Doing essays and assignments the dumb way - plagiarism

By Rob Taylor


What always amazed me about people who submitted work that was not their own for which they took credit for in school (plagiarism) was that those people were paying for school.

So what, you might say. Here's what: you're paying for a product when you pay your tuition. That product is your education. If an essay or an assignment is part of your education and you don't do it, you're cheating yourself out of part of the product you're paying for. Same thing goes for skipping class. Would you skip a movie or a sporting event you already had tickets for? No.

OK. I admit it. I'm weird. That whole last paragraph is weird, but true. And I did hand in a couple of assignments that I didn't put a lot of work into (and received sub-par grades for my sub-par efforts), but at least it was my own work.

Anyway, plagiarism has come a long way since I was in school. I graduated from the University of Toronto in 1996 (ohhh, old) just when the World Wide Web was in short-pants. So, if I wanted to cheat on an essay or an assignment, there were very few options open to me. I could:

  • Ask someone else to write the assignment for me. I wasn't good looking enough to get some love-struck girlie (or boy, for that matter) to do it for me and I had no money to pay someone to do it, so this option was out. Even if I would have considered doing it. Which I wouldn't have.

  • Copy the work out of a book or magazine. Good plan. The teacher or professor who is teaching the class and probably is far better read on the subject than I am would never figure that out. Plus, they'd never notice the difference in my writing style between the tests I handed in and the essay I handed in. Oh, he couldn't spell worth spit in that test, but here in this really good essay, he's a spelling champ! Chump. F!

  • Find someone in a different school/different grade/with a different teacher who wrote an assignment with a similar theme previously and use that as my own work. Sounds like a good plan, doesn't it? WRONG! Teachers are strange creatures. They hang out after work with other teachers and talk about school and their students. My parents were both teachers and all their friends were teachers and so were their next-door neighbours. Teachers have little parties where all the teachers from all the schools in whatever area they are in get together and talk about teaching stuff. I saw this happen. I have actually heard students get caught out on something because of a conversation a couple of teachers were having in a party. (It may not have been specifically plagiarism. I can't quite recall.) Plus, there's the whole writing-style thing I mentioned before.
When I went to Ryerson for my journalism degree, the Internet was pretty extensive. There were new options open to students who wanted to plagiarize:
  • Find some stuff on the Internet and hand it in. Problem with this is that if you can find the stuff, so can your professors. No wait, I'm against plagiarism. Your professors finding out you're cheating isn't a problem, it's justice.

  • Pay for some stuff on the Internet and hand it in. Try typing "essays for sale" into I did and got about 492,000 Web pages, plus two sponsor links. So, in addition to all the free stuff that's out there, you can buy a pre-made or a custom-made essay on the Internet. Yuck. Honestly, this makes me sick.

    Here's what one of the sites says to justify its existence:

    Is it fair that you'd fail a class because your mother is in the hospital or your car breaks down when you're out of town?

    Seriously, there's no professor or teacher who's not going to flexible in a situation where the student is going through extreme difficulty. That's why there are make-up tests and extensions. I knew some professors who would be willing to take the percentage of the mark a missed assignment was worth and attach it to another assignment.

    If you do use one of these sites or something off the Internet, you're probably going to get caught.

Now that we're clear on how to cheat and plagiarize, and why it's stupid and idiotic to do so, let's talk more about why you shouldn't do it.

It's wrong!

Well, it bloody well is. If your parents came home and asked who mowed your lawn while they were gone, and it was your brother, would you say you had done it? No. ‘Cause taking credit for other people's work is wrong. Try taking credit for someone else's work at a job and see what happens. You get fired, that's what.

You're probably going to get caught

"There are a few ways to catch a thief," says Sean Murray, a high school teacher from Courtice, Ontario. "The one I use most frequently is a(n Internet) search looking for an exact phrase (putting quotations around a suspicious phrase). If the student was stupid enough or lazy enough to use the Internet I can usually find out in 5 - 10 minutes. If they were more sophisticated in their cheating (changing every third word around) then I can get them by entering a portion of the essay into a plagiarism Web site for teachers. They do this for free and have a one day turn-around."

Really bad things can happen to you if you get caught

No kidding. Let's look at what some universities and colleges have to say about plagiarism:

  1. University of Toronto - If you plagiarize at the University of Toronto, here's what can happen to you:


    • Get a zero on the project (that's if you admit you're guilty after you've been caught cheating on an assignment worth less than 10 percent of your final grade).
    • Get a zero and an oral or written reprimand
    • Reduction of your final grade
    • Lose your right to use any facility of the university, including library and computer facilities
    • Get a zero for the whole course
    • Suspension from the school or program for up to a year
    • Have the transgression recorded on your official transcript
    • Be expelled from the school
    • Have a degree, diploma or certificate suspended, recalled or cancelled
    • Have a academic credits suspended, recalled or cancelled

    The last two indicate that even if you get away with the cheating for years, you can have your degree taken away if anyone ever finds out.


  2. Acadia University - Here's what can happen to you if you cheat at Acadia:


    • Have to re-do the piece of work
    • Fail the assignment
    • Fail the course
    • Be dismissed from the university


  3. College of the Rockies - Here's some of what can happen to you if you cheat at COTR:


    • Have your work confiscated
    • Be removed from the examination room, course, program, activity or College.
    • Have the weight of an examination or assignment towards the overall course grade reduced
    • Be given a failing grade, or "0" in the exam, assignment or course in which the misconduct occurred
    • Be suspended from the college

    They might also recommend you face a tribunal to determine what else might happen to you. That sounds scary and justice-filled to me.

In the end, it's you who'll pay for cheating

Yep. I'm going to make that statement and then stand by it. If you cheat, you can get caught and your whole life can get screwed up or you won't get caught and you don't learn properly. Either way, being a plagiarist means you'll end up a big loser and no one will like you.

And you'll probably have bad hair, too.

So don't do it.

Modified on April 23, 2009