta essay comes back to me.

  72. One of the problems is folks not understanding what constitutes plagiarism. I still hear people state it’s merely enough to put the purloined passage in their “own” words as a means to avoid p-bombing, when that’s not accurate.

    I don’t even look anymore to see who is hotboxing my ideas and passing them off as their own. I’ve had my own work cited TO ME, but credited to someone else. I have a pretty distinct voice, so while it chapped my ass, it was still pretty amusing.

    Homage is mad sexy, however, theft is not.

  73. My favorite college student plagiarism story (which coincidentally is also one of my favorite helicopter parents stories): a student’s mother yelling at my department head that her darling son was not guilty of plagiarism because she (the mom) was the person who wrote the paper, not her son.

  74. @hsofia: I’ve noticed that the essay has been breeding in the wild among plagiarism sites for some years now. I haven’t heard from any teachers or professors about it, though.

  75. I was just reminiscing on my blog about the time in High School when I was (falsely) accused of plagiarism when I stumbled onto this post. It fit in so nicely that I used a link to it to help sum up my points!Then I decided to just copy and paste Kate’s words into my blog because they sound much smarter than mine do.

    Just kidding! See, personally, I don’t copy other people’s work into my own files. When I find something I want to quote later, I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking. Because I am skilled like that.

  76. Oh hey look, I’m going to quote myself without plagiarizing (it’s easy!):

    Also, as a general request: if you have a link that you’d like to share with the bloggers here or the rest of the Shapelings, please either email it to us or post it to Ning (if it’s really the commenters you want to talk to) unless there is a current open thread. Sometimes tangents on non-open threads are great, especially if they’re relevant to the original post, but most of the time it is really, really frustrating for us mods when someone comes into a conversation about a specific topic to drop an unrelated link. I know we all love to talk to each other, but this blog is really not a message board, and it makes moderating much more difficult when people treat it as if it is.

  77. Mildly amusing side note: Almost an entire day after posting this, and reading it many times, I just now caught what should have been a really glaring typo. (“a stole it” for “I stole it.”) So yeah, reading over your work doesn’t mean you catch everything. But you know what I still wouldn’t miss, probably not even on the first read-through? STUFF I DIDN’T ACTUALLY WRITE AT ALL.

    (Thank you, Dooce.)

  78. I remember I once turned in a college assignment. When the marks came out I, along with a few others, got a “see lecturer” instead of a mark. When I went to the lecturer, he sat in front of me and read through my paper. At 5 points through the paper, he picked out a phrase from my paper and entered it directly into Google. In all cases he hit upon an article which was the exact article I’d taken that piece of information from.

    My defense in all these cases was: “That article’s in my Bibliography.” And it was. I still felt the pressure and worry of being accused of plagiarism though.

    At the end, he was satisfied, we agreed I should put numbers that link parts of my paper to the relevant Bibliography entry (hey, it was early college days, I wasn’t fully up to date with the expected standard), and we left it at that.
    The paper got the okayish mark it deserved.

  79. My defense in all these cases was: “That article’s in my Bibliography.” And it was.

    You still need to put quote marks around things that are not your words.

  80. What I always found amusing was when students who clearly came from affluent homes thus afforded all the perks affluence would use the, “I didn’t know” excuse when caught plagiarizing. What exactly were they teaching you in those well funded public schools/posh private schools and million dollar college/SAT prep courses?

    Cause even in my DODDS school we learned how to write essays, cite sources and express our own ideas – even the bad ones!

  81. @snarkysmachine: Re: folks not understanding plagiarism — Exactly. I wasn’t being entirely facetious in my remark about using a thesaurus to avoid plagiarism (which I’ve just embarrassingly learned that I can’t spell properly. Blergh.) If you could do a strict comparison of my college term papers with my source materials, I suspect you’d find that my ideas were not always, er, exactly original. But, Christ, I knew it was wrong and at least tried to cover my tracks. And I was a bio major writing a 7-page essay on Hamlet for a lit course. The idea that a professional writer would cut and paste someone else’s work and then try to pass it off as their own? Wow.

    And please, please tell me these stories about college students cutting and pasting from the internet without even bothering to standardize the font aren’t true. I’d like to maintain one or two happy illusions about humanity.

  82. @SwM; does that mean we shouldn’t be putting links that are on topic in our posts? B/c I’m taking that as a reminder about not dropping links in threads, but I hadn’t noticed that there were a lot of OT links dropped thus far.

    But back to the original post: I, personally don’t copy other people’s work into my own files. When I find something I want to quote later, I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab. Then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking. This seems to work quite well.

  83. @henchminion — that Magna Carta essay… The Latin, oh holy Jeebus* the Latin. I am teaching Latin demonstratives THIS WEEK** and that CRACKED MY SHIT UP.***

    * Simpson, Homer. “You know, that episode where he almost becomes a missionary and says, ‘Save me Jeebus, save me!’ on the plane? Remember that one?” Sometime in the last 20 years: My TV.
    ** Dooce.
    *** ibid., your honor.****
    **** Matt Damon as Will Hunting in Good Will Hunting.

  84. “And please, please tell me these stories about college students cutting and pasting from the internet without even bothering to standardize the font aren’t true.”

    Sorry, they’re true. I’ve encountered this practice in a number of student papers.

  85. Hm, plagiarsm, just kill their creativity. Say no to plagiarsm. I think, everybody has theirs own purity. Everybodi has their own sense. So, let’s do something with our creativity, with our own sense/our own purity.

  86. @Snarky – is it any surprise kids from affluent schools are using the “I didn’t know excuse?” It works for some of the professionals! And Chip.*

    *fictional (?)white male friend of Dave Chappelle.

  87. @SwM; does that mean we shouldn’t be putting links that are on topic in our posts? B/c I’m taking that as a reminder about not dropping links in threads, but I hadn’t noticed that there were a lot of OT links dropped thus far.

    No no. Just a friendly reminder that if, say, the topic at hand is plagiarism, commenting “I know this is off topic but let’s talk pants” is likely to start giving me the stabby pain. To use one example. ;-) On-topic links are very much encouraged.

  88. @snarkysmachine to your statement “All writers steal, only the bad ones don’t give credit.”– I agree! Writers definitely need to borrow from other writers… this was interesting and I never heard this quote before!

  89. @SwM – If the proper place for such things is the Ning forum, will it be getting some maintenance from time to time? For example, I notice that the main page still welcomes new blogger A Sarah to the site. I check the forums daily, but they are pretty stagnant. A little promotion might help shift this kind of behavior to where you want it.

    (I am aware that I am also shifting off-topic, but hoping that it will be overlooked in a direct response to one of the site’s bloggers. If not, obviously you should feel free to delete my post, and I apologize in advance for contributing to the problem.)

  90. Thanks for the reminder, Elizabeth. We want it to be self-sustaining in terms of not needing moderation, but I’ll do some upkeep soon.

    In general, though, my point is not to be mean but simply to request that people not blatantly threadjack. Most threads these days get at least 100 comments (many get three times that), and modding is significantly more difficulty when a good chunk of comments are way off-topic. We love that y’all want to talk to each other about lots and lots of stuff, but the frequent delightfulness of our conversations depends on mods being able to work efficiently. Lately I in particular have lost my tolerance for off-topic link-dropping.

  91. @elisende:

    ” And please, please tell me these stories about college students cutting and pasting from the internet without even bothering to standardize the font aren’t true.”

    Alas. They are true. Happens all the time.

  92. The other problem off-topic linking presents – at least to me anyway – is it sort of suggests that the topic at hand isn’t nearly as interesting/fascinating/relevant as whatever the linker feels compelled to share.

    Which, as a writer of posts here, chaps my fucking ass from here to yaya*.

    *I think the original quote was, “she’s got legs from here to yaya” but I can’t recall where I came across it initially. It sounds like a cartoon character, maybe Frye or Homer, though.

  93. I just realised I have been spelling “plagiarism” wrong my entire life. How we learn and grow.

    My defense in all these cases was: “That article’s in my Bibliography.” And it was. I still felt the pressure and worry of being accused of plagiarism though.

    Okay, but that’s because that is actually plagiarism. You took someone else’s words without acknlowedging them as such. I’d have been failed for that; I’m glad you got a chance to do better.

    And please, please tell me these stories about college students cutting and pasting from the internet without even bothering to standardize the font aren’t true.

    Alas no, my friend used to do that in English essays all the time. I think if you’re lazy/stressed/struggling/not bothered/pushed for time enough to c&p swathes from the internet, formatting is probably at the bottom of the list of things you care about.

  94. In highschool, I was working on a paper and kept copies of my sources and their bibliographic information in a folder. I lost the folder after I had finished the paper, which had in-text citations, without enough time to track down the sources and compile a bibliography or works cited before it was due. After I turned the paper in, my teacher called me aside and told me that if I were in college, I could be expelled for turning in something like that. That was how I learned about plagiarism.
    I had always thought the problem was copying whole papers or paragraphs, and hadn’t realized that poor citations alone could amount to plagiarism. I was, however, a high school student, not a journalist.

  95. Sorry, Sofox, but I’m joining in the “you got accused of plagiarism because you had, in fact, plagiarized” chorus. I’m glad you know better now, though, and wow did you ever have a generous professor. I give zeros and call the Office of Student Conduct for that kind of thing.

    I’m also joining the “students really do copy and paste without regard to format” chorus. Sometimes they even forget to remove the hyperlinks.

    As Snarky’s Machine said (see! see what I just did!): One of the problems is folks not understanding what constitutes plagiarism.

    This x100000000. I was so fucking sick of having to bust my students for plagiarism that I put together an in-class exercise directly mirroring the part of an assignment that tended to result in the most busts. It was basically a “summarize this information in your own words” exercise, with four sample responses, all of which are unacceptable. I can tell my students ’til I’m blue in the face that paraphrasing is still plagiarism, but it doesn’t seem to sink in until we go through the exercise and they discover that answer 4, which they thought was totally fine, probably wouldn’t get referred to the Judicial Board, but would definitely get a zero.

    I have a fun little dilemma right now: I teach a lab class. Since the labs are long (over 3 hours), we require everyone to read the lab manual ahead of time. This has approximately the same effect as requiring them to fart tinsel. So we have these weekly little piddly 5-question assignments — really TOUGH questions, like “what organism are we studying this week?” (All of these, taken together, count something like 1% of their grade.) Now, we’re a large-ish intro course, so we figure the fraternities etc have files on us — we don’t re-use exam questions from previous years, we change the real homework assignments (as opposed to the 5-question stuff) around some each semester, and so on. Well. This week’s 5-question has not been the same forever and ever amen. Two years ago, we changed question 2, because two years ago, we changed the lab. Not one, but TWO of my 21 students handed in their 5-question assignments this week with answers to the old version of question two, rather than THE QUESTION THE ASSIGNMENT ACTUALLY ASKED. Which is completely different from the old one. Seriously, who the hell does this?! I’m tempted to charge them with “Being Unspeakably Arrogant Dumbasses In My Classroom,” or maybe “Indecent Exposure of Fraternity Resources.”

    Besides, it’s not like it’s hard to avoid plagiarizing. When I find something I want to quote later, I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking. Jeez.

  96. Thanks to all who have destroyed my faith in humanity. *Weeps for lost innocence*

    Oh dear. How naive I’ve been. The question I have now is: if you are going to just obviously c&p without even bothering to pretend you’re not (srsly, Ctrl-A, select font is too hard?), why are you bothering to turn in the goddamn assignment anyway? On the plus side, it makes for easy grading . . .

  97. Oh man, you guys, I have a crazy plagiarism story from way back when – a student got busted for turning in a paper that, according to the Google machine and a service called TurnItIn.com, was readily available from a paper-mill website. S/he had an amazing defense that actually turned out to be true – apparently hir significant other had stolen hir computer after a bad breakup and scrounged some cash by selling the papers stored on it to one of these websites. When the accused student turned in hir (original) paper, it threw up an alert, but hir defense was that it wasn’t plagiarism since s/he’d written the original paper and s/he wasn’t a scumbag because s/he didn’t sell the paper. The clincher? The actual scumbag ex came in and confirmed the story. So either they had cooked up a truly brilliant plan and PULLED IT OFF, or it really happened. Either way, crazy! (Names/pronouns changed to protect the insanely devious or innocent, whichever.)

    Also: I don’t copy other people’s work into my own files. When I find something I want to quote later, I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.

  98. I think you make a crucial point, Other Becky, when you say, “I was so fucking sick of having to bust my students for plagiarism that I put together an in-class exercise directly mirroring the part of an assignment that tended to result in the most busts.” I think there are a lot of students with good intentions (mixed in with the lazybones and slackers and outright cheaters, of course) who have never had the benefit of a good model that shows them what plagiarism is…as a high school teacher, I know they get a lot of “Don’t Plagiarize!” warnings, but I fear they’re sometimes left in the dark as to what that actually means…it just a scary thing to avoid with a set of vague punishments attached.

    …it may sound obvious and like I should have considered this before, but I like the idea of showing them explicitly what you mean by plagiarism and what the consequences will be. I would think that would save many hours of hair-tearing and frustration later.

  99. …it may sound obvious and like I should have considered this before, but I like the idea of showing them explicitly what you mean by plagiarism and what the consequences will be. I would think that would save many hours of hair-tearing and frustration later.

    Ha!

    Also: I don’t copy other people’s shit into my own files. When I find something that lifts me out of my fucking chair, I do this tron disco lit space suit thing called opening a new tab, and then I sashay between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.

  100. What I was taught was, credit everything, credit where you found it, and if it was personal communication, ask first.

    Back when I was a TA for Archaeology 101, it was especially common for students taking it as a gen ed course to crib some of their papers. Sometimes Anthro majors would do it too but less often. Back then, material was more often lifted from encyclopaedias than the ‘Net. The worst I ran into was probably the kid who just lifted wholesale the entry from Encarta on Nefertiti – not only because was it glaringly obvious plagiarism, but also because it was supposed to be an essay for a section on the lower Neolithic. I suspected a slip-up while browsing the alphabetic index on the disc.

    I was most amused by a student who turned in a term paper which was largely cobbled together of quotes from Jean Auel, and defended it by saying, ‘She does a lot of research!’ I will say, though, while she didn’t credit the quotes in the paper, she *did* provide a bibliography. It had all of four sources, and I think y’all can guess what they were.

  101. I’d also like to point out that I open things I’d like to quote in another tab on my website browser application. And if I need to close my website browser application for some reason, I will save the url that contains the quoted passage in a thing called a bookmark.

    This is special.

  102. “I had always thought the problem was copying whole papers or paragraphs, and hadn’t realized that poor citations alone could amount to plagiarism. I was, however, a high school student, not a journalist.”

    I think this is really important. I’m a senior in college right now, and as an English major (perhaps more paper-heavy than math, for example) I learned early on how to cite. One of the things I’ve noticed when editing other students’ work, though, is that a lot of people don’t know (or maybe just don’t care; hard to say) what requires citations. An idea that comes from another writer’s work, even though you thought really hard about it and put in your own words and even changed it a little, is still not yours. You must attribute these ideas, regardless of the words you use to express them, to their source. It’s surprising how many people think plagiarism only occurs when you copy someone else word-for-word.

    Maybe I over-cite (is that even possible?), but at least I realize that I’m no Foucault and sure as hell didn’t come up with the concept of biopower while chilling at the cafe before my 11 AM class.

  103. Maybe I over-cite (is that even possible?), but at least I realize that I’m no Foucault and sure as hell didn’t come up with the concept of biopower while chilling at the cafe before my 11 AM class.

    Ha! I can see the defense now: “I just thought ‘biopower’ was the best way to describe this… You don’t like it?”

  104. Snarky’s Machine, do I take your “ha” to mean that pointing that out to kids would NOT help? I mean, I like to think that they listen SOMETIMES when I explicitly teach them stuff. . . ?

    Well, at least I would feel more entitled to full-throated complaining if I tried to show them. . . and if they do it anyway, well, then they’ve made a choice, and not just blundered. (And I’ll reiterate that I’m only talking about the kids who actually *want* to do the right thing.)

