Citation project researches plagiarism

Recently, the Internet news site Inside Higher Ed reported on a new study called the Citation Project. This study analyzed research papers written by first-year students at a variety of different colleges.

The Citation Project concluded that college students are not synthesizing their information, that they are not citing or paraphrasing information correctly and that their papers often include too many quotes.

Researchers for the study sorted each piece of information found in student papers into four categories: exact copying, “patchwriting” (copying a piece of information with vary limited changes, usually considered a bad paraphrase by the researchers), paraphrasing (information stated in the students’ own words and shows the students’ analysis and interpretation of the information) and summary (the preferred method of citing information by the researchers).

The study revealed that nine percent of the citations from the study were placed in the “summary” category, showing that students are not synthesizing information for their papers.

So while the Citation Project study shows that students around the nation are unintentionally plagiarizing by not synthesizing their information, is there an issue at Puget Sound?

“Students that I have talked to have said they do not believe there is a culture of [intentional] plagiarism here,” Director of the Center for Writing, Learning, and Teaching (C.W.L.T.) Julie Neff-Lippman said.

“I believe there are more cases of unintentional plagiarism than intentional plagiarism. [But] I think other faculty might disagree with me,” Neff-Lippman said.

Some students also agree with Neff-Lippman about the commonality of unintentional plagiarism.

“I think unintentional plagiarism is a problem. The problems I see are improper citations and paraphrasing. I haven’t seen anyone who has intentionally plagiarized [at the C.W.L.T.],” senior C.W.L.T. Writing Advisor Mackenzie Fuentes said.

“I think unintentional plagiarism is a problem because we [as students] are focusing on so many things. Whatever ideas are in our head we think they are our own ideas,” freshman Julia Fishman said.

“What we want is for students to make learning their own, not just copying someone else’s words,” Neff-Lippman said.

There are numerous strategies for students to use in order to prevent unintentional plagiarism.

“After a student reads something the student should close the book and write it in their own words,” Neff-Lippman said.

Fuentes suggested using two colors of pen when taking notes—one for direct quotes from whatever you are reading and another for your own thoughts. This will help “decrease the confusion” about your notes, Fuentes explained.

“Avoid plagiarism with a direct quote or a paraphrase depending on your writing style,” Neff-Lippman said.

Overall Fuentes said, “When all else fails, cite more. It is always better to overcite than to undercite.”

“By doing a citation correctly you can help the reader follow up, you can establish yourself as a scholar, and citations make the student look smart, besides being honest,” Neff-Lippman said.

The C.W.L.T. can also provide help to students who are concerned about plagiarizing.

“When students have appointments, tell the advisor that they are struggling with putting work into their own words and citing,” Neff-Lippman explained.

“We can help with any sort of writing issue,” Fuentes added.