Putting a stop to plagiarism


IT IS the season of marking assignments and other scholarly work in universities, and most of those involved are already weary of the unpleasant evidence of plagiarism. It is indeed a chilly thought that some are plagiarising – sometimes taking entire paragraphs verbatim from the Internet – without any qualms.

Plagiarism is forbidden by all universities, but with hectic demands on lecturers’ and supervisors’ time, it is not always possible to curb it — but failing to stop it is destructive to the integrity of our academic system.

Plagiarism means “when someone uses another person’s work or ideas and pretends they are their own” or “an idea, phrase, or story that has been copied from another person’s work without stating where it came from” (Longman Dictionary). In Latin, a literal translation is “to kidnap”.

In short, plagiarising means kidnapping and stealing the work of others, which is blatant dishonesty. Education, which has a role to define and advance society, cannot be run on deceit.

Regretfully, plagiarism is not just done by students, but also academics and politicians.

Why is such dishonesty continuously risked? It is a collision of fierce academic ambition and the temptation of an “easy way out”.

For students, it is to achieve ambition and desire to pass examinations; workers to climb the corporate ladder; and academics to satisfy specific interests of self-promotion or university rankings.

Plagiarism is also tempting to those whose command of the English language is inferior. With a few clicks of the mouse, one can copy entire paragraphs and pretend he wrote them – and all he has to do is hope that no one notices.

Before this “culture” becomes too entrenched as the norm, it needs to be eradicated. But the punishment for plagiarism is not clear. Some academic authorities would give a fail grade to the plagiariser, while others would expel.

Therefore, eradicating plagiarism requires a collective act from all: the authorities, academics, and students themselves.

First of all, the Higher Education Ministry should look into this matter seriously. Universities should be given clear standards and guidelines to punish those who plagiarise, especially in class assignments.

Plagiarism in Master’s and PhD theses may not post much problems as graduate schools usually have their own academic panel to deal with plagiarism. The innate quality of theses and research projects of a university is free from plagiarism.

After the standard rules are established, the academics must strictly adhere to them.

Other than imparting and expanding knowledge, academics must also take the role of shaping students’ thinking and ethics. Plagiarism cannot be eradicated if academics have a lackadaisical attitude towards it.

Apart from having good attitude to eliminate plagiarism, academics must be equipped to conduct the checking. Checking plagiarism is a tedious job. It takes time, and this will take a toll on academics, who are already chock-full with work and having many students.

In some Malaysian universities, each lecturer may have more than 150 students to deal with. To ease this, learning institutions must equip their academics with software to trace plagiarism.

It may seem common sense, but academics must be good at the language of scholarly assignments.

Without the software, one needs to have mastery of English to trace plagiarism. If one is bad at English, he or she cannot differ between the original language of the student and the language of the Internet used in the assignment.

In contrast, a person good at English is able to “feel” the difference of the quality between the student’s own language and the copied one at a glance.

Furthermore, there should be a body at university level to oversee the checking and penalty of plagiarism.

And finally, we should curb plagiarism early. The notion that one should never, ever plagiarise should begin at school.

Pupils must be told that cutting and pasting from the Internet is wrong if it is done without duly acknowledging the writer. Teachers must not only instil anti-plagiarism among pupils, they must be equipped to trace plagiarism, and to take action when it is detected.

In conclusion, good science, serving the interests of the community must be conducted with integrity. Society needs to be conscious that research is to promote a good body of knowledge for the betterment of the community.

Therefore, those responsible in the engine of knowledge – institutions of learning, academics, publishers, journals and citation databases – should be free of any of this unethical demeanour. Let us work together to be rid of this misconduct.

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