Don't copy someone else's work;
write it yourself!
By Michael Krigline, MA (September 2008), translation by Nico
In China, as in English-speaking countries, there are laws
and the punishment for plagiarizing is severe.
To “plagiarize” means to use a passage, sentence, outline, or even a group
of phrases from the Internet, a book, or any other source, without telling
where you “borrowed” from. Plagiarism is a crime because it violates the
author’s intellectual property rights; many schools also seriously punish
plagiarism because it “hurts honest students” by giving the cheater an
unfair advantage over students who do not cheat. In America, university
students who plagiarize often lose the right to continue working toward a
college degree, and plagiarism brings great shame on the university, the
student, and the student’s family. In China, major universities have also
started to severely punish plagiarism. An article in the China Daily
(Dec 25, 2007) illustrated the cost of plagiarism by reporting on a Fudan
University post-graduate student who was expelled because his papers
contained work copied from others; furthermore, his tutor was asked to
resign from the post of deputy director of the school.
In the real world(outside
university walls), plagiarism can cost you your job, and it could give
your company huge fines and a tarnishedreputation.
In spite of the severe consequences, plagiarism continues to
be a world-wide problem. Sometimes, English-learners use other’s thoughts
without documentationbecause they
don’t have a high enough English level to express themselves clearly, and
sometimes they simply don’t know that the practice is considered
dishonest. Furthermore, most teachers praise students whose writing
includes thoughts from great writers because it demonstrates a broad
understanding of literature. But this practice is acceptable only if these
quotations are enclosed in quotation marks with the original source
diligent teacher can often easily notice plagiarism. Signs include (1)
seeing a passage that is clearly beyond a student’s ability to write, (2)
seeing the same sentence in two or more essays, and (3) seeing a change in
grammar patterns or word use. When students are supposed to create
sentences with new vocabulary words, some plagiarize by copying sentences
from a dictionary. I sometimes recognize essays from one of the many
Chinese textbooks I’ve used. On more than one occasion, I have typed a
particularly advanced phrase into a search enginelike
www.google.com, only to find the student’s text almost word for word.
While it is sometimes OK to get ideas from on-line essays, your homework
should not look like you “borrowed” an outline and numerous clauses or
words that you don’t really understand. Using someone else’s sentence,
changed a bit with synonyms, is also plagiarism (unless you add
When one of my students plagiarizes, they get a zero on the essay’s draft,
another zero for the paper’s revision, and 30 points taken from their
final exam. Sometimes, I even tell them that they are not allowed to
return to my class. I want the punishment to be severe so that students
are not tempted to do this, no matter how much they have done it in the
past. Your teacher can not help you write better in English if you do not
turn in your own work, so plagiarizers are just slowing down their own
I can’t stress this enough: Plagiarism is unacceptable
behavior, especially when there is a much better alternative. Instead of
claiming that you wrote everything yourself, use a direct quotation
or paraphrase the original passage,
and be sure to include a footnote pointing to the source material. Then
the real author gets credit, and the reader has a source of additional
information. Acceptable paraphrasing requires more effort than changing a
word or two, but the result will be your work—and that is
something you can be proud of!
1. When you write in Chinese, how do you
include thoughts that come from others? Based on what you just read,
discuss differences between “western” and “Chinese” practices of using
things from come from other writers.
2. List reasons why English-learners
sometimes copy things from others when they write in English (either with
or without telling where it came from). What are some of the sources they
3. What can happen to a student or business
person who plagiarizes? Can you tell us about something you read in the
news, or saw at your undergraduate college?
For an interesting article on plagiarism,
notably it's history and the idea that it is a "western concept," read
Perspective on Plagiarism" by Dahlia Syahrani Md. Yusof,
Multimedia University (Cyberjaya, Malaysia)
This resource was created for our students under my
understanding of "fair use" for educational resources.
© 2008 Michael Krigline, all
rights reserved. As far as I am concerned, people are allowed to print/copy/adapt
it for personal or classroom use.
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