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VOL. 2 NO. 2, SPRING 2010

paper, sounds out of place with the student’s usual voice or with our perception of what a student’s voice ought to sound like. Murphy (1990) describes two such occur- rences, one involving a student who plagiarized from Joyce scholarship for a paper on James Joyce’s “e Dead,” and the other involving a student who wrote a riveting personal account of her struggles with anorexia.

  • e first student did, indeed, plagiarize, but the second

student did not, and admitted to doing so only after realizing that Murphy (1990) believed strongly that she had and would continue interrogating her about her sensitive personal battles until she admitted to pla- giarism. In both cases, the flow of the students’ prose, more sophisticated than he had expected, triggered his suspicions.

Murphy’s essay serves to remind us that some- times our suspicions can lead us clumsily astray when we attempt to confront students with charges of pla- giarism. He implies that we teachers of writing have become too sensitive to the possibility that our students will try to cheat us, that they will not take seriously our carefully crafted assignments, that they respect us so little that they will attempt dishonesty. His experiences remind us of the importance of knowing when to carry through with conjecture; we must be comfortably close

to certain before we confront a student about possible plagiarism. is need for near-certainty leads naturally into the next stasis.

Definition. Once the teacher has determined that something has happened, something out of the ordinary, at any rate, the teacher must then examine whether or not that event can be defined as plagiarism.

  • is is no easy task when one considers that almost

every definition available is distressingly vague. So many policies define plagiarism as the presenting of others’ ideas as one’s own, but such an imprecise definition does not distinguish between ideas that are common knowledge in certain circles and ideas that are more esoteric. Complicating matters even further, Darsie


Bolin – Addressing Plagiarism

Bowden (1996) offers a survey of the uses of the term plagiarism, including Irene Clark’s observation that the giving of aid in a writing center might be construed as plagiarism as the tutors work with the students’ writing. In capitalist societies we adhere so strictly to the doc- trine of intellectual property that we err on the side of the ridiculous, worrying that offering possible phrases to student writers, even holding their pens during a ses- sion, might cultivate in the student writing the fruits of

our own imagination.

Some teachers consider student intent as a factor when they define plagiarism, while others do not. e thinking here is that students have been instructed in how to provide proper attribution, so the assumption is that any deviation from that system must be intentional. A cursory look at the policies of a number of universi- ties, however, shows that there is a tendency to allow the occasional mistake in attribution. For example, the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice at Rutgers University includes the following statement in its plagiarism policy: “While uninten- tional plagiarism is generally treated more leniently than intentional plagiarism, it is nonetheless a sign of sloppiness and/or failure to educate oneself about what plagiarism is” (Plagiarism Policy, 2004, n.p.a.). And the Writing Center at the University of Louisville (2004) addresses the difficulty of determining intent even more directly:

Specific definitions of plagiarism vary, but most people define plagiarism as using other people’s words or ideas without giving them credit. Although this definition seems clear-cut, plagiarism is not a simple issue. Many cases of plagiarism result not from students’ intent to deceive but from students’ lack of knowledge






Center, 2004, n.p.a.)

  • e statement further explains that teachers have dif-

ficulty determining intent, even if those teachers do see



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