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Plagiarism: From School to Politics

A plagiarism scandal has rocked the office of the Romanian Prime Minister. According to the Associated Press (2012), Victor Ponta stands accused of plagiarizing part of his 2004 doctoral thesis. Nature, a science publication, stated that an anonymous tipster offered papers that reveal that over half of the thesis was plagiarized. The Nature article was written by Quirin Schiermeier, who was concerned about the reputation of science born in Romania (McLaughlin, 2012). Ponta’s thesis, on the International Criminal Court, is said to have been partially written from work previously published by two law scholars, also from Romania (Associated Press, 2012). The Associated Press (2012) quoted Mr. Ponta as saying: ‘“The only reproach I have is that I did not list authors at the bottom of each page, but put them in the bibliography at the end. If this is a mistake, then I am willing to pay for it”’(para.1). Ponta said that he would not resign.

The Prime Minister has only been in office less than two months and plagiarism is the hottest topic on his agenda. His education minister was accused of copying material in a book that he wrote about Romania. The second education minister also resigned under similar circumstances.

Mutler (2012) reported that some Romanian citizens wonder if these accusations are the result of a political vendetta. A contributing factor may be that university degrees have become increasingly important for societal stature since the fall of communism in that country (Mutler, 2012).

Academic plagiarism is commonplace in Romania. Communism fell in 1989, at which time Romania pursued a free market, replete with new institutions of higher learning (Mutler, 2012). In the country, cheating is not unusual, and teachers are said to take bribes regularly. Others believe that degrees can be bought. Medical school cheating is especially troublesome as doctors may not actually have the education they need to practice medicine effectively (Mutler, 2012). This fact raises serious questions about any degree “earned” in Romania.

Recently, other European politicians have been accused of plagiarism. One of these high-profile officials was Karl-Theodore zu Guttenburgh, the former German Defense Minister. The other was ex-Hungarian President, Pal Schmitt. With politicians and scholars being accused of cheating and plagiarizing, and misconduct being a standard way of life in certain cultures, it raises the question about what needs to happen in order for students to change old ways and start learning about academic integrity.

Written by Beth Calvano


McLaughlin, D. (2012, June 20). Romanian PM rejects plagiarism claim. Retrieved from

Mutler, A. (2012, June 20). Romania PM ensnared in plagiarism scandal. Retrieved from

The Associated Press. (2012, June 20). Romania: Plagiarism scandal ensnares prime minister. Retrieved from

Cheating is the Symptom of Something Else

Cheating is not a naturally occurring behavior—it is a symptom of something else going on in our lives. This is according to Brian Harke, Ed.D., Associate Dean at USC in an article he wrote for The Huffington Post.

Harke says that it is, “something you are doing or thinking that causes you to make the choice of cheating. This might include poor time management, lack of interest, or being in over your head.”

You’re probably not alone in experiencing these issues, and there is plenty that you can do to address them. Try talking to a school counselor/advisor, a parent, a mentor, or a friend. If you’re not up for that, just do a search for your issue (unless your issue is procrastination—close the browser and get back to work).

A lot of students cheat because the class they’re in is not interesting or relevant. Sometimes you have to take classes that seem irrelevant, but may be part of a broader foundation for future coursework. It can be hard to engage in these classes and as a result, you may find yourself inclined to cheat your way through the class—don’t. Harke says, “If a class is boring, speak to the instructor and find out how the class relates to real life and your interests. If you make it interesting to you, you’ll want to be more engaged.”

For those students that find themselves in over their heads with heavy workload, extracurricular schedules, or simply taking a lot of advanced classes, Harke offers this advice, “Being at the top of your class or getting straight A’s isn’t worth a dime if you’ve cheated your way through. You will be found out. Get yourself a tutor and/or talk to your advisor about the difficulty of your schedule. It’s OK and even expected at some colleges not to get straight A’s. If you are getting pressure from your parents, take them through your schedule and study habits. Walk them through your class syllabus. Help them understand how intense the workload is and how hard you are working.”

The point is, “you can control the symptom of cheating if you recognize the source of the issue and do something about it.”