    My best plagiarism story is from when I was teaching middle school—the kids were supposed to write an original short story, and we worked on it for quite a while. On the day it was due, one boy (I can’t remember his name–just that the German teacher asked me about him once by saying, “Do you have in your class the boy with the head like a box?”…which had nothing to do with what he looked like, but was somehow still apt) handed in a “short story” called “Wolf,” which was just a summary of the movie Wolf. I pulled him aside, and talked to him in a wishy-washy first year teacher way for a while about how, you know, this was someone else’s story, and it had already been told, and I had even seen the movie…but that he had to come up with his OWN story, and that I would give him a day to work on it. When Boy-With-The-Head-Like-A-Box brought in his , fresh, new original short story the very next day, the title was….

    Frankenstein.

    Ugh.

  105. You all are more generous than I am: I honestly don’t buy that most students don’t realize they’re plagiarizing. But, most of the plagiarism I encounter isn’t simply incorrect or inadequate citations (something I’d understand), but cutting and pasting entire blocks of text (yes, sometimes without regard to format) into a paper, perhaps with some words changed around. Given that most of my students know that’s plagiarism, I’m going to assume the ones who do it also know it’s wrong, and are just doing it out of laziness or desperation.

    The thing that always gets me is that even though I’m a pretty easygoing grader, and that I explicitly tell my students that, if they are unable to finish a paper on time, I would much, much rather have them come to me and ask for an extension than plagiarize, and that I also let them know that a paper with original content, no matter how badly written, will ALWAYS get a better grade than a plagiarized paper, I still get students who just seem almost completely incapable of writing anything original.

    At this point, I just try to design assignments that would be really difficult to plagiarize (although students still manage) and to do a lot of of drafting in class, so that the temptation to plagiarize isn’t there. Now I get a lot more students just not handing in papers at all than giving me plagiarized papers, which is fine with me.

  106. Lori, I do a lot of what you mention in the last paragraph, too…especially the drafting in class. It helps with plagiarism, but it also helps a lot with parents doing the papers for them the night before it’s due. If I’ve already seen drafts, they can’t really get away with that. And that also helps avoid parent phone calls from parents who are really, really invested in the grades…because they did the paper.

  107. Lori: “The thing that always gets me is that even though I’m a pretty easygoing grader, and that I explicitly tell my students that, if they are unable to finish a paper on time, I would much, much rather have them come to me and ask for an extension than plagiarize, and that I also let them know that a paper with original content, no matter how badly written, will ALWAYS get a better grade than a plagiarized paper, I still get students who just seem almost completely incapable of writing anything original.”

    This. My situation. Exactly. Is.
    I had one student last week email me an advance draft of her paper for my feedback. Mostly bits and pieces stolen from internet sites (for an assignment forbidding any outside sources). Nice of her to give me a heads-up that she’s a cheater. I, in return, gave her a heads-up about the consequences of handing that in as a final paper.

  108. When I’m writing a paper, I make sure to read everything over multiple times as I’m going along, and at least twice before I turn it in. Of course, even this doesn’t keep me completely typo-free or prevent me from sometimes publishing stupid stuff.

    Also, I have to admit, that telling students to keep clear and organized research notes has approximately the same effect as requiring them to fart tinsel.

  109. Meta-commenting aside–that line (“[Requiring] everyone to read the lab manual ahead of time…has approximately the same effect as requiring them to fart tinsel”*) made me not just laugh, but emit that bizarre bark-guffaw hybrid. In short, Other Becky, I love you.

    *See what I did there?

  110. So, I guess what a lot of us are saying is that plagiarism exists independent of the fast pace of blogging? (:

  111. I’m working as a writing tutor right now, and I spend a lot of my time trying to explain proper citation and academic integrity to undergraduates.* I work in an urban setting where most of the students are recent immigrants and/or came from sadly sub-par high schools. There have been a number of students who I’ve seen with plagiarized papers (both intentionally and inadvertently) who do fall into the lazy/stupid category, but I’d say the vast majority simply don’t understand exactly what’s expected of them. Maybe they were taught, but weren’t paying attention, but I think a lot of them never were (taught, that is).

    (I have nothing to say in defense of the plagiarizers who come from more privileged backgrounds.)

    I think there’s a very strong cultural component to the definition of plagiarism and the nature of academic discourse as well, but it’s late and my brain is running out of words, so I’ll wait to see if someone else wants to pick up that thread. :)

    I have two approaches: 1) “You will get caught, and you will fail the paper, and possibly the class. You could even get expelled” and 2) “Don’t steal shit!” I’m naive enough to hope that the latter argument has the most impact.

  112. And everything I’m saying in absolutely no way excuses fucking journalists.

    (Also, I’d love to see more Shapelings on Ning. In fact, I’m off to put up a post. Warning: It will be pure fluff.)

  113. I can solve this problem! All you have to do, folks, is not put other people’s work into your own files. When you find something you want to cite later, you do this new nifty intertubes thing called opening a new tube, and then you switch between that and what you’re writing. If you need to close the tube for some reason before you’re done writing, you do this other fancy intertube thing called tubemarking. You’re welcome.

  114. Ack! Sorry to spam, but there should be an asterisk in front of “I have two approaches in my post above. A prime example of the dumbass shit that still squeaks by proofreading that someone once talked about.

  115. Thanks, moosemuse. And Snarky’s Machine, as always, you give me explosive giggles. (Which is totally going to be my name as a competitive mudwrestler some day.)

  116. Moosemuse: “I think there’s a very strong cultural component to the definition of plagiarism and the nature of academic discourse as well, but it’s late and my brain is running out of words, so I’ll wait to see if someone else wants to pick up that thread. :)”

    One of my friends who did her education up to junior-college level (roughly high-school equiv. here, I think) in another country was never asked to write an essay during her entire school career there. She’s also told me about her sister, a former MA student at a decent school in that same country, who had to put together findings from research for her graduate assignments, but was never expected to cite sources. My friend stumbled through her first two university papers here in Canada by first failing to quote/cite any material she used, and then putting every sentence in quotation marks to try to avoid another plagiarism incident.

    In the case of her country of origin, part of this stems, I think, from a different conception of ‘ownership’ where research is concerned, but, even moreso, from widespread corporate intellectual property theft which the courts are too backlogged to address, and has thus become quite normalized across many social spheres.

    “I have two approaches: 1) “You will get caught, and you will fail the paper, and possibly the class. You could even get expelled” and 2) “Don’t steal shit!” I’m naive enough to hope that the latter argument has the most impact.”

    Given that most of these folks have grown up (‘grown up’ here used loosely) in a world where one can just download music, movies, and other cultural products from the internet without any recompense to the creators, I’d doubt the effectiveness of approach number two. They don’t see theft as theft unless the original ‘owner’ loses something obvious and tangible.

  117. @Lori – I would love classes that did drafting in class. Being ADD means that homework is the bane of my schooling existence. My ideal school would have very little homework – even if it meant classes being an hour longer to get work done IN class. And attention to detail … I was a journalism major and I still had to review citation rules every time I wrote a paper. I still don’t feel comfortable with bibliographies; every time it is like starting from scratch. Having examples is a godsend. Having a discussion (not just a list of instructions) about how to do things is life saving. As much as I love to read, my brain just glosses over written instructions unless they are super simple short and clear. Even just hearing someone go over them verbally and having a chance to ask questions makes a huge difference.

    Now out and out cheating or plagiarizing is inexcusable. Heaven knows I’ve almost wanted to kill myself because of overdue papers (reason #1 why I switched from journalism), but I still never plagiarized.

  118. Oooh, also, quick tip for NYT et al: if you can’t remember whether the paragraph is someone else’s idea or your idea, your memory is not good enough for writing. Sorry. If you can’t remember whether the paragraph is someone else’s idea in his/her own words or someone else’s idea in your words, YOU ARE STILL FUCKING PLAGIARIZING IF YOU DO NOT CITE YOUR SOURCE.

    I used to edit student papers for publication in my university’s honors magazine, and far too frequently, I had to tell a contributor that we were dropping what originally appeared to be a brilliant paper but was in fact nothing more than an under-credited restatement of the ideas published in one of the sources. That’s not fair use, and it’s not research. It’s theft.

  119. Yeah, that totally was supposed to post yesterday, around about comment #10. Weird internet shit. So forgive me for restating (albeit in my own words) that which has already been said.

  120. You all are making me glad my students don’t yet have the nuance to plagiarize. At their tender ages, all they can do is either write or copy.

  121. You know in my early school days (especially before my arts and technology HS days) I hated writing papers because I had no clue what to do about ideas that I had found from other sources other than my own head. Once I was taught MLA my writing flourished like crazy. I had a way to say ” Hey! Look! Here’s something I found on the subject that says it FAR better than I ever could” and then give the credit to those who paved the road before me with the better ideas.

    It just amazes me that people would *want* to steal others ideas. I guess I’m too innocent for this world sometimes.

    *snicker* yeah, right.

  122. Other Becky, aliciamaud74, we had a sheet of examples of what constituted plagiarism given to us too, and read out/gone through at a compulsory lecture, including the stuff like Sofox described that people just don’t seem to understand is wrong. I’d really recommend it because then you cannot. claim. afterwards that you didn’t know (you signed your name; you were at that lecture) so if people are just gonna do it anyway, it would at least be easier to discipline them for it. And it might help a few people who just wouldn’t have known.

    I wouldn’t have recognised a few of the examples as plagiarism without it, and I am ridiculously devoted to a) not stealing people’s ideas without credit and b) following all rules ever then people will like meeeeeee (working on that last one). So.

  123. hsofia,

    I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone who’s memorized all those rules. Plus, they change periodically. In fact, I think APA just updated their style manual.

    When I was an undergrad majoring in English and Political Science, I wrote mostly using MLA, and I became pretty proficient with it. Now, as a graduate student majoring in Library and Information Science, I mostly use APA, and I’m pretty proficient in that. MLA has pretty much left me, though. I think I only have room in my mind for one citation style at a time.

    References/Works Cited pages are the absolute worst, but I’m terrified of using tools such as Endnote because I worry they will get it all wrong, and when my professor gets me for it, my only response would be “but I didn’t write them!” I write out my own references because I want to become familiar with how to write them, and because I want to be in complete control over my own grade.

    I’m pretty certain that if anyone in our MLIS program tried to plagiarize, our Librarian professors would nail that person to a tree and poke him/her with hot sticks. And laugh. I mean, you can’t fool a Librarian. They are information professionals!

  124. “Plagiarize
    Let no one else’s work evade your eyes
    Remember why the good Lord made your eyes
    So don’t shade your eyes
    But plagiarize, plagiarize, plagiarize
    Only be sure always to call it please “research””

    -Tom Lehrer, ‘Lobachevsky’

    …DANGIT, I screwed up and added attribution! I’ll NEVER be a reporter, never!

    *sob*

  125. On a somewhat dweeby note, I’d like to put in a big plug for Zotero, the Firefox citation add-on. You want to cite a webpage – just click the icon in the address bar, add any missing metadata (such as author’s name), copy-paste any desired text, tag it, and you’re done. It hooks into the big online journal databases, library databases like Webcat, Google Scholar, you name it. It will index the text of PDF files, and also hook the info out of the document if it’s got the standard PDF metadata. You can cache copies of web pages, documents, whatever. And it will keep a copy of your citations on the web for free.

    Obviously not that useful when comes to straight blogging if you’re pulling all your info from other websites. I mean, delicious.com takes care of that. But if you’re mixing your sources and/or you need to output your citations into any number of styles (so much for having to remember the MLA rules, the Harvard rules, the My Aunt Fanny rules) – and yes, it will do inline citations for you in Word or OpenOffice as well as output a reference list in those formats and HTML – there really isn’t a better tool.

    There are commercial products like Endnote, which are great as well, but Zotero is totally portable (as long as you have Firefox, and you can still view your citations at the Zotero website with any browser, if you’re desperate), powerful, and completely free.

    /advertorial

    Oh, and regarding the possible cultural factors at work with varying awareness of the plagiarism issue in an academic context, I’ve attended a couple of universities with a large international contingent, and they really hammer home the issue. And there are plenty of locals who don’t have a clue (wilfully or not) either. For every first-year course – including post-grad – I think it’s worth reiterating the basic policies. People can be outright ignorant, or simply fail to realise that even a sentence fragment, if directly quoted, should always be cited.

    And if your occupation is writing, there is simply no excuse. A fiction author may be excused from footnoting, but there should be no direct unacknowledged quotes, and if copious background info was gathered from specific sources, I think the gracious thing to do is acknowledge them in a foreword or afterword. But plenty of professional authors seem to have no clue either.

    And yeah, if I need to quote, there’s this handy tabby thing in the browser, supplemented by the powah of bookmarking (yay Delicious).

  126. Aaaah! Valerian beat me to it! I love Tom Lehrer.

    I’ve had people try to claim that two people sometimes have exactly the same idea at the same time (two things that come to mind for me personally are “Retrosexual” and “Kegway”, both of which my husband and I cam up with on our own, but the gestalt was such that someone, or several someones, beat us to it), which does happen with an idea occasionally, but then they tried to prove it by pointing out that movie studios often come out with really similar movies at the same time.

    I was forced to destroy their happy illusion by pointing out that someone at one studio leaked the idea to someone else at the other studio.

    In academia, it becomes such a rat-race to publish first that people become rabidly secretive about their current work. This triples when the research is out there, done by someone else, waiting to be interpreted. My brother couldn’t stand the atmosphere, so he left academia. My husband regularly has 2-3 students in each class that plagarize; one will admit that they ran out of time, and two will inevitably claim that they “just happened” to think of the same words as the original source. Yes – right down to using the particular bullet point font that the different internet sources used? How brilliant. [/sarcasm]

  127. I have to say that for the first two years of my BA (UK university), I had no freaking clue about how I was expected to cite sources. At secondary school we’d done these half-arsed bibliographies, and that was all I’d ever been taught, so that’s what I thought I had to do. As it happened, my course didn’t involve a whole lot of essay writing, so it was a while before I found out I was doing it wrong. I’d been using quotation marks in the body of the essay and putting everything in the bibliography at the end, but I didn’t put in any footnotes or include anywhere near enough information on each source. I got no guidance until I began my final year dissertation, for which they specified Chicago style citations. Looked up what that meant and holy moley.

    Funnily enough, though, I still managed to grok that copy-pasting other people’s work was cheating.

  128. As someone who has taught a bunch of university classes and who aspires to professorship, I’d like to give a word of advice to any lurkers who might still be in college in the situation Gingembre describes (i.e., “I had no freaking clue about how I was expected to cite sources”). Here is the advice: ask someone! If your prof or TA doesn’t have time to teach you about citation one-on-one, she can probably still point you toward someone who can, or toward a current guidebook. Also, most universities have writing centers staffed with people whose job it is is to help you figure out how to write scholarly papers. In other words, as in most things college-related, you really do get to ask for help, even if it’s daunting to do so. As a teacher, I would much rather have you set up an appointment to talk to me about proper citation before your paper is due than give you a bad grade because you didn’t know how to cite sources and didn’t ask for help.

    /soapbox

  129. My first real experience of plagiarism came from the stolen-from end. I knew about plagarism, but I didn’t do it, and didn’t tend to pay much attention.

    Then I went back to an old article I had written to revamp it for print publication. I needed some additional research, so I googled – and lo and behold ALL the additional hits I found were plagiarisms from my original article. I was particularly flummoxed to find a “germ of the week” article from a medical school that was my entire actual article, with the sentences reworked just slightly – apparently to avoid being caught out plagiarizing if someone looked.

    I was torn between anger, wtf, and a medical school student stole the paper of an Indiana housewife? And got good marks for it? Woot!

  130. Ooh, ooh, I have a plagiarism story. I was teaching seventh grade English, and my students had to write a story. I’d looked at everyone’s rough drafts, and when the time came to turn in the final, one young man turned in a story that was just *slightly* suspicious. Not only was this something I recognized as another boy’s story, because, you know, I’d read everyone’s rough drafts, it was clearly in the other kid’s very distinctive handwriting but with his name erased and Cheater Boy’s written over top of it in his own, also distinctive and totally dissimilar, handwriting. Cheesiest and saddest attempt at plagiarism EVAR*

    But, you know, it’s not hard to separate your own work from someone else’s. You just do this fancy internet thing called opening it in a new tab and going back and forth between yours and the other person’s. And if you want to save it for later, there’s this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.

