Plagiarism in the Wild

I have written about plagiarism before, including my web text, Fighting the Fear: Plagiarism and Technophobia in Computers and Composition Online‘s Spring 2010 issue. Recently, one of my favorite bloggers, Evil HR Lady, discovered plagiarism in the wild: someone, actually several someones, has been using entire posts of hers without attribution for their corporate newsblog. Oh dear. It is difficult to justify wholesale lifting that lasts over an extended period of time, but the non-writer claimed the all-too-familiar I was so busy…too busy to take the time to write it myself. 

I commented on the post and linked that reasoning to the most common reason students plagiarize in composition classes. By plagiarism, I mean wholesale theft, not incorrect citing, since a fair part of composition classes is learning about correct citation and why it is important. Students who turn in work that is not their own often cite pressure to succeed and a lack of time due to other classes, not realizing that by doing so they are revealing what they really think: writing does not count as real work (like the other classes are “real” work) and minimizing work in a class that “doesn’t count” is not only not wrong, it is the smart thing to do. Worse, they are making that argument to the instructor whose subject area is being disparaged. Even worse than that, they are making an incredibly flawed argument to the instructor who teaches what may be the only class some students take in argumentation. There is no end to the wrongness here, and intentional irony can get no deeper.

The comments that followed my initial comment on Evil HR Lady’s post show that indeed, people in the business world do care about attribution, some to the extent that like some other composition students, they are afraid to cite in fear that they will cite incorrectly and thus accidentally plagiarize. Evil HR Lady asserts in a comment that a brief quote and a link back to the original article is not only okay, it is something bloggers like. Linkbacks, like citations in print articles, show that  a blog’s content has merit, has ideas strong enough that another writer quotes the idea (with attribution) and builds upon it. And that’s the way it works.

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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