Read the full article at The Huffington Post:


Harke, Brian. “Are You Wise to Cheating?” The Huffington Post. 8 Jan. 2011. Web. 10 Jan. 2011.

Is Technology Responsible for the Increase in College Plagiarism?

Ask any college kid across the country if they’re willing to give up technology for a single day and you’re likely to get a resounding no. Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter or internet capable smart phones play a major role in the daily lives of the younger generations. So much in fact, that many of them wouldn’t know how to function without the technology that they use to communicate, find information, entertain themselves or shop.

While some of these advancements have enriched lives through access to information and convenience, in many cases, they can be misused. One area that has been the subject of this misuse is in college and university environments. In fact, a recent report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that over half of a sample of college presidents said they noticed a significant increase in plagiarism over the past decade at their schools, and almost all of them said that they think technology has played a role.

A Tech Savvy Generation

What is it about today’s youth that is so different from other generations? Well, for one thing, almost every kid over the age of five knows how to use a computer and it’s even younger for a cell phone. In fact, in many cases, children are outpacing their parents in terms of knowing how to operate and control most technological devices. These are the kids of technology and as technology improves, so does their ability to use it.

Think of the different types of technology you use in an average day. The remote control operates the family television, the digital camera takes pictures and records family events, the computer shares images with our family and friends, even the GPS in the car tells us where to go. It used to be that programming the VCR was the most tech-savvy thing people did at home. Now, things are quite different. The younger generation is technologically savvy and on pace to become more so in the coming years.

The Plagiarism-Technology Link

Just a few years ago, if you needed information you went to the library or you asked a professional. Today, on account of the internet, access to information is immediate. In fact, within a few seconds, you can find almost any piece of data or tidbit of information by simply entering a search query into Google. The internet has opened the door to a whole new world of possibilities from online businesses to reconnecting with friends to research to entertainment. As a tool for virtually anything, the internet’s volume of data is endless.

Unfortunately, for college students, the temptation to use technology for shortcuts is very high. Not only is it easy to plagiarize by simply cutting and pasting, but it’s also easy to purchase fully written papers, reports, even PhD dissertations. In fact, for a small fee students can buy and download a professional college ready paper on virtually any subject. There are sites dedicated to nothing but providing academic papers to the next kid with a debit card. On many college campuses, the internet has changed from a tool for gathering information to one for stealing & buying information.

Two Pew Research Center surveys discovered the impact of technology on college behavior. The first survey was conducted by telephone, reaching out to a sample of over 2,000 adults over the age of 18. The second survey was conducted online, targeting the presidents of over 1,000 colleges and universities.

Over half of college graduates surveyed stated that they used some form of technology in class. For the presidents, almost all said that they use a smartphone daily, over a third reported that they use social networking sites weekly, and more than half work for universities that offer online courses. Interestingly, over 60% anticipate that sometime in the next ten years, more than half of the textbooks used in traditional courses will be digital.

Obviously, technology is not going anywhere anytime soon. This is generally considered to be a good thing, as the internet, smart phones, social media etc., have made life easier and in many cases, more entertaining. However, as a tool for promoting plagiarism, the internet simply provides too much freedom with too little regulation. College students are dependent on technology to function efficiently at the same level as their peers. Nevertheless, as technology becomes easier and more accessible, so does the temptation to be lazy and plagiarize work. Solutions need to be found both by using technology to support current peer review processes along with providing students with a proper guided framework of research and writing integrity.


TechNewsDaily Staff.  “College Presidents Blame Rising Plagiarism on Tech Increase.” September 16th, 2011.

Commas: Essential vs. Non-essential

In our previous discussion of comma usage, we showed that non-essential material is set off with commas—enclosed by “basket handles” that allow us to imagine lifting out the non-essential “basket” to see that the remaining sentence retains its basic meaning.

Here, in a nutshell, is the difference between essential and non-essential material:

1. My dog, Watson, is the bane of my existence.

–implies that you only have one dog, and he makes your life miserable. Even if you didn’t tell us his name, when talking about your dog you’d actually be talking about Watson. “Watson” is a non-essential term.