    *LOLCatSpeak, http://icanhascheezburger.com

  131. Henchminion’s Magna Carta essay made me cry with laughter. Particularly the Latin.

    I’m glad to hear universities are teaching proper attribution and what constitutes plagiarism (I just got a copy of the MLA stylebook thrown at me and had to figure it out for myself, although being a superswot, I would never have knowingly stolen anyone else’s work). I take Sweet Machine’s point that teachers would rather that you ask how to cite than plagiarise. However, I’m not sure how much support there is for this in UK universities – we certainly didn’t have a writing centre when I was at college, and I was at the University of Cambridge, which is one of the best in the country… Would be interested to hear from other Shapelings on that.

    Another point to teach your raw undergrads is not to cite other people’s work that they haven’t read. I am thinking of a particularly annoying occasion when I got told off by a professor for producing an essay overinfluenced by a fashionable new book on William Blake. The burn? I hadn’t read the book and all the ideas were my own, but because it was the hot shit in Blakean research at the time I felt obliged to put it in the bibliography. Still, it taught me a useful lesson about pretending to have read things that you haven’t…

    Anyway, the point is, I don’t snaffle other writers’ lines and use them in my own writing. When I’m bowled over by someone’s brilliance and want to use what they’re saying in my own work, I do this super-snazzy futuristic thing called opening a new window in my browser, and then I alt+tab between that and what I’m working on. If I get called away before I’m finished, I bookmark the page so that I can find it again.

    All my own work. So proud.

  132. Because I’m also a teacher, I feel compelled to add to Sweet Machine’s advice:

    As someone who has taught a bunch of university classes and who aspires to professorship, I’d like to give a word of advice to any lurkers who might still be in college in the situation Gingembre describes (i.e., “I had no freaking clue about how I was expected to cite sources”). Here is the advice: ask someone!

    Besides being abe to Goo0gle up stuff to plagiarize for one’s paper assignment, one can also actually Google the rules for not plagiarizing! I know! So amazing! Here’s the MLA info! So simple…and also, you can do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then toggle between that and what you’re writing. If you need to close the tab for some reason before you’re done writing, you can do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking. And then the information is available for nearly ever!

  133. (Just to clarify something – as soon as I discovered that my feeble citations weren’t adequate, I *did* look up how to do it right. Before that I had genuinely never heard of the various style guides, and nobody had told me that I was doing it wrong. Students can only ask if they know there’s something they need to ask about.)

  134. Given that most of these folks have grown up (‘grown up’ here used loosely) in a world where one can just download music, movies, and other cultural products from the internet without any recompense to the creators, I’d doubt the effectiveness of approach number two. They don’t see theft as theft unless the original ‘owner’ loses something obvious and tangible.

    I wonder if it would be any more effective to frame it as fraud, rather than theft. Although I think writers (and other artists) absolutely lose something when their work is appropriated, I’ll grant it’s unlikely that being plagiarized by a random undergrad will damage your earning potential or reputation. But it’s not just about taking something that’s not yours, it’s about claiming you did something you didn’t. And as the paper someone linked to above pointed out (I am too lazy right now to scroll back up and find the commenter’s name, or look at the paper again and find the authors’ names, so you’ll have to settle for “source: upthread”), uncaught plagiarism can blow the curve for the whole class. So you’re stealing, you’re lying to the prof, you’re taking credit for work you haven’t done, you’re fucking over your fellow students who actually did the assignment… It’s 31 flavors of bullshit.

    Of course, you can count me among those who are cynical enough to assume most students who plagiarize don’t really care about any of the above. The aforementioned paper also makes a distinction between “casual” and “blatant” plagiarism — the former is more plausibly the result of ignorance, and as this thread makes clear, that is a real problem. (I agree with Snarky that teaching kids to “put it in their own words” might be sending exactly the wrong message and encouraging thesaurus abuse.) But I still fail to see how you can stick someone else’s words into your own paper without attribution and not know you’re doing something wrong. It’s one thing to mess up a citation, quite another to cut and paste, turn it in under your own name, and then claim you didn’t know you weren’t supposed to do that. If you get why you’re not supposed to copy someone else’s answer on a test, how can you argue with a straight face that you don’t get why you’re not supposed to copy someone else’s writing?

  135. When I do my plagiarism in-class exercise, I make it extra-special clear that even if it’s in their own words, they still have to cite the source of their information. They didn’t somehow magically know the function of hexosaminidase A all on their own; therefore, they must tell me where they got it from, and they also must put it in their own words. (One of the unacceptable sample answers in that exercise does the “paraphrase and use a thesaurus” thing — that’s the one they can never believe is not okay.)

    And I definitely see a culture-of-origin thing in the classroom. At one point, while gently explaining to an international student that, even if she cited the source, using heavy paraphrasing wasn’t an “in your own words” answer and therefore didn’t actually fulfill the terms of the assignment, she seemed really shocked at what I was asking for. Her explanation was that somebody who understood it much better than she did had already said it, and it would be presumptuous for her as a student to try to say it differently. It was quite an eye-opener.

    Personally, as someone teaching in the sciences, I don’t give a flying rat’s ass what format students use, since (sadly) there is no single standard in the scientific literature. I care that they cite, sufficiently clearly that I can find their sources; that they put things in their own words, because otherwise I don’t know whether they actually understand it; and that they don’t assume I’m an idiot who won’t notice if “their” writing suddenly gets really technical. (I also recommend the writing center repeatedly, but students don’t seem to like the idea, ’cause asking for help means admitting weakness. I always saw it as “getting the most out of my tuition dollars,” myself.)

    I still can’t get over the unutterable ridiculousness of “I forgot that I didn’t write this.” I know what my writing looks and sounds like. Copying other people’s work into my own files and then magically forgetting that I didn’t write it would imply that I’m stupid enough not to be able to tell the difference between, say, Kate Harding’s writing style and my own.

  136. Actually, I can totally see forgetting if I wrote something or not in my notes, I do it all the time. But it’s something like forgetting that “the French were producing small scale silk wares by 1250.” While I remember that I didn’t produce that INFORMATION, and that I need to cite SOMEONE, I don’t remember if I came up with that version of the *sentence* or not.

    Unfortunantly this means I spend a lot of time looking for those stray sentences and putting those little sticky markers on pages in books to try and avoid this occurance. But the point is, no, random factual sentences are not always “marked” with your genetic writerly stamp, ya’ll.

    Actually, on a litcrit note, there is very little evidence for that happening at all. If you take most famous writers out of context and put them to a class of freshemen, they cannot be independantly recognized with any degree of scientific certainty.

  137. “But the point is, no, random factual sentences are not always “marked” with your genetic writerly stamp, ya’ll.”

    This is true, chava, but there’s a big difference between a random factual sentence and a large swath of writing like the articles being discussed in Kate’s article. And there’s a big difference between recognizing your own swath of writing and one that someone else wrote.

    Even someone who can’t tell Shakespeare from Steinbeck can probably remember remember whether or not they wrote an entire paragraph.

  138. Totally–and I have no sympathy for the journalist in question. Just saying that it is really much harder to “authenticate” even large swaths of text than we like to think it is. Of course, remembering what we ourselves did and didn’t write is a different question alltogether.

  139. If you take most famous writers out of context and put them to a class of freshemen, they cannot be independantly recognized with any degree of scientific certainty.

    That doesn’t exactly mean that these writers don’t have recognizable styles, just that freshmen are probably not familiar with much of literary history or what about those styles is distinct. I mean, I could probably tell you that two given rocks are different from each other, but since I’ve never studied geology beyond one quarter in 9th grade, I couldn’t tell you what kind of rocks they were.

  140. @Other Becky – They didn’t somehow magically know the function of hexosaminidase A all on their own; therefore, they must tell me where they got it from, and they also must put it in their own words. (One of the unacceptable sample answers in that exercise does the “paraphrase and use a thesaurus” thing — that’s the one they can never believe is not okay.)

    Yeah, I can identify with the student you mentioned. I remember agonizing over papers as an undergrad, trying to figure out how to coalesce all the overwhelming research into something new and feeling like a hopeless failure and sinking into depressions, and finally, after two years, a professor pulled me aside and was like, Dude, what’s your problem? (paraphrase). And I explained, and she said (almost word for word), “You’re an undergrad. No one expects you to come up with new ideas. Your job is to demonstrate that you understand other people’s ideas.”

    And I was like, “Really?” I think that being able to use rules of citation makes writing a paper a lot easier, because then you can quote, and you can reiterate or regurgitate – you just have to attribute. I still would prefer a round table or even interview style of demonstrating that knowledge, but unfortunately, I didn’t make the world.

  141. Snarky’s Machine, do I take your “ha” to mean that pointing that out to kids would NOT help? I mean, I like to think that they listen SOMETIMES when I explicitly teach them stuff. . . ?

    I just liked your comment.

    If you take most famous writers out of context and put them to a class of freshemen, they cannot be independantly recognized with any degree of scientific certainty.

    Really?

    Cause you can cite me two out of context passages of Vonnegut and Morrison and believe me, I’ll know which is which.

    I’ll go you one better. Richard Ford and Richard Russo.

    Bring it. I’ll know which is which. And I think it’s kind of an insult to freshmen everywhere to suggest they might lack these awesome powers of perception. If there’s anything I remember from Freshman Comp is how they ‘ound you about stylistic techniques and choices of the various bland authors you’re forced to read.

  142. ‘ound(ing)*

    *something Kilgore Trout does to Durling Heath in Breakfast of Champions, which I now use frequently.

    As in: “Quit. Fucking. ‘Ounding. Me.”

    My favorite line in the book, riddled with favorite lines.

  143. But isn’t the GRE for grad school, whereas the question was whether (college) freshman could do this?

  144. hsofia, it seems the way lit is taught in high school is about compartmentalizing. You have your Harlem Renaissance lit and your Magical Realism Lit and Your Post-whatever lit. So while you might not be able to distinguish writers within a “sub-genre” theoretically you should be able to note the differences between Magical Realism and Victorian lit, and probably could identify a passage – even out of context – written in such a style.

    I seem to remember a lot of text dumps and “guess what book you didn’t read for class this is from?” type questions on tests. They are never in context and you had to know something about the writer’s style and voice or you know, remember what your teacher said about it.

  145. I think it should be totally possible to tell whether two passages are from two different authors; but maybe not WHICH others. Even at a high school level. (I only went to high school one year, but I did take a lit class!)

  146. hsofia – and I agree with your assessment that perhaps too many folks are going to college. Not that I wish to deny access to anyone, but rather I wonder if it might be time to reassess whether or not it’s useful for every single person to follow the same path to adulthood.

  147. “I was a bio major writing a 7-page essay on Hamlet for a lit course.”

    elisende, I don’t mean to pick a fight here, but there are no special exemptions for plagiarism, just because the course is not part of your major. If a bio major agrees to take a lit course, s/he is agreeing to do the same work as anyone else in the class. BTW nothing chaps a teacher’s ass more than hearing that her course isn’t as important as the courses you are taking for your major. Could you see the lit professor saying -“well, you’re just a bio major; I’ll give this paper a C without reading it since Hamlet’s not really important to your career” ? The whole idea of a university education is that you are agreeing to study more than one subject in order to get a degree — if you only really respect one subject, you need to be considering vocational school.

    ” The idea that a professional writer would cut and paste someone else’s work and then try to pass it off as their own? Wow.” That is appalling, but again, there are no special rules that permit plagiarism for non-professionals. The pro you may have plagiarized from would certainly want credit, no?

  148. But isn’t the GRE for grad school, whereas the question was whether (college) freshman could do this?

    Yes, but what I’m saying is that I find it really specious to say that a study showing freshmen can’t tell whether a given passage comes from Dryden or Joyce has anything to do with not being able to tell your own writing from someone else’s to the extent that you’d accidentally plagiarize. The fact that people untrained in a given speciality don’t excel at a test of a given specialty doesn’t mean they can’t be competent when the bar is much, much lower.

  149. snarkysmachine and hsofia, just yesterday I had my seniors read an article raising some questions about college education, and what people are it for…and when I asked them how many of them had a conversation with their parents about not WHICH college they were going to, but WHETHER they were going to college, not a single kid raised her hand. . . out of 60 kids. It was just the assumption they would go. (One kid did make the caveat, “Well, we had the conversation that my mother would kill me if I didn’t go. Does that count?”) And when I asked them questions about why they were going, their answers were pretty ill-considered, even after I let them think and write about it for a while. And when I asked them if they really wanted to be $100,000 in debt for something they didn’t have any clear ideas about in terms of purpose, they got really uncomfortable. It was like I was breaking a big rule by suggesting maybe college isn’t for everyone.

    As for that compartmentalizing thing, in the last decade or so a lot of secondary schools (at least in NY and Mass, which tend to be a bit ahead of the curve on those trends) have moved away from that…but the progress is slooooooooooooooooooooooooooow in an environment where the phrase “radical change” always seems to be heard “more of the same old f’in’ tests we’ve been giving for 150 years.”

    “Quit. Fucking. ‘Ounding. Me.” I recognize that. That’s Nicolas Sparks, right? (;

  150. I have a foolproof way of not plagiarizing. When I find something I want to quote later, I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.

    Actually, it amazes me in this age of Google that people think they can get away with plagarizing at all. It’s simplicity itself to type a sentence into a search engine.

    Anyway, I think “I don’t pretend I wrote things I didn’t write” is probably the best advice ever for avoiding plagiarism.

    (oh, also: clearly if I wasn’t sure of whether I wrote the above or got it from someone else, there is LITERALLY NO WAY OF CHECKING. I mean, it’s not like the internet has any kind of engine for searching with. And also there’s no way of searching through this very page to find other occurences of the words above this paragraph. Nope. What do you mean, Ctrl+F? Fucking hippies.)

  151. @ Hsofia “I would have been very tempted to just flunk him for the paper, the class, everything I could get my hands on!! Geez!”

    Oh if only it were that simple at the college/university level. It can work that way at small schools where the honor code is a huge deal. Some schools scare the shit out of their students about the issue. I went to one of those. At big state schools, where you’re lucky if a student can actually write a coherent sentence, you’re often forced to make it a “learning experience” for the student. Basically, I end up looking like a bitch and a nitpick.

    I spend a good chunk of my grading time dealing with plagiarism and the lack of appropriate citation. I think the hardest part is the students are often decent people who genuinely didn’t realize they were stealing.

    I have a few theories on why this happens so much. 1. Its a second tier state school where most of the students are in state. I grew up in the same state. Unless a student is in accelerated or AP courses, they get a substandard education. It shows in our national rankings. 2. English 101 teaches students to write about literature and little about writing across the curriculum. 3. Other profs are not reading writing assignments as closely as they should.

    So essentially I end up having to do other people’s jobs. And usually they get paid a hell of a lot more money than I do as a TA/adjunct.

  152. elisende, I don’t mean to pick a fight here, but there are no special exemptions for plagiarism, just because the course is not part of your major. If a bio major agrees to take a lit course, s/he is agreeing to do the same work as anyone else in the class. BTW nothing chaps a teacher’s ass more than hearing that her course isn’t as important as the courses you are taking for your major.

    Yes, that was an ouchie for me too. Bringing me back to the unfortunately semester I was tasked with teaching a comp class for science majors. None of which felt the class was worth their time or effort. Most of them were medical school bound and really felt inconvenienced having to develop and strengthen their writing skills, which were quite meager, btw.

    But that brings up a whole other issue of how the humanities and arts aren’t really considered “real” scholarship. Don’t get me started on “Social Science”. Really? Why not call it “Training Wheel Science” so nobody will conflate it with that there real science.

    Anyway, I did observe staggering amounts of “put it in your own words” style plagiarism.

  153. I teach a digital media class and we had a debate one day about theft on the Internet. We talked about whether you would download a song for free even though you know you’re supposed to pay for it and whether it was stealing or not, and why you would do that, but you would not try to steal a CD from a store.

    The bottom line reason was “You’ll get caught.” In their defense, the students were kind of squirming with discomfort when they realized that their moral compass basically boiled down to “I do what I know I can get away with.” But still, it makes me wary of trying to appeal to some kind of desire to do the right thing as a way of deterring plagiarism. Especially compared with the campus knowing I flunked 20% of a single class, which is like hanging a big “Do not fuck with this woman on this subject” sign up on my door.

