Plagiarism and academic integrity

May 20, 2011 1146

I first thought of doing a piece on stealing intellectual property when I started noticing my words being used without credit in others’ articles and blogs months back. I understand that when information seeps into one’s mind and becomes knowledge, it is sometimes impossible to trace the origin of an idea or thought. But when I see large chunks of my sentences literally copied and spliced into another’s work I know that it was no accident. This can be both maddening and deflating to writers and academics who make their living off their thoughts and words.

I have some experience dealing with my academic work being stolen during my undergraduate career as well. It was at the end of my senior year at UNC Wilmington that I first became a victim of plagiarism. A few classmates and I finished our Human Osteology final exams early and left them in stacks on the professor’s desk along with our final course assignments while the rest of the class finished their exams. After I left the building, one of the students was allowed to head down to the computer lab to print out the remainder of his materials for the class. Fortunately for me, two of my osteology lab partners entered the computer lab and found this student furiously copying all of my measurements and answers from my papers onto his. He had taken all of my course materials off of the desk when he turned in his exam and took them to the lab to plagiarize my lab results and conclusions. My lab partners confronted the student and got my materials back to the professor. Who knows, he probably would have thrown away my papers and turned his in, leaving me with an incomplete one week before graduation.

I finally decided to write about this issue when, last week, I inadvertently caught and called out two students (one of whom being an officer in her college’s Anthropology Club) who were posting a public conversation about cheating on a college cultural anthropology class’ coursework on Twitter. I wanted to let the aforementioned parties know that hashtagging (making searchable) a request for anthropologists to contact you if they “want to make some money” for doing your coursework probably isn’t the smartest way to go about cheating in college. Not only can anyone (future employers, other students, your professors!) see everything you put out on the internet, but we all judge your character by what we see. 

It wasn’t my intention to ruin anyone’s name or academic career when I posted this:
 ”@Anthroprobably: Not Too Smart: Using the #anthropology hashtag on Twitter to find someone to do your college anthro assignments for money. Cc: @JDagger18″ May 4, 2011 2:20PM
But I did want the involved parties to know that someone was watching and disapproved of the honor code violations. There were a number of tweets back and forth between @JDagger18 and @BeatrixKiddo27 discussing the logistics and monetary compensation of the latter student doing the former’s cultural anthropology assignments/exams. Well, my Twitter followers (an awesome group indeed) took this and ran with it! I had a number of people retweet (re-post) the message and this generated a lot of comments about the event. 

Another Twitter colleague took it a step further. Megan McCullen (@GLEthnohistory on Twitter) took screen captures of the conversations before @BeatrixKiddo27 deleted her account and changed her webpage address once she realized she had been called out. From the information in the student’s web bio, Megan was able to find and contact the professor of the girl who was debating doing @JDagger18′s work for money. Megan, being an educator, said that if this were her student she would want to talk to her about the incident. I agree; this was the right thing to do. The worst part about the whole situation is that the female student in question was apparently an officer in her school’s Anthropology Club (hopefully no longer). 

So, let this be a warning to all young or ignorant academics out there: people are watching everything you post on the internet and social media sites. Cheating and plagiarizing are serious offenses and have no place in academia. Not only does copying someone else’s work take away from the authenticity of your credentials, it hurts the integrity of the field you work in. Make good choices, do your own work, and call out plagiarism when you see it!

[This was originally posted on my personal blog]

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Plagiarism is a grave issue and it will be difficult to combat the issues of copied content unless you start using a reliable plagiarism check tool that can detect whether someone is cheating on you.