2. My dog Watson is the bane of my existence.

–implies that you have at least two dogs, and only one of them—Watson—is ruining your life. Any other dog you have is blameless. Removing “Watson” from this expression would make it ambiguous—would, in other words, change its meaning. Removing “Watson” would, in fact, risk besmirching the reputation of another dog!   The full meaning of the sentence depends on how it’s punctuated.

If you think of those commas in Sentence 1 as basket handles, you’ll see that the “basket” can be removed without injuring the basic meaning of the sentence:

My dog is the bane of my existence.

On the other hand, since “Watson” in Sentence 2 is crucial to the meaning of that sentence, we don’t set it off with commas.

When trying to decide whether a modifying term or phrase is essential, we have to look for the basket.  Examples:

3. I spent most of my life waiting for something to happen.

4. I made my living, such as it was, as a writer of fiction.

In each sentence, the underlined material is clearly descriptive.  (In Sentence 3, it describes the verb “spent”—it acts as an adverb; in Sentence 4, it describes the gerund “living”—it acts as an adjective.)  In order to see whether either phrase is a basket, let’s try lifting it out:

3a. I spent most of my life.

4a. I made my living as a writer of fiction.

As you can see, 3a is an incomplete sentence—it’s missing something essential.  We read it and think…”You spent your lifehow?” So the underlined phrase is essential to the sentence.  It’s not a basket, and it should not be set off.   Sentence 4a is okay.  It works.  The meaning is the same as Sentence 3—it’s just missing a bit of description, a bit of extra information implying that “my living” was rather austere.  The underlined material is a basket and should be punctuated accordingly.

So:  When trying to figure out whether to use setting-off commas, look for baskets.

Written by Jincy Kornhauser at Pearson Tutor Services

Parallel Structure & How to Make a Neat List

Parallel structure, we are told, is essential to a well-made sentence, yet many writers really don’t know what the phrase means. In order to investigate, let’s start at the beginning: Not all sentences require parallel structure. If a sentence does not contain a list of two or more things, then we don’t need to worry about parallelism.  Parallelism is all about neat, tidy lists.

When we put lists of things—phrases, clauses, terms—in a sentence, these things should all be, syntactically speaking, parallel.  I’ll get back to “syntactically speaking” in a moment, but right now, let’s look at this sentence (I’ve underlined each of four items in the list):

If you want to put on a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner, be sure to get a big enough bird to feed everybody, strew marshmallows all over your canned squash, cranberry-orange relish, and not inviting relatives who really don’t like each other.

Does this have parallel structure? It’s easy to check. How? Well, if the items are parallel, it should be possible to make a good sentence using any one of them by itself.  All you have to do is imagine it expressed as four sentences, each of which ends with one of the four items in the list:

  • If you want to put on a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner, be sure to get a big enough bird to feed everybody. (Good!)
  • If you want to put on a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner, be sure to strew marshmallows all over your canned squash. (Good!)
  • If you want to put on a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner, be sure to cranberry-orange relish. (Whoops!)
  • If you want to put on a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner, be sure to not inviting relatives who really don’t like each other.  (What?)

As you can see, two of the items in the list are not parallel in structure to the other two, so when we try to make sentences with them, the sentences don’t work. In order to correct the original sentence, we must make them all identical in structure. There isn’t just one way to correct such a sentence, but, as we’ve seen, there’s an easy way to make sure we’ve done it effectively.

Here are two possible revisions, both of which are parallel in structure:

If you want to put on a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner, be sure to get a big enough bird to feed everybody, strew marshmallows all over your canned squash, make cranberry-orange relish, and refrain from inviting relatives who really don’t like each other.

If you want to put on a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner, you need a big enough bird to feed everybody, marshmallow-topped canned squash, cranberry-orange relish,  and absolutely no relatives who really don’t like each other.

Note that the first revision has a parallel list of four predicates, while the second has a parallel list of noun phrases. Still, if you double-check either revision, you’ll see that the list is tidy.

This brings us to “syntactically speaking.” The “things” that have to be parallel in a list are sentence elements. Sentence elements can be parts of speech (nouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs, etc.) as well as phrases (adjective phrases, noun phrases, adverbial phrases, infinitive phrases), predicates, and clauses (dependent and independent). You can’t make a parallel list using two nouns and a verb; you can’t make one using two independent clauses and one dependent clause; you can’t make one using a predicate, a noun phrase, and an adjective phrase. All the members of the list must be the same sort of sentence element.