    I do also in my larger classes attach a hand out to their paper assignments demonstrating all the ways you can inaccurately cite something and thus be guilty of unintentional plagiarism. That, of course, only works when they actually bother to read the assignment sheet which a good 10% of them generally don’t do. *sigh*

    I’m actually sitting here staring at 2 stacks of papers I need to grade and this discussion has been effective for me to avoid that, so thanks! ;)

    DRST

  154. I hate to be a buzzkill, but I really don’t think the problem lies in young people being stupid or in people who don’t belong to college going to college. A lot of people in this thread have expressed frustration with students who inadvertently plagiarized, saying “they should of learned this in high school,” with the implication, imho, that these kids were taught how not to plagiarize, but weren’t listening.

    I agree that proper attribution of ideas and effective paraphrasing is an essential skill that needs to be introduced at the high school (even middle school) level, but the fact of the matter is, a lot of kids never had the benefit of sitting in a class required these skills (let alone taught them until they reached college.

    Every teacher in this thread obviously does an excellent job of explain academic ethics to their students, but not every student has the luck to wind up in a class with a teachers like you. Sometimes, they don’t encounter a really conscientious teacher until they’re juniors or seniors (at which time their p they’re plumb out of luck because they have little chance of passing a course with such impoverished writing skills).

    Long story short, I firmly believe that students who have been denied access to cultural capital should not be maligned* for not having the skills their more economically/educationally students have. Short story shorter, the problem is structural, not individual (for the most part).

    ::steps of soap box::

    *maligned =/= penalized. Just because you went to a shitty high school or your parents never took you to the library, doesn’t mean you should get an automatic pass in a course

  155. @Sweetmachine: “Yes, but what I’m saying is that I find it really specious to say that a study showing freshmen can’t tell whether a given passage comes from Dryden or Joyce has anything to do with not being able to tell your own writing from someone else’s to the extent that you’d accidentally plagiarize.”

    Very good point. I agree.

    I think likening plagiarism to downloading songs and movies off the internet (or wherever) without payment is Notagoodidea. Because the issue of downloading songs and movies off the internet without payment is already complicated enough. Not to mention, when you watch a movie or tv show on YouTube instead of renting it or watching it on television, you are not claiming it as your own. Neither is the person who posted it on YouTube. And also, there is this whole issue of what it means to “steal.”

    In any case, I think “copy” is a more accurate term. (And no, this is not my own original thought; lots of people have already made this argument better than I can.) It is easy to use the word steal because it has really negative connotations, whereas the word copy is neutral. But I think young people pick up on these things. Just like they scoff when the movie studios tell them that downloading movies from Torrent is STEALING and you ARE TAKING FOOD OUT OF THE POOR CHILDREN OF ACTORS AND CREW MEMBERS MOUTHS ZOMG!! I don’t think we want to lump plagiarism in with that. Not just because that argument isn’t working, but because it’s not the same argument.

  156. Ahhh! I really did proofread, really I did! Just imagine how many typos there were before that!

    to –> *in

    is –> *are

    required –> *requiring

    students –> *peers

    etc.

    Students also need to be taught that failure to adhere to the rules of Standard English grammar will undermine the argument they’re trying to make. :P

  157. @snarky’s and hsophia-

    I agree that there is too much pressure for people to go to college. Some people just don’t want to be in school or aren’t capable of being successful at the college level. My understanding that is most European schools students are either college bound or vo-tech bound. That sounds more reasonable to me.

    However, the unfortunate reality is that college has become the new high school. There are a whole lot of entry level jobs out there-retail is one- where a 4 year degree is expected. The other kinds of jobs that typically don’t require a degree have been outsourced. Truck driving is one of the few exceptions to that.

    Sorry to get off track. Just thought it was worth mentioning.

  158. @hsofia,
    “You’re an undergrad. No one expects you to come up with new ideas. Your job is to demonstrate that you understand other people’s ideas.” (that’s me quoting hsofia quoting someone named “dude” upthread)

    I had nearly this exact same conversation with a lit professor about a thousand years ago. When I started college I was completely baffled by any concept of plagiarism that went beyond outright copying and it was precisely because people kept telling me to ‘use my own words’ or ‘only state my own thoughts’

    Dude (actually we called profs Kind Sir way back then), I don’t HAVE any of my own thoughts or opinions about Chaucer. Until this class I’d never even HEARD of Chaucer. Every opinion in my head, every thought, every everything listed in my brain under the heading Chaucer came directly from something I’ve read in the last month.

    I had absolutely no idea how to write a paper without putting the whole damn thing in quotes. Eventually it was beaten into my head that A) that’s pretty much fine, no one is really expecting original work and B) if I truly hadn’t formed an opinion then I wasn’t really done researching yet. I could turn in the paper as basically just reporting on a series of thesis and counter thesis with appropriate cites and a few conjunctions of my own, but I wasn’t going to attain the same grade as someone who managed to assimilate that same information and come up with something new. That was fine. I realize some teachers find it insulting, but I wasn’t a lit major and everyone does have to prioritize their time so the extra effort it would have taken to get to truly original work wasn’t in the cards for me. As a result I happily took the grades I got for accurate, properly cited, but fairly dull and derivative lit papers. No problem.

    What I didn’t do was copy other people’s work into my own files, because I didn’t have files, just parchment. Nor when I found something I want to quote later, did I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, because 1’s and 0’s were still just numbers, nor did I toggle between that and what I was writing because the stone tablets were too heavy to shift around. And I never ever did any other fancy internet thing like bookmarking, because Guttenberg hadn’t been born yet. But mostly what I didn’t do was pretend I wrote things I didn’t write, because even in the dark ages we knew that was not ok.

  159. @Snarky – But that brings up a whole other issue of how the humanities and arts aren’t really considered “real” scholarship. Don’t get me started on “Social Science”. Really? Why not call it “Training Wheel Science” so nobody will conflate it with that there real science.

    Yeah. Good luck with that one. If you have any good responses to that, please share. I come across this attitude regularly, namely from my husband, whom I spend a lot of time with. He read in a book written by a man scientist that the average PhD in Physics or Chemistry or whatever could get easily get a PhD in French Literature if he had to, whereas the average PhD in French Literature could not easily get the PhD in Physics or Chemistry. I have had to tell him to STFU every time he tried to bring it up again. Unfortunately, afterward we had a child with a serious birth defect that required surgery or she’d die, and I think he felt his point was made, seeing as how I would happily discuss literature or history with almost anyone, but was very choosy about selecting the best surgeon I could afford.

  160. @Cassi Dude (actually we called profs Kind Sir way back then), I don’t HAVE any of my own thoughts or opinions about Chaucer. Until this class I’d never even HEARD of Chaucer. Every opinion in my head, every thought, every everything listed in my brain under the heading Chaucer came directly from something I’ve read in the last month.

    Okay, this made me laugh out loud for cereal.

  161. Slight and temporary threadjack:

    “Unfortunately, afterward we had a child with a serious birth defect that required surgery or she’d die, and I think he felt his point was made, seeing as how I would happily discuss literature or history with almost anyone, but was very choosy about selecting the best surgeon I could afford.”

    Wow. So French literature is an easy PhD because nobody dies of a misinterpretation of Candide? Would you have ‘proved’ your point if you had let just anyone with a scalpel use it on your daughter?

    Let me take a moment to soak in the WTF????.

    /threadjack.

  162. @Twistie – I think it isn’t that the guy was saying a PhD in French Lit was easy, but that it was not as mentally rigorous as a PhD in molecular biology. Ultimately, he may have also been implying (I haven’t read the book) that not as much was at stake.

  163. I wonder if part of the problem for students who don’t really get the severity of the issue is that students today are so accustomed to things like Wikipedia where authorship is really secondary to available content. Is impressing on them that we cite things not just to avoid passing off other’s work as our own but also to demonstrate that we’re not just making up facts out of thin air a helpful approach? I think of this mostly, I suppose, because as a lawyer this is almost entirely why I cite things these days. It’s perfectly acceptable to copy whole paragraphs out of briefs written by other lawyers at my law firm (we do it all the time) without giving any credit to them or to that case or even to copy language out of judicial opinions or publicly available briefs for documents you intend to file with the court. In fact, it’s often preferable to rephrasing something because the exact words often matter. But you sure as hell better cite every single piece of legal authority the words you’re using come from because otherwise your case will look illegitimate and not supposed by law.

    Anyway, of tangential relevance, but it occurred to me as a dimension of the issue.

  164. I also agree that there’s way way too much emphasis (at least in the US) on going to college. Seriously, a talented HVAC repair person not only makes a good living, but can bring people a great deal of happiness, said the woman whose air conditioner once died in the middle of 2 weeks of 100+ heat. I think we’ve devalued what used to be called the skilled trades to everyone’s detriment. (My mom is a guidance counselor, and she always makes sure that “Career Day” includes people with interesting jobs that don’t require college degrees. The father of one of her students does custom made electric bass guitars, and he’ll sometimes come in.)

    LilahMorgan, that’s an interesting point about Wikipedia and authorship vs. content. One of the things I also teach my students early in the semester is how to decide whether a website constitutes an authoritative source, because it’s important that the things they’re saying be true. Also, most of my students are pre-med, and, since I would prefer not to have to stop going to doctors in 10 years, I would really like them to develop judgment about that kind of thing.

  165. In which I threadjack to scream the very important issue of

    CLASS!!!
    CLASS!!!
    CLASS!!!

    The one that involves money and housing and social status and economic segregation, not the one that involves sitting in a tiny desk under fluorescent lights trying to learn stuff. But that’s the thing: They’re connected!!!

    Okay, done screaming now. Later tonight I’m going to start a discussion on Ning. I really feel strongly about this (has anyone read Mike Rose’s Lives on the Boundary? anyone?), so if the academic-minded/-employed Shapelings could come by to discuss, I’d really appreciate it.

  166. However, the unfortunate reality is that college has become the new high school. There are a whole lot of entry level jobs out there-retail is one- where a 4 year degree is expected. The other kinds of jobs that typically don’t require a degree have been outsourced. Truck driving is one of the few exceptions to that.

    Totally agreed. We can’t blame students for their educational histories. Part of the job of teaching is to identify what skills students come in with, and what they need you to instruct them on.

    Unfortunately, because “college has become the new high school,” in terms of work opportunities and financial stability, the cultural narratives around it have changed. Many, many students go to college because that’s just what you’ve gotta do after high school, and maybe no one has ever talked to them about what the other reasons you might go to college are. It ends up being a frustrating situation for both teachers and students, in which the ostensible purpose of college (to get an advanced education, certified to certain institutional standards, for the sake of learning) is actually in opposition to the pragmatic purpose of college for many people (to pass a culturally mandated rite of passage in order to secure a certain class position).

    What that ends up meaning for some of the people who really care about the experiences of learning and teaching, especially in a liberal arts context, is that they are surrounded by people who just don’t care that much. In a less class-stratified world, there would be options for people who, for whatever reason, don’t need or want a college experience in order to pursue their vocations, and everyone would be happier. I don’t think that there are “too many” people going to college, personally, but I do think the class structure in the US, at least, is far too stratified to make “not going to college” an option for people — and “going to college” is not an option for some other people who would like to. I think there are probably too many people in college who would rather not be there, and too many people who don’t get to go to college who would like to.

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall that said, once you’re there, you really oughta follow the rules, academically speaking. And if you don’t know what they are, you should ask someone to find out.

  167. I don’t think that there are “too many” people going to college, personally, but I do think the class structure in the US, at least, is far too stratified to make “not going to college” an option for people — and “going to college” is not an option for some other people who would like to. I think there are probably too many people in college who would rather not be there, and too many people who don’t get to go to college who would like to.

    Agreed. I probably should have said, “too many people forced into college when they might be better suited for other things or don’t have an interest in pursuing “formal education” and racking up shit tons of debt.”

    I definitely feel this way when I think about friends of mine – all creative and talented in a host of fields – and how we ALL were expected to go to college. While I am grateful I went and look forward to going back for MOAR, I realize this is not the case for others, either due to lack of access or conflicting desire.

    I have a friend who always wanted to be an auto mechanic. Always. since we were kids. She loved fixing cars, reading about cars and talking about cars. She spent nearly every spare moment doing car stuff.

    Naturally, MIT was the best place for her ::eyeroll::

    While she was quite successful there, she wasn’t happy. She wanted to fuck around with cars and talk about it with other folks who liked fucking around with cars.

    Guess what, after degrees and disillusionment, she works on fucking cars and is JOYOUS.

    If we lived in a society that really sought to encourage its folks to pursue their passions and also gave them the tools to do so and didn’t stratify things like “voc” versus “real college” (not that anyone did this here, but you can’t ignore the classist framing of 2 year v. 4 year schooling) then things would probably be better.

    Oh yeah, and I want a pony with a long pretty mane I can put ribbons in.

  168. Journalists who make the claim that they lost track of the source of something are essentially saying “Not only did I plagiarize and lie about it, I really can’t do my job,” because journalism is all about sources, interviews, and attribution. I watched my journalism teacher in high school write articles for publication; she would spend hours making sure that she had capitalized titles and spelled names correctly. She also had notes from interviews in front of her, and if she got information from another writer, she had that printed out in front of her (in the days before tabs). Using sources is what journalists do. Using non-credited information? That’s just saying you can’t do your job.

    I’m student teaching as a school librarian right now, and I just finished attempting to teach three classes of ninth graders how to cite sources. There was an unbelievable amount of whining that essentially boiled down to “but then I have to do more work!”

    Yup. You do.

    If you don’t quote and cite sources, you can act like you’ve written a paper without actually sitting down and writing it. This might be why your teachers check to make sure you haven’t plagiarized! The saddest thing is, the teacher I was working with had created a form to write down the information they would need for their citations while they were doing research, and the kids still couldn’t handle making a works cited. They didn’t even need to include in-text citations, which I personally thought was setting a bad precedent.
    I spent about five minutes of each class discussing why giving credit was important. I’m pretty sure I scared some of the students, with lines like “You can be expelled from college,” but other students seemed puzzled by why the school would care. I get that citation formats are confusing and frustrating, with stupid rules about commas and periods and capitalization. I get frustrated when trying to cite sources too. Those complaints, and the requests for help that go with them, are completely understandable. Acting like someone else’s work is your own? Not ok.

    As a student, I love citations. They tell my professors how much work I’ve done on the paper! I also love citations in books and papers when I’m doing research, because I can find so many useful sources from citations in one or two sources. When I was working on my senior thesis in undergrad, I would get very frustrated with authors who did not provide endnotes or footnotes that linked their paraphrases to their sources. I knew they hadn’t come up with the entire book on their own (especially as it was history and they hadn’t lived through it themselves!) and I needed to know where they’d gotten their information.

    I remember reading Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and putting it down in disgust because he didn’t cite his sources in the text; obviously, he hadn’t done all the research he referred to! Not having sources made the book useless as a persuasive tool in many ways; if I can’t see where your claims come from, why should I believe you? What’s more, even if I DO believe you, why should my hardcore conservative family believe you?

  169. I catch the authors whose work I edit out on a regular basis doing this. About every six months I’ll get a report with, say, weapons of mass destruction information in it that’s written on a graduate level. Given that most of these authors write on about a ninth-grade level, it’s a dead giveaway. They have no shame whatsoever. (And don’t even get me started on their blatant use of Google Images to add low-res, irrelevant, poor quality, stolen images to their reports and presentations.)

    The worst thing about it is that they don’t care. When I bust them on it, they give the email equivalent of a shrug and I usually end up being the one to rewrite it. It’s like, dude, you’re supposed to be this big expert, why am I the one attempting to write about explosives while you gleefully yank things off the interwebs?

  170. Yes, thanks for the clarification on “too many” people going to college. I might have been the one who first said that here, but no one cited me so I can’t be sure. ;) What I meant was already said, that too many people feel compelled to go to college, and it’s not for everybody. I just worked on a project writing copy (don’t laugh!) for an organization that wants to promote construction trade apprenticeships. There are lots of opportunities for people, but the vast majority of teachers and guidance counselors – as well as many parents – see going to college as the superior option. It’s what you do when you’re “smart” and all that jazz. The reality is that plenty of people are employed in fields that are better served by apprenticeships than liberal arts degrees.