I’ld like to add two things: 1) I find quite more disturbing when professors or more advanced students (i.e. when more powerful academic agents, as Sengupta said) plagiate their own graduate or undergraduate students. Here, in Argentina, for instance, is quite common to see papers wrote by one or more people from a professor’s team and signed by him -without any kind of recognition to the actual authors of the text. 2) In understand that new technologies make easier the copy of some other’s text -and also to discover this; nevertheless, it’s not an internet-dependent phaenomenon. Actually, as Umberto Eco… Read more »

Jaime Torrinhas

The problem of the world and of the nations is not the economy nor the finances. The problem is in the persons, in the beginnings and values that were degraded, great because of the classes you politicize what give a bad example. We live in a jungle from stone where everything is possible (!?), where the individual interests are put on top of everything! When it so is…

A. Sengupta

The issue against plagiarism is quite complex. It can start from outright copying to motivation and use of others’ idea without acknowledging it. However the question of power is important. If an academically powerful individual plagiarize, it may get unnoticed. No voice can be raised against. In India, I had a bitter experience of having to change an original version of a paper to get it published in a reputed journal. To my surprise, this original version got published under the authorship of the referee of my paper All protest here s meaningless. However, it is easy to catch an… Read more »


Thanks for sharing this.Last week I decided to look for free lance writing Jobs actually had started registering on one site but decided to read the reviews first. I was shocked to see that most of the work involves doing dissertation assignments and Thesis for People and one of the positive reviews being advertised was” I scored an A in the book review so and so did for me” I cant imagine the many people who walk with fake degrees courtesy of these companies. Last week too I turned down my friend from kenya who had requested me to look… Read more »


Coming from an academic environment that cares more for acquiring degrees rather qualitative research, I have seen doctoral research evolve into a huge recycling industry in collaboration with the very universities that are supposed to provide filters for such happenings. The concept of external research has reached such ridiculous levels that plagiarism is a part of parcel wherein the supervisor/research guide writes for the scholar for a fixed amount of money. This output is obviously rehash from several already awarded doctoral dissertations/books and the evaluation is so poor that not a single person i know have been caught in the… Read more »

Isabel Canhoto

I can relate to this issue wholeheartedly. Teaching at undergraduate and graduate levels, every time I receive a paper I find myself questioning the origin of the words printed there. The university where I teach in Lisbon has made an application available to lecturers which enables us to detect plagiarism. Google also comes in handy. Being a PhD student myself, I can relate to BOTH sides of the issue. And I cannot be emphatic enough about the need to curb these situations. Plagiarism goes against everything science and research and knowledge should stand for! Science and research and knowledge are… Read more »

De' Joe

i couln’t agree more with you Isabel. Here in Ghana, it is one big problem. Students don’t seem to quite their search for an easy way out .. dubbing anothers work and words seem pretty cool for most. What a shame. As a tutor at the undergrad level, i keep refering them; go back and bring an original work.

manjeet chaturvedi

plagiarism is a crime, a big crime in academic world which is growing largely.
many people indulge into this, few are caught and reported, but the greater sin is that many others overlook such things knowingly.


I am a student in the process of writing a paper. I was wondering whether there is a internet mechanism where I can check for plagiarism. You know like post my whole thesis and then check to see where I did not acknowledge sources etc.


I agree with Jeff. Plagiarism takes other forms – from blatantly copying (not to say, verbatim) one’s work to owning someone’s concept as his own. And sadly, not everyone has the time to check this, often relying on citation and references. This issue is often made known when someone else notice the plagiarized work. Media, albeit, the Internet, has made it worse. Students, and “professionals” find it free to copy and submit information, as if their own. What has happened to creativity and originality? Has the academe been neglectful in developing these?


Plagiarism takes other forms, as well. Claiming “research says” with no citation. Presenting opinion as fact then being unable to back up the opinion. For example, “The USA PATRIOT Act permits discrimination by law enforcement.” This statement may or may not be true, but others have said this already and failure to cite that source and to show that the writer actually read the act is plagiarsim.

M. L. Anderegg

Some twenty years ago, as a graduate assistant at a large university, I caught a doctoral student plagerizing more than ten pages of her twenty page paper. The professor I worked for took the paper and the articles to the department chair. The chair instructed the professor that the student should be allowed to rewrite the paper “without prejudice”, explaining that “this student comes from a strong oral tradition where ownership of words and phrases is a foreign concept.” What was the student’s country of origin? The U. S. A. During the past four decades, there has been an embarrassing… Read more »