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Second Chances for Plagiarism

March 6, 2012

I had an exchange with someone that had plagiarized some work recently. That’s nothing new, and I run into plagiarism constantly as an editor/publisher of information on the Internet.

As a quick aside, if you aren’t sure what plagiarism is, go to plagiarism.org, read Wikipedia, or ask someone. The short answer is, when you write anything, don’t cut/paste from other sources.

This person had copied some sections of a few posts for part of an article they had written. Their work was of good quality, and the plagiarized sections were fairly small. I was actually surprised that these particular sections were copied since they could have easily rewritten them.

In this case, I contacted the person, rejecting the article and chastising them for copying someone else’s work. We actually when back and forth a couple times as this person argued that they had cited the source and their experience in college had been some portions of other work could be used in a thesis. I agreed that portions of work can be used, but they must be cited properly. Quoted or set aside, and footnoted to make it clear that the words used are not the author’s words. Merely adding a note to your article that lists a source is not enough.

The other day I got a note from the author apologizing again, and agreeing that he had misunderstood was plagiarism was, agreeing not to do it again, and asking not to be banned from SQLServerCentral. My policy has been to blanket-ly no longer accept work from someone that plagiarizes since I don’t have enough resources to do extensive checking. However, I don’t often get much of an apology or an appeal of the ban.

I believe in second chances. I don’t think that a mistake, even a voluntary one, should condemn someone forever. We all act poorly at times, we all do things we regret later, or might do differently a second time, and we certainly all make mistakes.

I’ve been reconsidering my ban, and while I think it still makes some sense, I do think that I need to give people second chances at times. I’m unsure of how best to do this, and how best to involve the community. My initial thought is to create some walled area where we post content that needs a plagiarism check. However I’m not sure how to best do this and respect the privacy and reputation of people. If they plagiarize, I’m not against disclosing that, but if the person is doing a good job, I don’t want to bias people against their work.

I wish it were simple, but to me, it’s not. I am open to suggestions.

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6 Comments
  1. I agree, a life sentence does not fit for all crimes. I would require them to provide the results of a CopyScape scan to show their work is original. In fact, it is probably not a bad thing to require of all authors. It would be sort of like getting a CarFax report before buying a used car.

    • That’s a great idea…but wouldn’t the really problematic people just fake the scan results :)

  2. I’m not sure this even counts as a second chance. If the guy did do a citation of some kind, then it is plausible that he didn’t know he was doing wrong…or being super wrong.

    I run into this all the time, from both sides.

    It’s possible to plagiarize yourself. Most people don’t know they are supposed to cite pre-existing works, even ones they’ve written themselves. Yet we reuse our own work all the time and other than liking to previous blog posts, I don’t always put quotes around things I’ve written before. And that’s wrong. I was once called out by someone on a team because I used the same statement on several project charters without referencing the first time I wrote it. I’m not sure that project charters count as works of art, though. So I started including citations. Which just confused everyone who wasn’t used to seeing citations in documentation.

    I think we should leave the banning to people who reuse work with no attribution and show no willingness to change going forward. And by willingness, I don’t just mean “I’m sorry I got caught, I was just trying to help people”.

    But ultimately, as someone who manages lots of communities, I don’t have time to babysit and monitor the people who push the limits. So I feel for you.

  3. Chris F permalink

    I think I agree with Karen here. Especially because different countries may have different standards for citations. I’m not saying that we should let any of those standards apply but there’s a difference between an honest mistake (I thought I was citing properly) and trying to pass someone else’s work off as their own.

  4. I agree with you Steve.

    I did that mistake in SSC when I was new to blogging and at that time I had no idea about Plagiarism.
    I am fortunate that You gave me second change. since then I don’t forget to include reference section and mention names wherever required.

    Yes in most of the cases its impossible to identify this till someone comes and claim.

    We can circulate the guidelines and ethics to newbies and give second chance for genuine cases.

  5. I agree with you Steve. There was a popular little poetic ditty when I was in college that began: Plagiarize, Let no one else’s work evade your eyes, but plagiarize. Today plagiarism is still a huge problem on college campuses – and if you get caught copying someone else’s work it could cost you your academic career. By the way, getting kicked out of college for cheating can also destroy your chances at good job – who wants to hire someone that steals? Nobody does.
    That’s why many students and writers depend on plagiarism checking services to ensure their work is original. I heard that PlagTracker.com (http://goo.gl/XrxeX) good one, similar with turnitin. From student time I remember the main rules: Each time you take an idea from someone else (it doesn’t have to be the exact wording) make sure that you cite the source at the end of the sentence. Follow the format that your professor wants. In APA format, you’d have (Author, year, p. #) included at the end of the sentence. In MLA format, you’d have (Author, page #) at the end of the sentence.

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