    But no mistaking, the work is physically grueling, and that’s not so attractive to people, and our current culture views physical labor as something you do when you aren’t smart enough to figure out a way to get someone else to do it instead. So it’s a hard sell, but most of the people I know doing it prefer it to what they were doing before (e.g. brewing coffee, selling clothes, or writing Excel spreadsheets). Ideally, we could all pursue the work we liked and were good at.

  171. I probably should have said, “too many people forced into college when they might be better suited for other things or don’t have an interest in pursuing “formal education” and racking up shit tons of debt.”

    I completely agree. We’ve turned college into a hoop (costing tens of thousands of dollars) that most people need to jump through in order to have any hopes of securing a job paying a living wage (and, of course, even that isn’t certain). I’m certainly not going to fault any individual student for jumping through it, because we’ve taken away too many other options, but I’ve had many, many students who would be better suited, based on their interests and inclinations, to things other than higher education.

    I also think there’s the issue of students who, while I wouldn’t say they don’t belong in college, are simply unprepared to be there. If they were sufficiently prepared, they’d do fine. But, we have no real systems in place for helping students who leave high school without the skill set needed to succeed in college acquire it. At best schools might offer a program the summer before they start college, a “study skills” class, or a few remedial courses, but those simply are not enough to gain the needed skills.

    I get a lot of students coming out of the Detroit public school system (which is a mess), because the school I teach at has an open admissions policy for DPS graduates: as long as they have a diploma, they get in. I understand and respect the policy in theory, but in practice I think it’s kind of a disaster. The school has no real means of addressing the educational deficits that many of these students are coming in with, throws them into classes they are unprepared for where they compete against students who are coming into college with the necessary skills to succeed, and has no problem taking their money for a year or a year and a half before the students eventually drop out from frustration or failure. (The attrition rate is horrible at the institution.) I get to the point where I think it would be better for the school to simply reject students who are unprepared, rather than have them get $10,000 or so into debt and then drop out after two or three semesters of trying, without any real system in place to address their educational needs.

    I don’t know the answer, because obviously it’s really, really hard to catch a student up who has been given a subpar education for years and years and years. But, I think college and universities are failing right now at helping students who do have the inclination and interest in high education but lack the skills needed to do well, which is a shame, and something I think really needs to be worked on. Because along with students who don’t really belong in college, I see a lot of students who do (or at least should) belong there, but are at a huge disadvantage because they are so unprepared academically.

  172. I’m away from home right now and can’t look it up, but there was actually a book written where a professor actually did what I was referencing–took chunks of narrative out of context, presented them to various groups of students with varying experiences of literature, and looked at their reviews of the text presented.

    What was revered as great art was often ripped to shreds by the students–it’s a very interesting study on how cultural framing impacts what we perceive as great writing.

    Also, there has been a lot of narrative theory work done where people have tried to quantify style (some of it using computers, some not). It hasn’t been done yet. I’m not saying it can’t be, and it’s an interesting question–I’ll look up some of the sources when I get home if anyone is interested (haha).

    And Sweet Machine, um, I took that test too. I don’t see how that’s relevant. And I’ll repeat again that I do not condone plagarizing in any way. In fact, my first two posts on this thread were trying to point out that plagiarism (aside from being a shit thing to do) distracts from some of the very real–and more interesting–questions we can ask about narrative, authorship, etc.

    Also, I cannot spell, for which I apologize.

  173. “I get to the point where I think it would be better for the school to simply reject students who are unprepared, rather than have them get $10,000 or so into debt and then drop out after two or three semesters of trying, without any real system in place to address their educational needs.”

    Truly, I feel the same about my Canadian university’s admission policies (and corresponding attrition rates). And it’s not just the money — the emotional scar that this ‘failure’ surely leaves on many a person is unimaginable to me.

  174. Wow. I was never taught anything at all about citing and plagiarism, not in high school, and not in college either. And it was a very very good school, my college. A very very good art school, that is. The most I was ever taught was how to arrange a bibliography (author’s name first, then title, &c.) and that was in high school. But the words ‘cite’? Or ‘plagiarism’? Never mentioned, not even once.

    And now I find myself having fallen into writing, and I have no idea what I’m doing. Does the intended audience make a difference? I’m writing a book on Goddesses, but it’s to go with basically a Tarot-type deck of Goddesses I did the art for. I haven’t been citing anything, as there’s nothing particularly controversial in it and most of the stuff is just the basics about each Goddess, and I’m assuming the audience will be a popular one, not an academic one. But now I don’t know.

    I also have a series of articles on my website about obscure Goddesses, none of it cited (I don’t even have a bibliography page up yet, though I intend to; but I haven’t gotten that far). I try to stress on that part of my site that I’m not an expert or academic/scholar, just an interested amateur. I do keep finding my articles linked on Wikipedia, and have to periodically yell at them that I’m not what I’d call a reliable source and that they really shouldn’t be quoting me. I originally started doing those articles mainly for myself, as a hobby; I put them up for other people to read, but the main motivation behind that was to help other Pagans/Goddess worshipers. Religious reasons, I suppose.

    None of this is within the context of academia. Does that make a difference?

  175. Via Hoyden About Town’s Lauredhel* on Twitter, I just discovered this Mediaite post by Glynnis MacNicol** discussing a piece by NYT public editor Clark Hoyt*** regarding the latest plagiarism scandal to be blamed on the fast pace of blogging. Like Gerald Posner before him, Times business reporter Zachery Kouwe says his problem wasn’t that he meant to lift whole passages from other writers, but that when he was gathering information, he’d dump it all in one file, then totally forget which parts he’d written. And the real problem, if you want to know the truth, was tight online deadlines, which prevented him from carefully looking over his work for typos, awkward sentences and parts he did not write.

    Yeahno.

    I mean, it’s possible they’re both that fucking stupid — I can’t rule that out. But I can tell you I’ve been blogging on deadline for some time now, and I have yet to steal substantial amounts of writing from anyone else. Sure, I could probably thank Dooce every time I use all caps for emphasis, and Sady Doyle every time I get exclamation point happy, and I don’t always correct people who credit me with coining the phrase “rack of doom,” even though I’ve explained a bunch of times that I stole it from someone on Fatshionista ages ago. I’m not saying I’m perfect. But you know what I don’t do? Copy other people’s work into my own files and then magically forget that I didn’t write it.

    And you know how I don’t do that? It’s a pretty simple process.

    1) I don’t copy other people’s work into my own files. When I find something I want to quote later, I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.

    2) I read everything over multiple times as I’m going along, and at least twice before I hit “publish.” Even this doesn’t keep me completely typo-free or prevent me from sometimes publishing dumbassed shit. But it’s a pretty reliable way to familiarize myself with what my own writing looks like, lest I confuse it with someone else’s.

    3) I link to every online source I quote, and when it’s a longer passage, I often use the fancy internet blockquote function. This also helps minimize my own natural confusion between my writing and other people’s.

    Here’s an example. Felix Salmon writes:

    Kouwe once wrote, in an email quoted by Teri Buhl: ”Things move so quickly on the Web that citing who had it first is something that is likely going away, especially in the age of blogs.”

    Anybody who can or would write such a thing has no place working on a blog. If it’s clear who had a story first, then the move into the age of blogs has made it much easier to cite who had it first: blogs and bloggers should be much more generous with their hat-tips and hyperlinks than any print reporter can be.

    I did not write any of that. It really works!

    4) On the rare occasion when I do hit “publish” without remembering to include an appropriate link — it happens**** — I usually notice it when I read the piece over again. Things that tip me off to missing links: The name of another writer, the name of another website, quotation marks, blockquotes, phrases like “As X at Y put it…” If you routinely include such markers when you quote another writer’s work, you will have no trouble later identifying where your own work would benefit from a link to the source.

    5) Also, I don’t pretend I wrote things I didn’t write.

    That’s it — my whole system for not plagiarizing! And since this blog is coming up on its three-year anniversary with exactly zero instances of a writer here being unsure of whether she wrote something or stole it, I feel confident recommending that system to others. Please feel free to pass my advice along to any veteran journalists you know who understand nothing about online communication and thus assume they won’t get caught — er, rather, get all confuzzled by the pace of blogging and can’t remember who wrote what. Just don’t fucking forget where you found it.

    *See how I credited another blogger, and included a link? Not actually hard.

    **And again!

    ***Works for old media types with an online presence, too!

    ****In fact, I forgot to link to the Fatshionista Livejournal community where it’s mentioned above before I first pubbed this post. Oops!

  176. (Sorry Kate, I copied and pasted you for the purpose of judicious quoting, but then I forgot which bits I’d written).

    Great post!

  177. And Sweet Machine, um, I took that test too. I don’t see how that’s relevant.

    I’m not trying to one-up you; I’m just presenting that as a counter to the study you describe, which I still don’t think is really germane to the plagiarism discussion. I understand that you’re not condoning plagiarism. I just don’t see the applicability of an experiment to see whether people who have not yet been trained in certain types of culturally specific knowledge can spontaneously exhibit that knowledge. I’m not trying to be aggressive; I guess I just find myself thoroughly unsurprised by the results you describe.

  178. None of this is within the context of academia. Does that make a difference?

    Are you claiming that you wrote things that you didn’t? That’s the main test. If you’re running a personal website, you might be able to plagiarize something and not ever get caught for it, but if you are claiming someone else’s words or ideas as your own, then you’re plagiariazing no matter the context.

    Here is an extensive guide to avoiding plagiarism (from the Office of Research Integrity at the US Dept of Health & Human Services) for anyone who’s curious.

  179. Mrph, I freely admit that while right now it seems that zomg THERE IS A LINK, right now everything seems to link to narrative theory for me, because my comps are on narrative theory, and those are in about a month. So.

    In any case, I was getting at the idea that we DO expect “people who have not been trained in certain types of culturally specific knowledge to exhibit that knowledge” when it comes to literature, because there is a strong cultural expectation that great art is somehow, well, ipso facto, great, and recognized by children, small animals, and lemeurs alike as such. (like that subway violin experiment). You know, the idea of the genius and all that.

    Thus, if we plagiarize a “great” artist, there is some expectation that of COURSE it will be found out, because his/her greatness will shine through the work magically. My only point here is, it doesn’t automatically do so, and we shouldn’t expect it to.

  180. To tie in SnM, SwM, and Alexandra Erin’s posts; lots of kids in college are there b/c that’s what their ‘rents expect them to do in order to have the next 4 years of their life paid for, and to have any hope of getting a job that won’t cause them endless grief at family holidays. More’s the pity.

    I do community theater. We did “Godspell” one year. One of the cast was Japanese-American, and a Sr. at MIT. And gay. He was double-majoring in engineering and music at MIT, but his parents only knew about the engineering. He HATED engineering, despite getting good grades. He LOVED music – and also got good grades (IIRC, he did some sort of honors composition project). He had a gorgeous voice and was soooo much fun to work with.

    Our production was just after his graduation. His parents came to the very last performance – sort of unexpectedly, they weren’t that into his “silly music hobby”, then came breifly to the cast party. He came out to his parents about his music major, his boyfriend (also at the party), and his intention never ever ever to do engineering ever ever again. They walked out on him, claiming to disown him. Not over the boyfriend. Over the music. I don’t know if they stayed that angry, but at the point he moved to the west coast 6 months later and we lost touch, they still were not talking to him.

    Gah! Hey parents – let your kids do what they want to with their lives. Then they won’t wind up wasting their or their teachers’ time, or plagarizing, or flunking out. Oh, and if you don’t approve, don’t be jerks about it.

  181. Oh, shit I just reread that and it might look like I was doing the asians-good-at-math trope. The Japanese-American part was relevant b/c how he was able to get away with having a major his parents didn’t know about was they were in Japan a lot of the time.

  182. I get what you’re saying now, chava. And good luck on your comps! You will kick ass! When I was a month out from my exams, everything was exam-related in my head too. :-)

  183. Here are some god rules to prevent you from ever accidently Plagiarizing anyone else’s work….

    1) I don’t copy other people’s work into my own files. When I find something I want to quote later, I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking.

    2) I read everything over multiple times as I’m going along, and at least twice before I hit “publish.” Even this doesn’t keep me completely typo-free or prevent me from sometimes publishing dumbassed shit. But it’s a pretty reliable way to familiarize myself with what my own writing looks like, lest I confuse it with someone else’s.

    3) I link to every online source I quote, and when it’s a longer passage, I often use the fancy internet blockquote function. This also helps minimize my own natural confusion between my writing and other people’s.

    :)

  184. Thalia – if you’re doing research and then using it to write your goddess articles, I would say that at minimum you need a bibliography. Whereas if you are writing these pieces off the top of your head without having done any research (as if you were writing a letter to someone or standing in front of a class giving an informal presentation), I can see why you’d feel citing isn’t necessary. It’s a grey area, that one.

  185. @Thalia … among the reasons for proper citations and bibliographies, are that they’re resources for other scholars. So … my call on it for a little popular book would be to skip the footnotes or in-text citations – unless it’s a direct quote, or along the lines of ‘In 1846 Helium Exilio said ….’ – but do put in a bibliography.

  186. has anyone read Mike Rose’s Lives on the Boundary? anyone?

    I have, though it was a few years ago, and shortly before I gave up on the idea of teaching comp. (I’ve never taught a class, only worked one semester in the writing center, dropped out of that master’s halfway through.) Class is obviously a hugely important element to consider — and it’s come up several times on this thread, though it certainly bears more discussion. But another thing this thread demonstrates is that plenty of student plagiarism comes from kids with privileged backgrounds and top-notch college prep.

    As one of those (former) kids, I can tell you we started learning about proper citation in elementary school — which I remember because the first time a teacher accused me of plagiarism was in 6th grade. It also happened in 8th grade. Since this was the stone age and there was no Google, both times, it was just a hunch on the teacher’s part — based on the fact that my essays were “too good” for me to have written them. (Turns out I had writing talent — go figure.) After I told the 8th grade (history) teacher I’d cited everything that wasn’t mine, he took the time to look at old essays of mine and ask around the English department, then eventually concluded that I was a strong writer and gave me an A. The 6th grade (social studies) teacher just stood by his assessment that no one my age could have written that essay, so the C- stood. And about 25 years later, it still pisses me off.
    /tangentrant

    Point being, on the highly privileged public school end of the continuum, they were drilling that shit into our heads by the end of grade school — and kids from my school still plagiarized all the time, and undoubtedly continued to do so in college. There was absolutely no excuse for it, which means those kids probably are more likely to be the blatant plagiarizers who do it out of laziness/sense of entitlement/assumption they won’t get caught (and can pull strings if they do). That certainly informs my kneejerk “Come on, how could you NOT know better?” reaction — and if I were teaching, I’d need to check the hell out of that when dealing with students from different backgrounds. But there are a whole lot of kids who do know better — and have every resource available to them to do their own work — and pretend they wrote shit they didn’t write anyway. And I daresay those are the ones drawing most of the ire in this thread.

  187. Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you for calling out plagiarists and this unbelievably stupid, lame excuse, Kate. *fangirls you obsequiously* Having been involved in Harry Potter fandom and learning the whole sordid story of Cassandra Claire’s plagiarism, the whole concept pisses me off so much. She and Cassie Edwards (writer of romances that shame the whole genre) both plagiarized extensively from other, better, harder-working writers, and both had fanpoodles galore trying to defend their utterly indefensible actions. Part of what made me love Nora Roberts was when she went on the Smart Bitches Trashy Books website and told all the asshole Cassie Edwards fangirls off. The conversation went something like this, I believe:
    CE Fangirls: OMG U gaiz are so meeeeeeaaaaannn u r just jelos of Cassie being a bestselling riter n u r just stupid bloggers n plagerism is a victimless crime anyway…
    La Nora: Hi. If you compare our time on the bestseller lists, I think you’ll see that I’ve outsold Cassie Edwards by a fair margin for a number of years. As such, I think it’s safe to say I’m not jealous that she’s a bestselling writer and I’m not. She’s still frogsucking pondscum and should have to pay the consequences of stealing from other writers. (Except she was way more classy than that, but you get the picture.)

