An open letter to the plagiarising student

Dear plagiarising student,

First and foremost, I hope it is clear to you that plagiarism is unacceptable to anyone’s code of conduct whether or not you are in a place of higher education. If that is already clear to you, you will need to think more carefully before you think could get away with plagiarism.

There are softwares available to educators that can determine the extent of originality in your digital documents within seconds. We become very suspicious of your written submissions when un-cited passages appear to be more articulate than yourself in person. Of course being an ineloquent speaker but a terrific writer is possible; a few great writers have been known to have difficulty speaking to other people but are gifted with the written word.

I want to properly understand your impulse to plagiarise. You tell me your command of English is shaky. I appreciate the time constraints to improve when there are many things going on in your life to juggle. Maybe you have not been asked to turn in long pieces of written work before and thus the anatomy of the essay or PhD thesis is new to you.

Anything longer than 2000 or 3000 words in the English language is not only daunting, but demands of you skills that you have yet to master and to acquire the confidence to exhibit. All this is compounded with an inadequate comprehension of the work you are assigned to explain in writing. If you do not understand the things I teach, please ask during or after class. You can make an appointment to see me.

Please understand the dire ramifications of plagiarism as there are short and long-term implications. Students have been known to be caught, reprimanded, failed, and expelled for plagiarism. Please be informed that academic staff themselves are not immune from being disciplined and shamed for this crime.

That colleges and universities are lax with students who plagiarise does not mean that plagiarism is excusable under my watch. You might assume that educators are too busy to care or too stupid to notice the dubious quality of students’ work but you are wrong. Your work matters as it is a reflection of my work. We do not have a duty to pass all students without the filter of scrutiny.

The crime of plagiarism is more damaging to you when you are PhD student as it will have long-term effects on your own work, work ethics, and employability. The PhD is not just a book that a dedicated student will work on through blood, sweat and tears but it is a product of one’s engagement with their scholarly community.

By the time you have a PhD that has passed the rigorous scrutiny of your examiners, you belong to the community of experts in your field and through your contribution to the field of knowledge, you are at the frontier of your field. What you write matters. Your writing is the cornerstone of your work.

If you are known to pass other people’s work as your own, you will not have the respect of people whose respect matters a great deal in the long run especially if you aspire to be an academic yourself. That lack of respect can be translated into a refusal to formally and informally acknowledge your academic merit.

If you are not worried about plagiarism today, I am concerned that you are not worried about some important things like being employable, developing a good reputation, and earning recommendations. In academia, what you know and who you know (through the recognition of your merit and recommendations) do go hand in hand. You want to be recognised by people who care about your work and your academic development. Well, I hope you do!

If you have plagiarised and looking to redeem yourself, the door to retribution is still open. Own up to it, repent, and vow to never to re-commit the crime. Consult the many resources on academic writing like books (How to Author a PhD by Patrick Dunleavy is excellent) and websites like The Thesis Whisperer and Explorations of Style.

Learn to be patient and persevere. Read widely at every opportunity and take the time to identify ‘good’ writing i.e. writing that is clear, enjoyable to read yet still deeply informative (the key word is ‘depth’).

Remember that it is a privilege to be given the time and opportunity to develop the rarified skill of academic writing in an institution of higher education so please don’t squander them and as RuPaul reminds us mere mortals: don’t f— it up.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s