Academic Essay Writing and Plagiarism

Aractus 10, May, 2015

As you may know, I’m presently studying at undergraduate level. This semester I was required to write a total of three Essays. I have got the result back from my first one, 83/100 (although I have disputed 1 point with the marker and we’ll have to see how that plays out – if I’m successful then my grade will be 84%, just 1% off a high distinction). In my last blog entry I posted the essay I did last semester on Obesity here. As should be clear from the content of my blog, I quite enjoy Essay writing; and consequently I took to academic writing without much difficulty – despite the fact that I’m now 31 and I never did well in English in School. In fact it was one of my least favourite subjects – my how times change. As I mentioned my blog will progressively become more academic as time goes on and I begin revisiting some of my old topics. And where appropriate I will publish more of my past essays here also.

Plagiarism was once described to me around 2003 from a University academic as an unforgivable sin as far as the University is concerned, and that anyone caught would be discontinued from their course. Today it’s a different story – there are several levels of plagiarism. The most severe of which is where a student has copied and pasted text without any attribution to the original authors. The least severe of which is where a student accidentally leaves out a citation. The latter is relatively common, but the former is relatively rare – but is becoming more common. Although a serious offence, it doesn’t seem to be considered an unforgivable offence any longer. Plagiarism is a much bigger problem with international students than it is with Australian students – and from what I’ve been told it’s certainly true that most of the increase in plagiarism has occurred with international students.

According to the Degrees of Deception (Four Corners) that was shown on ABC in April, many of the recruited international students that are coming to Australia have English literacy levels which are below the level required for tertiary level study in Australia. The Four Corners program suggested that in some universities this is a systematic problem. Additionally, there are a large number of Essay Writing services available for students wishing to cheat, or for those who find themselves unable to write an essay. I’ve even had some services advertised directly to my university email. For the right price you can have somebody else write your essay for you – or have them ghostwrite it/touch it up. Students who do this can and do get caught by educational institutions – how it’s detected I’m not exactly sure, but I would hazard a guess that your past written papers can be compared to present ones to determine whether there’s a consistent style of writing or whether there’s a significant unaccounted for change. Students who have previously failed a written assessment item could be flagged for scrutiny when an excellent quality paper is presented from them. Again I don’t know – I’m just having a guess; and it will be different as to how this is handled between institutions.

So how can plagiarism and cheating be prevented? Well firstly by educating students as to the requirements, obviously. I would suggest that the demographics that are most likely to participate in plagiarism or cheating should have to do a short course prior to commencement of studies. I would further suggest that anyone studying from a non-English speaking country should have to complete a nationally standardised English proficiency test after arriving in Australia. As highlighted in the Four Corners program, where the tests are administrated overseas there is potential for corruption. And students need to be prepared for academic study, clearly some students who begin tertiary level education are not properly prepared.

Overridingly though, universities have gone soft. Should students who’ve plagiarised be allowed an opportunity to resubmit? Yes, possibly in the right situation and with a fair protocol. I don’t think it’s fair to other students to allow a resubmit without penalty, so perhaps the assignment mark will be reduced by a set amount – say 30% or so (although do note that Brian Martin of the University of Wollongong argues that resubmission should be without penalty – see link at end of post). So an assignment that has been resubmitted and attained a passing mark of 50% could be reduced to 35% or something. Something like that would be fair for first year students; but for second year and on I don’t think there should be any tolerance for blatant plagiarism – students should be given an automatic fail for that particular unit – or in their final year possibly a fail for their course and discontinued from the university.

For further reading I suggest this page written by Brian Martin of the University of Wollongong.

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