Friday, May 20, 2011

Plagiarism Top 10

I think I briefly mentioned it in passing before, but the Spring semester is over! Finals were last week, and I have a mere two weeks before Summer session starts. (Well, just over one week now.)

Final papers this semester were pretty atrocious, overall. Individual students were fine, but in both my classes I had wayyy too many obviously plagiarized papers. For anyone who's wondering, here's a few ways to tell that a paper is plagiarized.

For example, a C student who relies on words like "things" and "stuff" turns in an essay that starts, "Mary Shelley was cleverly inspired by the theme of an uncontrollable creature wreaking vengeful destruction upon the heads of his monomaniacal scientific creator and his world is sustained in a way that makes the book a powerfully unique presence in English literature." This is a dead giveaway for several reasons:
  1. The last name Shelley is spelled correctly. The majority of the time, the Frankenstein papers, even though we've been studying the book for several weeks, refer to the author (Mary Shelley) as Shelly, Shelby, or something else just off enough to show they don't really care.
  2. Not only was "wreaking" used correctly in the sentence, but it was also spelled correctly.
  3. This sentence is quite long, but it's still grammatically correct. For most of my students (the ones who are in the position of plagiarizing their final papers, anyway), there is no way that a sentence this long wouldn't be a run-on or have random commas or a complete lack of parallelism between parts of the sentence.
  4. Frankenstein is English? Well, I'll be damned. I wonder if I asked the students, how many would give the correct answer to Mary Shelley/Shelly/Shelby's nationality?
  5. Monomaniacal? You couldn't even change it to something a little less obvious?
Another giveaway is when the paper explains to me why Frankenstein is a good example of Gothic literature. Um, we didn't cover this AT ALL in class, and none of the assigned paper topics even come close to asking students to address this topic. So you usually can't even be bothered to show up for class, but now you're going to do extra research outside of class to identify the genre of the work?

Finally, when a student cites a source like Sparknotes or Free in the Works Cited, but has never cited these sources within the essay. And yes, this has happened.

I'm not sure that two weeks is enough time for my end-of-the-semester cynicism to wear off.

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