    Last year, I had a classmate copy a discussion post and use the thesaurus feature to change some of my words around, then post it as her own. I don’t know how she thought she’d get away with it, since I was in the class and had to respond to her post-and she only changed maybe twenty words in a 200-odd word post! I felt dirty and used, and it was just a stupid discussion post that I spent about 20 minutes on-I can’t even imagine how it would feel to have someone steal your creative work or something you had diligently researched and documented. I don’t understand people who say they never had to cite anything in school-my school district is freaking awful, and I learned about citing sources in FIFTH GRADE. It’s really not that hard-you can find MLA guides all over the place online, and APA is a little harder to track down but still findable. I’m taking classes through University of Phoenix right now, and they even have a citation generation where you type the information into the field and push a button and it GIVES YOU THE CITATION. It doesn’t really get much easier than that!

  188. (comes in late to the discussion…)

    @SnarkysMachine – A comp course for science majors sounds totally awesome. I don’t think a lot of undergrad science majors realize just how much writing there is in the sciences. And guess what? We can’t plagiarize either (which just might explain why my EndNote library is freaking huge).

    @hsofia – “…the average PhD in Physics or Chemistry or whatever could get easily get a PhD in French Literature if he had to, whereas the average PhD in French Literature could not easily get the PhD in Physics or Chemistry.” Um, no. Just, no. I don’t think anyone “easily” gets a PhD in any subject, but I do realize that a PhD in French Literature takes a lot of hard work. And I’m pretty sure that I could not do it, despite being *this* close to one in Chemistry. For one thing, I don’t speak French…

    One thing that strikes me a difficult with plagiarism in the sciences is that there’s not a whole lot of variation ways you can say some things. “A was mixed with B”, for example. Now, of course the precedent has to be cited, but the phrasing of certain concepts in one’s own words can be problematic. And I think the idea of putting concepts in your own words can be difficult to learn. Why is changing one word not using one’s own words? I think when people are first learning to write this is not a clear cut area. I’m not saying it excuses plagiarism, just that I can see that it might be difficult to grasp at first.

    But then again, I don’t copy other people’s work into my own files. When I find something I want to quote later, I do this fancy internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other fancy internet thing called bookmarking. :-) (Adding the smiley totally makes it my own, right?)

  189. Darnit… I forgot to add my favorite plagiarism story….

    As part of my undergrad research, I wrote a part of a lab manual and its accompanying solutions guide. I then TA’d the course that used said lab manual, with my name right there on the cover. Two of my students *photocopied* the solution guide and tried to hand it in as their own work. They didn’t even rewrite or retype the answer; they freaking PHOTOCOPIED my work! Did they think I couldn’t tell my work from theirs? To make matters even worse, the lab coordinator didn’t fail them for the course or even for the assignment. They only lost the marks for that question. Grr. And the TA who gave them the solution guide didn’t think he had done anything wrong because that question was “hard”. Um, yeah, that was kinda the point. Grr.

  190. What Kate just said.

    I was in a public primary school that, at the time (it later changed) only accepted students who tested out above a certain level on admissions IQ tests. This was in the early 1960s; it was said to be part of some experimental program associated with Cal Berkeley, and the school was *swimming* in money. I was offered the opportunity to apply because my mum worked for the university. Anyway, we were taught about things like this practically from day one first grade, and there was still plenty of plagiarism. More, I suspect, since we were all under tremendous pressure to ‘live up to our potential,’ and our scores on the ubiquitous IQ tests were open secrets. Yeah, I wasn’t too happy there.

    @Jamie, I found it especially amusing that Cassie Edwards was caught plagiarizing from an article on black-footed ferrets. I loved it when Smart Bitches interviewed the author – he was adorable, and adorably confused.

  191. @SnarkysMachine – A comp course for science majors sounds totally awesome. I don’t think a lot of undergrad science majors realize just how much writing there is in the sciences.

    It was really a great idea that often was poorly executed. We also had “Math for Liberal Arts Majors” and I joked, “What, do they sit around dishing their feelings about math, its historical context and application to their lives?”

    Except nobody laughed.

  192. @ Kate

    I too was accused of plagiarism in the 6th grade because my research paper (with the proper citations!) for National History Day was clearly too intelligent to have been written by a 12 year old. I still haven’t gotten over it.

  193. Seconding Kate’s comment–I actually find the rich kids I went to school with MORE likely to plagiarize/have mommy write their papers and see it as NOTHING. It was like they were just entitled to it.

    Now, I know part of that is that you get a permenant chip on your shoulder being the “poor kid” in a rich school system, but damn if I didn’t see a lot of cheating going on. Especially on the parental end of things. And they most certainly *did* know better. And if they were to be caught, they had a better safety net to avoid being kicked out than I did, that’s for sure.

  194. I really do wish our universities would follow this required ‘first-year comp’ course, which seems to be common at American institutions. (My university did have one required course, on reasoning and rhetoric, when it was first founded several decades ago, but that’s long gone.) I’m tired of being expected to teach them basic writing skills when I should be teaching them sociology; I’m simply not trained to do so.

  195. @Thalia: I’m a doctoral candidate in Religious Studies and yes, you should be citing the sources of your information, whether you’re an academic or not. Some of us spend a lot of time and money to get advanced degrees so that we can teach and write and be taken seriously as scholars of religions. It’s demeaning to have our ideas stolen as it is for a blogger. This applies even if your sources aren’t trained academics, but faith practitioners. And there is a big difference between the academic study of goddess tradtions (ancient or modern) and the faith-based study of goddess traditions it’s like studying the New Testament from an academic perspective or a faith-based perspective.

    Also to everyone: The “my degree is harder than yours” argument is just silly. PhDs are, pretyt much by definition, hard. They’re just hard in different ways.

  196. Vidya108,
    In high school history and civics classes I spend an awful lot of time teaching basic reading and writing skills that should have been learned between 3 and 6th grade. Part of the problem is expecting English Language Learners (formerly ESL) to pick it up as they go along, which I think is dreadfully unfair for everyone*, but part of it is kids whose primary language is English but who’ve been passed up the grades without ever learning this stuff.

    *I want to be very clear here: ELL students are full students and have the same right to education as everyone else. My problem is with the prevailing “throw them into content classes and they’ll pick up English cause they’ll have to” model. We do our best with the system we have but I don’t think one class can simultaneously challenge the advanced students, help the struggling students, and teach remedial English without shortchanging anyone.

  197. Jamie: That Nora Roberts story is awesome. That said, “pathetic,” “cheesy,” or “half-assed” might be better substitutions for “lame” in your opening sentence. (I’ve been working really hard on de-ablism-ing my vocabulary lately, and that one’s been pretty tough, which means I notice it everywhere.)

    Vidya108: I’m not sure how much freshman comp helps. My university does require it, and I still get a lot of really bad writing, and a lot of “complicated = good writing” stuff. Usually I can discourage the latter pretty fast: getting back your oh-so-fancy paper covered in red ink correcting your grammar, syntax, and spelling, and stating the actual definitions of words you’ve misused — “secrete” and “excrete” are apparently hard to keep straight, as are “digest” and “ingest” — is apparently an effective learning experience. (Except when it isn’t; one student kept it up, despite numerous instructions to the contrary, until I handed back one of his assignments with a worse-than-usual grade and the comment “Endeavor to eschew all forms of syntax which may be found to be convoluted, as well as needlessly magniloquent verbiage.”)

  198. @ Kate: Agreed. I just hear so many of my (mostly white, upper-middle-class-background peers talk about how stupid and lazy their students are, when so many of them (maybe not most, but enough for it to matter), are actually quite bright and working their asses off trying to adjust to what’s basically a whole new culture, with it’s own language (often literally) and rules of conduct. Thus, my petulance. :)

    One last thing, then I’ll get off my high horse (His name is Princess!): I think it’s important to distinguish between “bad” writing and prose written in non-Standard English. Undergraduates do need to learn Standard English, but that doesn’t mean the ideas that they express (in the variant of English they speak outside the classroom) are intrinsically lacking merit (again, an assumption I hear a lot of my meat-world peers expressing). [O.K. that was kind of off-topic. Time to hush up.]

  199. @ aleks: There’s a good chance I’ll be teaching freshman comp in the Fall, and I, too, would love to distribute this post and thread to the my students. Properly attributed, of course.

  200. My big problem with someone telling me I need to be sensitive to my students’ backgrounds with regard to whether they can properly put citations into a term paper is that I’m not a fucking English professor, nor do I teach writing. There’s an entire department of English professors, as well as the writing center, on my campus. It is not my goddamned job to teach this to them. It was the job of their high school English teachers and it is the job of the college writing teachers. And yet I end up having to be the evil bitch queen just to prevent the worst of the offenses in my classes and I have to waste valuable time and energy covering these basic elements of college level writing in class because of this. Which takes time away from the subjects I am supposed to be covering, and I don’t appreciate that. Which leads me to say to the students, “Do it right or you will suffer. If you don’t know how, GO FIND OUT ON YOUR OWN.”

    There’s also the problem of hearing the “But I didn’t know it was wrong” excuse about 200 times in the first couple of years I was teaching. There comes a point where you’ve heard the excuse from so many different students who may appear on the surface to have dissimilar backgrounds (and guess what, college professors do not have ready access to a student’s high school transcripts so they can look these things up) that I flat out do not accept it anymore regardless of who is telling me.

    I also require written proof if there’s a death in the family. No I am not kidding.

    DRST

  201. My big problem with someone telling me I need to be sensitive to my students’ backgrounds with regard to whether they can properly put citations into a term paper is that I’m not a fucking English professor, nor do I teach writing. There’s an entire department of English professors, as well as the writing center, on my campus.

    Your absolutely right, DRST. And I’ll be the first to say that English departments across the U.S. have dropped the ball. Too many comp instructors are English grad students (nothing wrong with that) who insist on teaching a literature class instead of a writing class (something majorly wrong with that). Part of the reason so many students are showing up in advanced classes with no grasp of proper academic conduct is because there’s been a failure to introduce them to the culture of “higher learning.”

    I’m in no way saying these students are owed a pass. Give the kid an F, fail the kid for the course, hell kick the kid out of school. But lazy and stupid are heavy, heavy words–words that too many people hear way too much.

  202. @mickey – thanks! At least that’s one person whose experience differs. I’ll add that to my little pile of arguments against that mindset.

  203. I have to wonder: Are even print publications these days hiring for how people will look on camera as a representative of said publication, and how charismatic and well-spoken they are, with their writing and reporting skills being a secondary or even tertiary consideration? I’ve been suspecting this is the case for quite a while now, especially at high-profile media outlets like the NYT. Therefore, as flimsy-ass as Kouwe’s excuses are, I can’t find it in me to let his (erstwhile) employer off the hook. (I almost typed “erstwhite,” heh.) You don’t buy a Jaguar for the gas mileage. (That’s not to say that a good-looking, charismatic young person couldn’t be a really good writer or reporter, just that they wouldn’t notice someone without all of those qualities who was one.)

  204. @SnarkysMachine re: Math for Liberal Arts Majors – I laughed! Well, snorted, actually.

    I TA’d Chemistry for Non-Science Majors, and it was one of the best group of students I’ve ever had. They were engaged, and the experiments were fun. So, I think some of these less traditional classes can work.

  205. That said, “pathetic,” “cheesy,” or “half-assed” might be better substitutions for “lame” in your opening sentence.

    Thanks for calling that out — I’d like to add that there’s a fair amount of “idiot” and “moron” floating around this thread, and I’d prefer we stay away from those terms.

    And I’ll be the first to say that English departments across the U.S. have dropped the ball. Too many comp instructors are English grad students (nothing wrong with that) who insist on teaching a literature class instead of a writing class (something majorly wrong with that).

    You know, I taught comp as a TA in a department which required some pretty rigorous training for it, and we were told that we were specifically *not* supposed to teach grammar issues — that wasn’t our job, and we were specifically instructed not to do it. Now, two things: 1) that was just about grammar, and not about rhetoric or documentation or most of the things we’ve talked about in this thread; and 2) most of us did it anyway, because how could you not? I was never clear on what the “don’t teach grammar” mandate was about, but it was not about decisions made by the individual instructors.

    I also require written proof if there’s a death in the family. No I am not kidding.

    I hope you don’t have any kind of timeline on this. I cannot even begin to imagine how incapable of doing this I would have been in the weeks right after my mom died — not to mention how angry I would be at being required to do it. It makes me cringe just to read that sentence.

  206. I was never clear on what the “don’t teach grammar” mandate was about, but it was not about decisions made by the individual instructors.

    Very short answer: Grammar instruction — especially the old school kind — doesn’t really work for most students, and it just frustrates people and keeps them focused on the trees instead of the forest. Of course, not being able to prioritize grammar was one of the things that frustrated me so much I realized I’m not cut out to teach comp. But I can appreciate that trying to teach it is mostly a losing battle that just alienates students.

  207. One thing that bugs me about the plagiarizing thing is how many repeat offenders still use the, “I didn’t know” defense. If caught once and not chased off the planet with torches, they will plagiarize again, thinking they have to be craftier rather than further develop their research and writing skills.

    It’s like sitcom memory syndrome or something.

  208. @KH –
    The only problem with that is, for those of us who might’ve learned differently, that some students never learn it — everything I learned about English grammar I learned from taking advanced Spanish and French literature classes, and the gaps in my education haunt me (they haunt me still — we’re talking, like, five minutes ago they haunted me while I was trying to analyze a piece’s syntax).

    I’d submit, respectfully — also, coming from a family of educators, so this stuff is debated ad nauseam — that it’s the way the subject matter is/was being taught (or, rather, not taught), not the subject matter itself, that’s at such horrendous fault.

    I mean, just for the most simplistic example, I learned about visual, aural, and kinaesthetic differences in learning ability from reading Anthony freaking Robbins. You don’t see methodologies adapted to even those basic learning differences in a standard curriculum for any subject, let alone something that can be as dry and pedantic as grammar.

  209. @Sweet Machine & Kate: The way I look at it is that grammar can’t be taught, but it can be learned. I think only a minority of people benefit from memorizing rules and diagramming sentences, but reading, writing, and speaking academically can create kind of an immersion process. Everyone here writes so well (barring typos) primarily because we read ’til our eyes bleed, write ’til our fingers fall off, and talk til our tongues seize up. I’m sure that some of us get a kick out of grammar manuals and linguistic rigmarole (myself included), but are we really learning grammar from these things, or our we learning vocabulary to speak about the grammar we already know?

    If this is O/T, I apologize. (This is why I Ninged you about it, SM.) :)

  210. “The way I look at it is that grammar can’t be taught, but it can be learned.”
    No. Nonononono.

    That way you run into cultural differences and assumptions and “you should just know” attitudes on the part of teachers.

    It can be taught. It just has to be taught differently from the standard way it’s being taught now in order to be effective.

  211. littlem: I must not have expressed myself well. If I stand in front of a room and lecture a group of students about subjects and predicates and then make them diagram sentences, I’m not going to get anywhere. If I have students read, and write about what they read, and talk about what they wrote about what the read, they will begin to obtain an intuitive sense of how the grammar of standard English works.

    This model, in my opinion, can be applied to most languages (or at least ones written phonetically–there’s a big gap in my knowledge of non-Indo-European linguistics), including vernaculars, creoles, etc.

    I definitely don’t follow the philosophy that we’re born with an innate understanding of grammar. I do believe that grammar cannot be taught through rote memorization.

    Clumsy analogy: If I read an advanced French textbook, doing all the exercises, memorizing all the rules, my spoken and written French will still be kind of pathetic. If I move to a French-speaking country, engage in conversation with native speakers, read the daily newspaper, write notes to my French friends, I’ll learn to speak and write French well. It will take time, and I will need to have numerous French friends who gently guide me through the learning process, correcting my mistakes *after* I’ve made them. By the time I’m speaking and writing fluently, I can say that I have learned French grammar. But no one has taught it to me.

  212. I’m not in the best of states to argue semantics currently, and there are a lot of words in your response, so I’m just — intuiting — that what I put here may appear somewhat terse.

    If you look at what I said to Kate upthread, I mentioned I learned English grammar from studying French and Spanish literature, basically the way you described teaching your students reading in English – with one critical exception:

    After reading things in context, the instructors took the time to explain and apply the technical grammatical definitions of what we were looking at to what we just read.

    It’s that last step — and also, as I said upthread, I come from a family of educators, from the elementary to the post-graduate level, so we discuss this stuff all the time — that distinguishes “active teaching” from “the kids’ll intuitively pick it up”.

