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Beyond the News

Plagiarism Still a Major Problem

University Business, June 2012

Plagiarism is a widespread problem, and with anytime, anywhere internet access, it only seems to get worse. As part of a study published last summer by The Pew Research Center and the Chronicle of Higher Education, more than half of 1,055 college presidents surveyed said they had seen a rise in plagiarism in the last 10 years. (Just 2 percent thought that it had decreased.)

Turnitin has published a whitepaper defining the different kinds of plagiarism, “The Plagiarism Spectrum: Instructor Insights into the 10 Types of Plagiarism.” Based on survey data from 879 high school and college instructors, it describes with digital terminology the types of plagiarism, and then assigns a severity level for each form based on the degree of student intent.

Most prevalent of the 10 is “Clone,” in which students submit another’s work, word-for-word, claiming it as their own. Close behind is “CTRL-C,” which signifies large sections of text copied and pasted into a document. Less severe on the spectrum are “Mashup,” which combines several sources without citation, and “Aggregator,” which uses proper citation, but almost no original work.

The purpose of identifying this “Plagiarism Spectrum”? “Academic policies too often take the approach of adopting a one-size-fits-all response to plagiarism. This has led to policies that tend to be too extreme and bureaucratic (the latter reflecting the pressure of needing to justify extreme responses),” the authors write. “The Plagiarism Spectrum emphasizes the range of intent which, when coupled with prevalence and problematic scores, provides educators with guidance in developing appropriate academic responses.”

Perhaps no better example of this is the case of a Harvard Law School graduate who sued her alma mater last month because her permanent transcript includes a letter of reprimand over a mistaken charge of plagiarism. Though the accusation has been disproved, the woman says she can’t find employment in her field because the charge remains on her record.