A+ Advice for Parents

Q: My daughter, a high-school sophomore, was proud to get into a summer course in leadership at a local college. However, she got an incomplete because the professor said she plagiarized her paper. Now it will be hard to include that course on her college application. How could he tell?

A: Savvy educators spot the clues and use a range of digital tools -- from a simple Google search to plagiarism trackers -- to check students' work.

"The internet and today's amazing digital tools make cutting and pasting, or even buying the work of others, incredibly easy," says Greta Love, a New York state reference librarian who teaches college students research techniques. "But those same tools make it easier for educators to spot the work of others using databases, search engines and sites that sell or give away term papers and so on."

Worry less about what the incomplete does to your daughter's college application and more about teaching her proper research skills for her writing from now on. That will be the best preparation for college.

Many students simply do not know what plagiarism is, says university educator Robert Harris, author of "The Plagiarism Handbook: Strategies for Preventing, Detecting and Dealing With Plagiarism" (Routledge, 2001).

In an essay titled "Anti-Plagiarism Strategies for Research Papers," Harris writes that students hold misconceptions such as, "Everything on the internet is public domain and can be copied without citation," or, "If you change an author's words into your own words, you don't have to cite it," or, "If you copy fewer than 10 words, it's OK not to use quotation marks."

Some students don't consider copying wrong, notes Harris, because they think information is for everyone. Still others are tempted to copy because they're on a tight deadline, just not motivated by the topic or "know it's wrong, but like the thrill of rule-breaking."

To help your daughter, be explicit. "Plagiarism is using another person's words or ideas without giving credit," writes Harris. "When you use someone else's words, you must put quotation marks around them or set them off in a block quotation and give the writer or speaker credit by revealing the source in a citation.

"Even if you revise or paraphrase the words of someone else or just use their ideas, you still must give the author credit in a citation. Not giving due credit to the creator of an idea or writing is very much like lying because without a citation, you are implying that the idea is your own."

Once students understand why it's wrong, Harris takes a positive approach. "Learning to write makes a person powerful," he explains. "Whenever they cite a source, they are strengthening their writing, not weakening it."

He goes on: "Citing a source, whether paraphrased or quoted, reveals that they have performed research work and synthesized the findings into their own argument. ... The student is aware of other thinkers' positions on the topic."

Find more advice from Harris at his website VirtualSalt.com.

For more information, check out "The Plagiarism Spectrum: Tagging 10 Types of Unoriginal Work" at turnitin.com.

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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