    (We won’t even get into the selection of what they’re actually reading and the implications of what they might and might not pick up based on that. )

    Cultural assumptions inform grammatical structures.

    Now, you may have unintentionally omitted the last step from your statement, based on your assumption that I would have intuited it, that it was just assumed.

    I’m hoping I made my point without being what might be culturally construed as “short”.

    (I also believe the modality you describe so fully in your last paragraph is generally referred to as “holistic”. It does not preclude more formal instruction.)

  213. I’ve realized that because my second to last comment appears right after yours, littlem, that it might appear as if it is a direct response to what you wrote. It is not: I was writing (and posting) my comment as you were posting yours. My comment was written as a direct response to Sweet Machine’s statement that I was never clear on what the “don’t teach grammar” mandate was about and Kate’s response to that comment.

  214. Now, you may have unintentionally omitted the last step from your statement, based on your assumption that I would have intuited it, that it was just assumed.

    Yes, I did. (Larger) Point taken. I’ll have to mull this over for a while before responding more fully.

    But I’m not pulling this philosophy out of my ass: Hartwell, Patrick. “Grammar, Grammars, and the Teaching of Grammar.” College English 47.2 (1985): 105-27. JSTOR. . My teaching philosophy is influenced by this article; perhaps I should have cited it earlier.

  215. I’m just — intuiting — that what I put here may appear somewhat terse.

    I’m hoping I made my point without being what might be culturally construed as “short”.

    I have to say, that there’s a fine line between “terse” and “condescending.” The reason my last comment had “a lot of words” is a sign of my own attempt not to cross that line. You may have aimed for brevity, but I’m just left feeling patronized. Now, of course my cultural assumptions are influencing what I personally define as polite discourse. Your own delineations are in all likelihood quite different.

    Nonetheless, because of your “short” response, I am unsure if you are assuming that my teaching philosophy stems from an ethnocentric world view. Culture does indeed affect styles of learning–I’m in full, enthusiastic agreement with you there–but so does power. Which is why I keep harping on the issues of classism and ablism that pervade academic discourse, even among progressive-minded teachers and scholars. By focusing on the verb to learn rather than to teach, I’m attempting to distribute power more equally and yes, take a “holistic” approach to teaching.

    I apologize for belaboring the point.

    Yes, that sentence that last sentence is pure sarcasm. Sometimes I feel the immature urge to return in kind. Brevity may be the essence of wit, but it does not necessarily aid clarity.

    I realize that I’m a relatively new commenter here (longtime lurker though), and that you are not just an active and respected commenter here, but on other blogs as well. You command respect. Respect you have earned. As you said above, you “come from a family of educators”—a position not just of expertise, I might add, but privilege); you have advanced degrees (I’m assuming again), probably more than I. Your words hold more weight than my own. You have more power. The power to imply that I’m too lazy to closely read your comments and too stupid to fully understand that of which I speak.

  216. littlem
    “The way I look at it is that grammar can’t be taught, but it can be learned.”
    No. Nonononono.

    That way you run into cultural differences and assumptions and “you should just know” attitudes on the part of teachers.

    It can be taught. It just has to be taught differently from the standard way it’s being taught now in order to be effective.

    I agree completely with littlem. Grammar is a bear to teach and a bastard to learn but it has to be done. But almost nobody’s going to perfect it without deliberate, methodical instruction, and those who come closest will be those whose parents speak “proper” “white” English*.

    *I’m realize that it’s privileged and prejudicial to disregard other forms of English (some say dialects), but college admissions officers and employers will undoubtedly prefer applicants who speak The President’s English.

  217. I had a lot of difficulty teaching grammar, and I think one of the reasons it’s such a tricky subject is that it’s a weird cross between English and science–applying structure and categorization and rules to writing and speaking. So not only does it have the potential to trip you up no matter which discipline you’re better at, it also requires a kind of thought that people usually don’t associate with English class. Diagramming a sentence is kind of like cutting open a frog to identify the organs and see how the various parts fit together.

    I do think that a lot of grammar can be picked up through osmosis, through a lot of reading and writing, but the problem with instinctive grammar is that you have no vocabulary to discuss it. That makes it incredibly difficult to add to or correct that instinctive knowledge. How can you explain that a pronoun has to agree with the word it refers back to (even without calling that word an antecedent) to someone who doesn’t know what a a pronoun is or what “agreement” means?

    I think sentence diagramming is valuable for some people because it shows you how the parts of a sentence relate to each other. The problem is that there’s a whole language of symbols and structure that you have to memorize before you can do anything useful with it. I don’t know if that means it needs to be taught more and earlier and more consistently or that it’s an esoteric language that’s only useful to English geeks and copyeditors.

    I don’t know what its status in education theory is now, but I really liked Nancie Atwell’s ideas about teaching grammar as it relates to students’ own writing, rather than trying to do it separately in a vacuum.

  218. I should clarify that the “don’t teach grammar” rule was not about doing formal, extensive lessons in grammar (which indeed would have been out of place in a class that was specifically about rhetoric), but rather about things like “Well, what if I spend 5 minutes of class talking about when to use semicolons and when to use commas, since half my students mess that up in their papers.” We were told not to do the latter, because it wasn’t our job, even if it was something that clearly came up for a number of students. I’ve found, just in my own teaching experience, that a lot of people with otherwise very good educational backgrounds have really just never had anyone explain certain grammatical things to them in a clear way, and they really benefit from explicit instruction. I think that’s a way of enacting the intuition + instruction model that littlem describes — even if you’ve been speaking English your entire life and are a very strong writer, it can be hard to simply intuit certain practices if no one has ever required you to.

  219. TA Aleks’ quick guide to the proper use of semicolons: Replace semicolon with period-space-capital. Of course, as always in English, there are exceptions. But in this case I don’t think very many!

  220. TA Aleks’ quick guide to the proper use of semicolons: Replace semicolon with period-space-capital. Of course, as always in English, there are exceptions. But in this case I don’t think very many!

    Well, and that’s the thing about grammar instruction – I’ve yet to see a grammar lesson that didn’t confuse the instructor’s preferences for rules. And that’s why I’m wary of teaching grammar; if we could find a way to lick that particular cultural tendency, I’d be all for it.

  221. For learners, English really seems to me to be the worst of all worlds. It is extremely irregular and illogical because it’s a meatloaf that’s half French, half German, a quarter Latin and a third Other. Yet there’s a right and wrong way to do it, even if a combination of lifelong familiarity *plus* rote memorization are the only way to learn those – there are few patterns that can guide you with any great consistency. Either I’m hugely deficient in my understanding and explanations, or else when it comes to English grammar the answer to “why” is usually “because”.

  222. For the record, I agree at least partly with both moosemuse AND littlem.

    The question of whether grammar can be formally taught is pretty much an endless debate, and I am personally inclined toward believing — hoping? — there MUST be a way. But at least a few years ago when I was doing a master’s in writing theory and pedagogy, the prevailing wisdom was that formal grammar instruction (especially via rote memorization) rarely works and too often involves a lot of classism/ableism, as moosemuse said, so it’s best avoided. And that’s based on a lot of research I can acknowledge is thorough and compelling, even though I stubbornly believe/hope there must be a way. Like I said, it’s actually one of the (many) reasons I decided not to continue on that path — I really was not on board with a lot of the prevailing wisdom for various reasons, yet I was not passionate enough about it to want to be a professional contrarian. But at the same time, I don’t think the stuff I couldn’t fully accept was just being pulled out of established scholars’ asses — and it’s entirely possible that in the big picture, I’m flat-out wrong.

    The thing is, like anything else, when you say something doesn’t work for MOST people, that means there are some people it works for. And when most (ha) of us are forming opinions on how writing should be taught, we start from our memories of what worked and didn’t work for us. The number one reason I don’t think I should be teaching comp is that almost none of what I know came from formal instruction. I suspect it came from reading constantly, which I only did because I loved it as soon as I started. And crucially, on top of that, I am an extraordinarily verbal person by nature — to the point where I’ve been diagnosed with a non-verbal LD just based on the fact that my mind processes verbal info a hell of a lot faster than any other kind. So I just kind of got it, very early, intuitively and painlessly — which means I am pretty much fucked for explaining it to someone who doesn’t get it.

    So. Personally — based more on gut feelings than anything else, frankly — I am a believer, like moosemuse, in the idea that reading widely is probably the best way to pick up grammar. I used to advise students in the writing center (especially if English wasn’t their first language) to read any crap that entertained them, instead of just slogging through assigned work that made it joyless for them — People magazine and romance novels will help you absorb grammar rules as well as anything else. But that is a long, slow, unpredictable method of learning, and there’s no telling if it will really work for people who struggle with verbal processing (and/or the language) or who will never love reading enough to do it as consistently and frequently as you’d need to. (Which is how much and how long? Who knows?)

    On the other hand, despite my aforementioned Very Good Education, I received very little formal grammar instruction in school — and when we were drilled in it, I could get all of the answers right, but couldn’t explain why (e.g., I knew whether to use “I” or “me,” but couldn’t remember which was nominative and which was objective and didn’t know why I should fucking care if I consistently used the right one). And like littlem, I found foreign language instruction cracked that code for me — except French and Spanish didn’t do it. My mama was right about this one: Latin (which I took for a year in college) taught me more about English grammar than I ever imagined. Except, there was still no real reason for me to give a shit, when I was already a perfectly good writer. And who knows how much that type of instruction would help anyone who is not me.

    So I would say, it CAN be taught — to some people. And it CAN be picked up by osmosis — by some people. But a method that works for MOST people remains elusive, and the larger debate is really about whether proper grammar is fundamental to good writing or not. And that debate makes my teeth itch, hence my decision to drop out (partly).

  223. My mama was right about this one: Latin (which I took for a year in college) taught me more about English grammar than I ever imagined. Except, there was still no real reason for me to give a shit, when I was already a perfectly good writer.

    Right, I think that’s important. Most students probably don’t need *much* formal instruction after a certain point, because grammar competence is really about having a functional skill, not being able to recite esoteric rules.

  224. Most students probably don’t need *much* formal instruction after a certain point, because grammar competence is really about having a functional skill, not being able to recite esoteric rules.

    I certainly agree with that, but of course expectations (not yours but by teachers’ and by God and all Her creations by NCLB standards) for when this point is reached is hugely skewed towards American born kids in good schools with parents who speak “normal” (not African American or various regional dialects) English well and insist they do. If I had the choice of assigning *either* reading good books or filling out worksheets to promote English, there’s no contest there, but both are necessary aids for much of the process.

  225. TA Aleks’ quick guide to the proper use of semicolons: Replace semicolon with period-space-capital. Of course, as always in English, there are exceptions. But in this case I don’t think very many!”

    Never; I love my semi-colons.

  226. In fact, my injudicious use of semi-colons (and adverbs) is how I manage to not copy other people’s work into my own files. If I see a passage and realize: Hey, there’s not a single semi-colon in here! then I know it’s not mine. But when I do want to copy a quote, I do this nifty internet thing called opening a new tab, and then I toggle between that and what I’m writing. If I need to close the tab for some reason before I’m done writing, I do this other nifty internet thing called bookmarking.

  227. Yeah. I learned more about language as such, and grammar as something interesting that strings language together–from Arabic and Hebrew.

    English I learned from reading it. I had a lot of trouble with being “taught” grammer and had to re-take loads of grammar tests. For example–I made a C on my 9th grade grammar final, and an 800 on the SAT verbal. There certainly is something intuitive about grammar absorption in native English speakers of a certain class/dialect. That doesn’t mean you can’t teach it later, but you absorb that first internal grammar.

  228. Looked at that sentence again–I didn’t mean to imply that upper middle class English speakers are the only people to absorb grammar/speech patterns that way, just that they do as well.

    I’ve done a fair bit of linguistics and my colleagues in those departments are firmly of the belief that the only way to teach in America now is to teach Standard English, yes, but as a separate course in schools where that is not the local English dialect, and to teach other subjects in the local English dialect or language and watch the academic performance improve.

    I’m not sure its that much of a silver bullet but it is an interesting idea.

  229. Sigh.
    This discussion has nothing to do with “power”, except perhaps in wider cultural senses. But it does seem to have gone off the rails at the meta-level.
    You seem very invested in attempting to “win” an “argument” that only you are having.

    (Also, longevity of commenting history … ???)

    At the point at which you feel compelled to insert journal citations to “prove” your “side” of the “debate” is “correct”, it occurs to me to invite you to see if any of these a href=” http://www.derailingfordummies.com/“> strategic choices resonate for you at all. Because I don’t like to have the same discussions with people over and over, especially if we’ve never talked before and something about your “rhetoric” rings suffocatingly familiar from discussions I’ve had – or watched other people have – with thousands of others.
    It’s, at best, inefficient.

    Also, if you make it a habit of throwing citations at your students in order to show them why the questions they’re asking you are “wrong” then I can certainly understand why some of them might be struggling – and I’d surmise it has nothing whatsoever to do with any of their grasp of grammar.

  230. ETA – the last was directed @moosemuse, and I apologize for the wonky link. My computer seems to be having a bit of a “selective cooperation” day.

  231. @ aleks–No, I was actually adressing Sweet Machine and Kate’s discussion more than any specific person, but it seemed a germane comment given the way the discussion had gone.

    Sorry if it was OT.

  232. “because grammar competence is really about having a functional skill”

    This.

    I think it’s amazingly ironic people seem to keep advocating so vociferously for holding on to the standard-English-American upperclass model blah blah when those of us who write as though they feel at least comfortable with their skills solidified them learning languages like Latin, Latinate languages, and Arabic.

    There are little non-rural all-white all-English speaking kids with Germanic and Nordic heritage who are having trouble learning English grammar under our current system.
    Does that make it more plain for some of you all? Or adjust your perspective at all?

    It’s not about the language. It’s not about “African America regional dialect” blah blah.
    It’s about methodology.

    In a better mood, the isolationist imperialist bias might amuse. Maybe.
    Until we’re all forced to start learning Chinese as a result of the shifting global economic balance.

    Here’s a tip — the kids who have the atrocious SPaG skills whom you read on the internet are the ones “white” and or rich enough to have computer access. The ones to whom you seem to be subliminally referring as you construct your arguments haven’t yet hit that data point.

    That might definately smoothe out your perspectives.
    Argh.

  233. So, littlem, I’m not exactly sure what you’re getting at (and did you *seriously* insult my language skills there??) but I feel like there are 2 different discussions here–

    My big beef is the distinction between prescriptive and descriptive grammar in education, period. I *understand* the need for language standardization, I do. I understand why we have to beat it into children’s heads. But I doubt that aspect of grammar will ever be intuitive for anyone, at any level. And, yes, a child raised by upper middle class parents will probably have a better intuitive grasp of the President’s English than someone with parents who speak German (my mother in law had years of speech therapy for her accent, for example).

    You might be able to tweak methodology to make it go down easier, and you can certainly face down things like racism and imperialism in language instruction and teach creoles and native languages (i.e., creole is taught in Haiti, FINALLY, Amazighii in Morocco, FINALLY), for native language instruction). I am a huge proponent of the right to learn in your mother tongue. I don’t see why you seem to be saying that is a bad thing? I mean, there are arguments to be made against it–that it can actually set the children back, that learning the imperialist language from the start actually gives them the advantage, but the data doesn’t generally support that.

  234. Um, I have re-read things twice, and had my coffee, and I believe I have over-reacted.

    Many years of foreign language instruction. We could say I am, ahem, over-invested in my grammatical competence.

  235. When a person has a functional amount of grammar to begin with, I question how often it’s necessary to explain to them the concept of pronouns agreeing with antecedents outside of someone “correcting” a use of singular they, a concept that has been part of English since before singular you was standard… the very fact that most English-speakers now use “you” as both singular and plural in all cases undercuts any arguments that singular they is too ambiguous. A gender neutral second personal pronoun is so useful and so necessary to modern life that we now have at least a half dozen competing models for it, but we have had one all along.

    Say it with me:

    A person can’t help their birth.

    There’s not a man I meet but doth salute me as if I were their well-acquainted friend.

    But then, I’ve often felt the world could do with less pedants.

  236. And guys, are we really discussing if there is an innate understanding of grammar that children are hardwired with? Cause, there is…

    Not the textbook kind of taught grammar, but a basic “how to put language together” grammar, yeeeeeah. I mean, I know I lean a little towards the generative side of the debate here, but it does seem that the large part of the neuro-linguistic evidence has piled up thataway.

