Monkey See, Monkey Do: The Plagiarism Story

Plagiarism.

You can see it now can’t you? That ten letter word that made you roll your eyes every time you were reminded of it. You see the old days of citation tutorials and tests; the days where you’d groan in misery after you heard all your teachers and professors telling you over and over again about how “citing correctly is important” and if you didn’t it would be academic suicide (Reader, please feel free to insert sarcasm here). Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but your professors and teachers, you know those people who put so much emphasis on plagiarism that you had to take a twenty minute tutorial and a ten minute test at the end of it … they’re ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. But not only can it affect you academically, it can affect you professionally too. So readers I have brought it upon myself to teach you what plagiarism is, what constitutes as plagiarism, how to avoid plagiarism, how it can affect your personal brand and how to avoid people taking your own work and using it as their own (p.s. you can thank me later!).

So where to begin? Well, I should probably start by talking about what plagiarism is and what constitutes as plagiarism. By its very definition, well according to Oxford Dictionary that is, plagiarism is “the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off their own.” For example, let’s say you’re writing a paper on a topic that you’re not completely comfortable with or knowledgeable on and you take it upon yourself to copy and paste an article from the Internet without citing it.

This is plagiarism.

If you take that article and paraphrase certain sections into your own words without citing it. You guessed it … its plagiarism.

Even taking pictures or videos from the Internet without citing is plagiarism! These are just a few examples of what plagiarism is and what constitutes as plagiarism. But readers please note that I only gave you a few examples of what can constitute as plagiarism. There are plenty of examples that you should be aware before sitting down to write a paper or prepare a presentation. Remember knowledge is power and by being knowledgeable on different types of plagiarism, it can only further your understanding as to how to avoid it.

Now that we know what plagiarism is and what can constitute as plagiarism, let’s venture into the uncharted territory of how avoiding plagiarism can help your personal brand and credibility while sustaining your reputation. Your personal brand is a reflection of yourself and the pride you take in your work.  So compromising that would be detrimental to you and your ethical beliefs. We’ve all had the internal struggle with what is right and what is wrong, but did you know that even popular cartoon characters such as Spongebob SquarePants have struggled with the question that we continuously ask ourselves: should I plagiarize or should I not?

As you can see, our favourite underwater friend from Bikini Bottom lacks time management skills and didn’t research enough beforehand about what not to do at a stoplight. Therefore, I give you the first step on how to avoid plagiarism.  DO YOUR RESEARCH AHEAD OF TIME! I know, I know, it’s tedious, it’s boring and you’d rather play your video games or binge watch your favourite Netflix show but trust me, starting your research and knowing where you got it from ahead of time will save you so much time and even allows you to make room for fun activities.

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So once you’re prepared, and made room for some fun activities, what is your next step? Why reader, I am so glad you asked! Your next step is to choose what citation style you’ll be using (RED ALERT! If you’re doing an assignment, make sure to follow the guidelines your professor or teacher has instructed for you to use. Sometimes they can be very particular about what style you use and trust me, one wrong choice and you’ll see that “A” paper turn into a “C” paper very quickly!). So you’re probably wondering, what’s the best way to choose a citation style in case you are given free range of choice? Well, you can start by accessing your school’s online library databases or use recommended websites such as Owl Perdue, who consistently update their websites with the latest versions of these citation styles. These citations databases will offer you an array of citation styles such as MLA, APA and Chicago, provide you instructions on what information you need in a works cited page, demonstrates certain formatting standards to which you should adhere too and finally, shows you the correct formatting style for in text citation.

Now you may be concerned that these databases are not current with the time; you know the era that is technology (i.e. social media: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram etc …). Well fear not dear reader, for these databases will show you how to cite all these social media websites in the correct format. Furthermore, while the Internet provides us with many wonderful capabilities, such as reading up on the latest celebrity Twitter wars or allowing us to share ridiculous memes that catch on quicker than wildfire, there is one mistake I encourage you never to make … DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE, USE A CITATION GENERATOR. Yes, I know I’ve killed your joy and made your life about ten times harder, but using a citation generation will kill your joy a lot more than I just have. These generators, while convenient and fast especially in a time crunch, almost never get the citation correct which places you in a very scary situation of being caught for plagiarism. So take this as me begging you … please, please, please, please never use one of these. Seriously, I will force you to make an unspoken promise to me over the Internet. No seriously, I’m not kidding!

So since you’ve now given me your unspoken promise to never use a citation generator and now that you have a little more knowledge on what plagiarism is and how to avoid it, it is important for us to look at how plagiarizing can affect your personal brand, both academically and professionally, as well as outlining ways to avoid your own work from being plagiarized. Being caught for plagiarism is one of the most serious academic offences a student can ever be penalized for. This can result in a 0 on your assignment, a mention of plagiarism on your transcripts and sometimes can even result in expulsion. Yeah, on paper it all seems a little too real. But what truly suffers is your reputation because people, whether that be your professors, teachers or employers, will have a negative perception of who you are. This is so detrimental to your personal brand because it strips you of your credibility and people of authority will begin to question it. The best way to avoid all this, is to cite anything that is not common knowledge you. It means to cite things that you may have gotten off the Internet. It means taking that copied quote you’ve put on your Facebook status and giving credit where credit is due. Besides, wouldn’t you want that same respect?

Respect. We all want it. We all strive to have other’s treat us the way we want to be treated. So why can’t we request that same respect for our ideas that we have put to paper? You may not think that you’re subject to plagiarism but the Internet is a vast and scary place and pretty much anyone can steal content with the click of button (or if they’re tech savvy, they can just hit the “CTRL C,” “CTRL V” functions on their keyboards). So how can you avoid having your personal brand compromised?  There are many different ways to do this: you can copy write your content, choose a writing style that is consistent and memorable, write longer posts, add personal touches to images that will help you differentiate which image is yours. The list is endless. But even just doing one of these ways will help you protect your personal brand and protect the information and content that you have exposed to the world.

It all comes down to this simple fact: plagiarizing is never a good idea. One can argue that original thought is not an original thought because it has been influenced by many different things over time. And I’ll agree with you on that sentiment; however, taking someone else’s work and using it as your own is never okay. Wouldn’t you rather have thoughts that stem from your own creative mind then to have to copy someone else’s ideas and opinions?  If we think so little about our writing capabilities it only hinders our growth as people who are able to think creatively. It stops us from engaging in our creative thoughts and forces us to rely on the opinions of others and deem it the truth. But what about our truths and our thoughts? Do they not matter?

I urge you to take these questions into consideration if you ever think of plagiarizing. And if you feel that terrible feeling gnawing at the pit of your stomach, it means your creative juices are flowing. I encourage you to use them and to never be afraid to seek out answers to things you do not know. Just make sure you cite them first!

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January 29th, 2016 by