Psychology and Education @St. Thomas

October 5, 2010

Plagiarism, paraphrasing and summary.

Filed under: Plagiarism,scholarly communication — merriealynn @ 10:30 pm

Plagiarism is generally discussed in the context of  intellectual property and thievery. However, recently I’ve wondered more if it is often an issue of poor writing and little contextual knowledge. Especially for students where English is their 2nd 3rd or 4th language, how difficult is it to break away from the language of the original text? How difficult is it to synthesize several different journal articles? Do the articles have any relation to each other?

Last weekend I attended a conference in Savannah, GA. The post-conference was about students’ citations and use of research materials in their writing, a report of the progress from The Citation Project: Preventing plagiarism, teaching writing. They find that students tend to read and cite at the sentence level, rather than attempting to understand the entire source and using that to support their argument. Students attempted to paraphrase these sentences, but were unable to divorce themselves from the original source text. Poor jobs at paraphrase turned into “copying without quoting” and patchwriting, slight modifications from the original of vocabulary and syntax.

During the workshop, we coded 2 papers for types of citations. It appeared that the students were required to have a certain number of citations. They chose one paper that was easy to read,  from a popular magazine or website, and used it as the basis of their paper. They then found several peer-reviewed articles which they used to pepper their papers with statistics. Rather than the essence of the study, students choose the one statistic that they understand or can support their own point.

Often, they are so focussed on NOT plagiarizing that they miss the point of the material they’re citing. In one case, the student ?forgot? to include the point they were intending to include, misrepresenting the original and not supporting their argument.

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