    Incidentially, that’s part of why you don’t get to guilt mothers for baby-talk or not baby-talk. Cause it doesn’t fucking matter–the kid will learn to talk anyway.

  237. Argh, indeed, littlem. I don’t think I was derailing, but I do acknowledge being off-topic.

    At the point at which you feel compelled to insert journal citations to “prove” your “side” of the “debate” is “correct”, it occurs to me to invite you to see if any of these a href=” http://www.derailingfordummies.com/“&gt; strategic choices resonate for you at all. Because I don’t like to have the same discussions with people over and over, especially if we’ve never talked before and something about your “rhetoric” rings suffocatingly familiar from discussions I’ve had – or watched other people have – with thousands of others.
    It’s, at best, inefficient.

    Wow. Just wow. To say that bringing in issues of classism, ablism, and power into a discussion of on this site , of all place. Holy fuck. I’m not going to even begin to parse everything else that is wrong this passage. I’ve got shit to do.

    And the “debate” I’m trying to “win” is not about proving my pedagogy is “correct”; I am trying to present the argument that class, disability, and culture influence styles of pedagogy and standards of discourse (both in academia and, obviously, in this thread). If you find the content/i> of my argument weak or illogical, so be it. If you find the style of my rhetoric off-putting, well, nuts to you.

    It’s time for me to step back. I’ll continue reading, but I’ll keep my mouth shut/fingers still for a while. If I add anything further, it will be in the discussion thread I’m about to start on Ning. Come one, come all.

    If I see you there, littlem, I hope we can continue this discussion with a little less passive aggression and a little more civility.

  238. @AE:

    I do that all the time And I throw my overly educated, native speaker weight around to be allowed to do it as much as I possibly can. And I really think one of the only reasons I get away with it is that I am a native (white!) speaker of English.

    I also insist on being allowed to start sentences with a conjunction and end them with a preposition, and have done so since second grade. Grammar is what feels correct to the majority of the speakers of a language at any one time, damnit.

  239. @chava: I agree with the spirit of that but I don’t know if I’d phrase it that way… I don’t feel like anyone’s language should be suborned to the majority, so long as it accomplishes its purpose.

  240. Well, if you want to talk about what “the grammar” of such and such a language functionally is/exists as, such that speakers of that language can communicate with each other, I’d feel comfortable phrasing it that way.

    If you want to get more into individual style and the particulars of owning your own “grammar,” then I’m with you that it ceases to have meaning.

    Anyway, it’s pretty OT, so I’ll stop there.

  241. Alexandra Erin PERMALINK
    @chava: I agree with the spirit of that but I don’t know if I’d phrase it that way… I don’t feel like anyone’s language should be suborned to the majority, so long as it accomplishes its purpose.

    With respect both for your point and for a long history of comments that I’ve admired, what you or I think “should” be the case is entirely overwhelmed by what is. I’d love to be able to let students speak and write in any (legible/intelligible by The Man, me) way comes naturally to them. I’d much rather help them think of things to say than correct how they say it. But a teacher’s job is to prepare them for college and employment, and that means some level of conformity.

  242. For you teachers out there who despair that no one listens to the plagiarism warnings, I just saw a very interesting strategy on a messageboard (link should go right to the post in question, by a poster with the handle “pseudotriton ruber ruber” – I hope that’s adequate citation).

    He has a mandatory, open-book quiz on the syllabus at the start of the term, focusing largely on the plagiarism section. Anyone who gets a question wrong is required to submit a short essay including the answer to that question.

    This strategy at least cuts off the “I didn’t know” defense, since you have documentation of the student’s having actually written down the plagiarism policy on the quiz.

    I found it brilliant.

  243. aleks:

    I find that what is the case is overwhelmed by what The Man thinks should be, at least to the extent that The Man has power over a given walk of life. You do your students a service by preparing them to deal with society’s expectation, but whose service are you doing by selling that pitch outside the classroom?

  244. “(and did you *seriously* insult my language skills there??)”

    @chava –
    No.

    But never mind (I seem to be saying that a lot here lately).

    I’m starting to feel as though I’m at one of those interminable meetings with a bunch of white upper-middle-aged upper-middle-class school administrators who all got their Bachelor’s at Bucknell and whose 401Ks only fell a little who really don’t give a damn.

    Unless, you know, there’s a journal citation.

  245. littlem
    @aleks –
    Will you teach me some grammar? Me and my run-on sentences would love some semicolons.

    littlem,
    I’ve been on sick leave from SP so I may be unaware of recent dynamics here . . . are you playing to join in on a bit of banter between SM and myself or are you playing off being personally offended by it?

  246. Alexandra Erin
    aleks:
    You do your students a service by preparing them to deal with society’s expectation, but whose service are you doing by selling that pitch outside the classroom?

    I’m not sure what you’re referring to. I was explaining why I try to inflict “proper” grammar on my students even when it makes me feel chauvinist (in America) or downright imperialist (in Korea and Namibia). I didn’t mean to correct anyone here, nor do I go around harassing women who sell flowers about their speech.

  247. @aleks –

    Um.
    Wow.

    If you read upthread, I said I’ve always had trouble with English grammar and had more success learning about it via French and Spanish texts.

    Thanks for telling me how the request was perceived, though.

    *gets out*

  248. @aleks – I’m not your student. This isn’t your classroom. In light of those facts, I’m not at all sure what the conversation you think we’re having is, and so I’m not going to try to continue it.

  249. AE: I don’t understand. I never thought you anyone here was my student. I gave my opinion on how I thought grammar should be regarded in schools. I did not mean to correct yours or anyone else’s. I seem to have said something or implied something other than what I intended and I’m sorry. Have a nice evening.

  250. Uhh, what is going on here? Things are all heated today and I can’t even make out what the points of contention are anymore.

    And am I the only person here who isn’t in education? Can I get a baby flavored donut?

  251. aleks:

    Your defense of the standards you don’t like having to spend so much time on is couched in terms of the needs of your students in your classroom. If this isn’t your classroom and we’re not your students, why are you defending them here, even going so far as to reply to people who weren’t addressing your comments about your teaching methods in the first place?

    I’m not trying to be antagonistic, really I’m not. Basically I don’t understand why you’d throw up arguments against the erosion of something you apparently don’t support in the first place.

  252. Reason Number Umpteen why I left that grad program: A surprising number of discussions about how to teach writing and grammar ended up with at least half the room feeling pissed off and unheard.

    With that, I shall take a break.

  253. Reason Number Umpteen why I left that grad program: A surprising number of discussions about how to teach writing and grammar ended up with at least half the room feeling pissed off and unheard.

    With that, I shall take a break.

    *sitcom audience oohs*

    Seriously. As soon as I saw grammar and not plagiarizing I scuttled out of the discussion. Grammar discussions on the web, in my experience never go anywhere good.

  254. @iiii – I am home with no sweets (well I am too lazy – I mean, busy – to bake a cake) so that is much appreciated.

  255. My last three comments have all boiled down to the fact that I don’t understand why aleks is responding to what I said with a “with all due respect” rebuttal to tell me about the reality of his (apologies if I’ve misremembered your gender) classroom, so I’m not going to pretend that I had this thread to begin with.

    But then, I’ve also been staring at moosemuse’s screenname and trying to figure out if it’s Moose Emu SE or Moose Emus E, and what is signified by the final letter(s). :P

  256. @Twistie – mmm. Cupcakes. Speaking of which, have any of you tried Trader Joe’s carrot cake cupcakes? OHMYGOD. I don’t normally like carrot cake, but this stuff is uneffingbelievablydelicious. I ate a whole box (of four – they are large) in two days by myself. My husband eats vegan so he couldn’t have any. hahahaha. But I did buy him a bag of the truly yummy vegan chocolate chip cookies instead.

  257. It’s moose-muse. Make of it what you will. But it’s fun to say, i’init?

    I’ve been looking over the thread and I see that I was the one that originally introduced the topic of grammar. I’m so sorry! It’s an issue I actually love discussing with other graduate students the students I tutor, and other academically minded folks–there are so many fascinating intersections with literature, neurology, philosophy, sociology, and of course linguistics. This is actually the first time I’ve experienced a situation “which ended up with at least half the room feeling pissed off and unheard.” Oh, how naive I’ve been!

    So again, I apologize for derailing this thread.

    I could write more, but I’m trying to learn my lesson. :)

  258. I really have no idea what’s going on or what I’ve said or been heard to say. History suggests I said something douchy but I really don’t know what it was. If the problem is that I barged into a conversation that didn’t include me, then I’m sorry and didn’t mean to derail.

  259. It sounds to me like people are just using the “lol it’s the internet” excuse up front and then rationalizing it when they caught. That somebody could do this by accident just strains the credulity.

    The worst offenders, in my experience, have usually been traditional-media types. They are so intent on trying to pretend they do all their own reporting that they almost never acknowledge, without coercion, when they’re using somebody else’s stuff — much less link to it.

  260. This is actually the first time I’ve experienced a situation “which ended up with at least half the room feeling pissed off and unheard.”

    Then I wish I’d studied where you did. :) Either that or it was just me who constantly felt that way, and I projected it onto everyone else.

    But seriously, people are very passionate about this shit, for some good reasons (e.g., really wanting to help students) and some not so good (e.g., wanting to prove their pet theories right and/or their enemies’ wrong) and I’ve seen a lot of conversations like this, especially about grammar, go south. (Sometimes, I’ve been the reason they went south.) It’s an astonishingly loaded topic. Maybe not that astonishing, really, if you think about everything it touches on that’s been mentioned here — class, race, ability, isolationism, imperialism, societal expectations/demands, educational expectations/demands, seemingly (and sometimes truly) arbitrary rules, the difference between a raft of semi-useless knowledge and a functional skill, traumatic educational experiences, traumatic pedagogical experiences, being hassled by The Man, whether there’s any real point to taking Latin, etc. — but still. Grammar, for fuck’s sake. Go figure.

    Anyway, everyone who’s been commenting on this thread remains a Shapeling in good standing, and most of you who have been talking at cross-purposes seem to have figured out on your own to step back and breathe, but… step back and breathe, folks. We’ll still be here tomorrow.

  261. Ironically, my copy editing class had an exam yesterday about… grammar! And AP style. Which many of them flunked because they can’t spell. I’m considering requiring them to play freerice.org as homework. Anyway.

    Sweet Machine – I require written documentation to accept late work in all cases (which includes doctor’s notes and in a few cases has involved traffic tickets and arrest warrants – that was a fun day, “I wasn’t in class because I was in jail”), and the family deaths are the worst to enforce. But I also had a semester where I had 7 grandparents die in one class. I’m not saying they weren’t all true stories, but 7 in a row you start to get really jaded, hence the policy. I wish I could believe I could tell the students who are lying from the ones who are not, and sometimes it’s obvious who isn’t bullshitting you (immediate family deaths usually aren’t the ones who are lying. When we get into grandparents and aunts and uncles, that’s another story). But when I was teaching at a large university and dealing with over 200 students per semester, half of whom I only interacted with online, I had to adapt or be run over by excuses.

    The written documentation needs to be submitted *at some point* before the semester ends, btw. I do not tell a student who comes into my office in tears, “Give me an obituary right now or I won’t believe you.” It’s something I need when it’s convenient for the student, not for me.

    And fwiw, if a student comes to me or contacts me and says they have a family emergency of *any* kind, the first thing I tell them is to contact the Dean of Students, who will take care of contacting their professors for them, which spares the student a lot of stress, and also puts the weight of the Dean’s office behind the student, protecting them from these kinds of requirements (since the Dean saying “this is a legitimate emergency” basically is a request from the Dean for an accommodation from all professors).

    DRST

  262. Thanks for the clarification, DRST — I know it gets fishy and I know some students will play you if they get the chance. I’ve just seen one professor in particular be really, really, really insensitive to grief and how it fucks you over, so I feel a bit evangelical about it right now. (Thankfully everyone I have to deal with this year has been really wonderful.)

  263. @ littlem:

    “I’m starting to feel as though I’m at one of those interminable meetings with a bunch of white upper-middle-aged upper-middle-class school administrators who all got their Bachelor’s at Bucknell and whose 401Ks only fell a little who really don’t give a damn.

    Unless, you know, there’s a journal citation.”

    Look, I already said I re-read your earlier post and realized I over-reacted with that comment and was stepping back. And I really, really think you know fuck-all about my personal history, class, or financial status (or that of anyone else on the thread, for that matter) and might want to take my invitation to step the hell back with that last comment.

    And with that, good-night.

  264. Word of the day: gradsplaining

    Example of gradsplaining: most of my own comments on this thread.

    How embarrassing! :S

    JACK DONAGHY: We’re not the best people…
    LIZ LEMON: …but we’re not the worst.
    LIZ LEMON, JACK DONAGHY: (simultaneously) Graduate students are the worst!

    Have a good night, all! :)

  265. I did a degree in Physics and hence have only a vague idea of how citation works. If I needed to write a document with citation in, I’d look up how to do it, either online or in a library. But even *I* know that copying and pasting a bunch of stuff into a file that contains stuff you’ve written without even noting down who said it where and when is a Very Bad Idea. Someone who is a journalist as a living should know this, surely? I’m with all the people who think it’s a rather rubbish excuse.

  266. At my book club when someone references their grad studies to support their point about what Aravind Adiga really meant to say we give them the slow clap. As in sarcastic applause, not a prolonged STD.

  267. @Phoenix Woman: That’s okay, you’re just pre-quoting yourself to make future citations easier. We should all start doing that to make things easier on important journalists.

    -Alexandra Erin

  268. @aleks – I didn’t find what you said douchey. I simply don’t understand the point you’re trying to make to me. What has what goes on in your classroom to do with me, or even with you when you’re not there?

  269. @drst

    Your family policy really hit a raw nerve with me. I think its the implication that grandparents and aunts/uncles are less important than parents and thus easier to lie about. A lot of students are raised by grandparents and aunts/uncles. We also have no way of gauging how important a various family members are to a student. If you consider that a good chunk of students probably have a total of 4 grandparents (not including great grandparents), 7 deaths out of 200 students doesn’t sound all that strange

    As a university instructor, I use the school’s policy on excused absences. I’ve yet to have a student who had a problem with giving me a quick glance at a funeral bulletin. I also don’t accept late work. Believe me, that takes care of the lying issue real quick. I can make exceptions when needed but usually students don’t even ask because they know the policy.

    Sorry to be off topic but this week is the second anniversary of my grandfather’s death and the idea that a student is more likely to lie about a grandparents than a parent just steams my clams. :)

  270. @ chava –

    We’ve worked that part out, yes? That unless they said “@ chava” at the top, my comments weren’t directed at you in the first place?

  271. Alexander Erin: I was explaining why I continue to subordinate students’ language use to my own.

    fatsmartchick: I don’t think students who lie about dead relatives pick aunts, uncles and grandparents because they care less about them but because the school’s less likely to keep track. A boy who lies about his father’s death might have some explaining to do after parent/teacher conferences. I also suspect most schools have social workers who inquire when a student’s parent dies. Certainly friends usually all know.

  272. So, I get that you weren’t talking about me, but the comment actually *did* have “@chava” at the top, which was why I thought it was directed at me in the first place.

    I think the first bit was supposed to be at me and the second bit…wasn’t? Shrug.

  273. @ Aleks I’m almost positive that DRST was talking about the university level. At that point our students are over 18 and we cannot legally talk to parents or social services about our students.
    I also hope that DRST doesn’t think that I was trying to tell her how to run her classroom. I just wanted to point something out that maybe she hadn’t considered…or maybe she had.

  274. @snarkysmachine – love the John Fogerty reference. Sting got in trouble for plagiarizing himself too, on the Dire Straits song “Money for Nothing.”

    He should have tried my patented new-tab-and-toggle trick. I came up with that myself. Maybe. It’s so hard to keep track.

  275. In high school we had to include bibliographies with our assignments but we did not have to cite throughout the main body of the essay. We learnt to do that in first year of university, but they did spend a time teaching us how to do this (we had a choice between Harvard method or footnotes) and what constituted plagiarism. The web didn’t start until some time in my second year of university, so I doubt that plagiarism was quite as rife as I understand it is now.

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