Now, you may be a little rusty on the meanings of some of these sentence elements, but that shouldn’t stand in your way so long as you can look at your sentence and see its skeleton. (All sentences have them!). In our original sentence, the skeleton was:

If you want to put on a fabulous Thanksgiving dinner, be sure to W, Y, Y, and Z.

Once you’ve identified the skeleton, you’re ready to plug W, X, Y, and Z in—one at a time—to make sure your list is parallel. If it’s not, you’ll know it right away, just as you knew that “be sure to cranberry orange relish” had something seriously wrong with it. Deep down, you can tell a well-structured sentence from a poorly-structured one.

So:  If your sentence structure is not parallel, identify that skeleton and tidy up that list!

Written by Jincy Kornhauser at Pearson Tutor Services

When Academic Cheating Becomes a Legal Issue

Cheating in academia, whether it’s in the classroom or in the field of research, is typically a matter handled internally. Academic institutions prefer, typically, to handle such matters through honor courts, editorial boards or internal investigations rather than turn to the legal system for help.

However, increasingly plagiarism and other ethical issues have started to spill out of the academic courts and into the court of law.

The trend has been especially common among students who feel that they have been wrongly punished for plagiarism. This has included students suing their former schools for false representation, breach of contract, emotional distress, negligence and violation of equal protection rights to name a few of the arguments.

Though students rarely win these cases in the U.S., in countries such as China, students are often successful in getting the courts to force the school to withdraw their decisions, often under the grounds of a mandated right to education.

But students aren’t the only ones turning to the courts for help. Professors fired over allegations of plagiarism or unethical behavior have also routinely filed lawsuits. This famously included the controversial professor Ward Churchill who won his lawsuit against his former employer, the University of Colorado, after being fired over allegations of plagiarism. However, Churchill was only awarded one dollar ($1.00) in damages and ended up not being reinstated.

But while these lawsuits have been filed with regularity for some time, more recently universities have started going on the offensive when dealing with cheating. Last week, the University of Phoenix filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against Chegg Inc., the company that owns the site Student of Fortune. According to the University, Student of Fortune offers a large amount of the school’s material for sale even though the site bills itself as a “tutorial marketplace.”

According to the school, the lawsuit was part of its anti-cheating efforts.

But it isn’t just civil courts dealing with ethical violations. In 2010, criminal fraud charges were sought against a professor who accepted duplicative grants for the same proposal. Though the professor eventually escaped prosecution, he was still disbarred for two years from receiving funding.

The result of all of this is pretty clear, though it’s easy to think of academia as an island unto itself, it’s nothing of the sort. Academia may be a fairly enclosed community with its own rules and justice system, but disputes within academia  routinely spill outside of it.

This means that editors, deans and others in position of authority need to consider not just their internal processes for handling unethical behavior, but how those processes may align with the regular legal system.

This can be especially difficult when conducting investigations as evidence that may be acceptable in an academic setting might not be adequate in a court of law. Likewise, rules that students and researchers are expected to follow might not mesh with the rules that the courts expect of them.

In short, it’s not enough to simply write strong editorial policies and honor codes. It’s also crucial to perform investigations up to standards that can hold up in a court of law, using methods that can be understood by academics and jurors alike.

Given the likelihood that these disputes will spill over into the courts at some point, it’s important to treat them as potential legal cases from day one and not think of them as purely academic matters.

When Spellcheckers Attack

Attention! Toe world prospectors unlock the pod tip lighter, alas the writer costing excess to doctor morose stool sheets and otter reference spices, approving the writer to pricier acetate drabs free of misspellings, grimy eras, and seasonal work shoes.

I hope that’s clear. It certainly ought to be, since the whole paragraph was checked using the Microsoft Word spellchecker tool.   In order to achieve this paragraph, all I had to do was look for wavy red lines underneath words (there were lots of them!), run the spellchecker, and click CHANGE for each suggested improvement.  And…voila!  Not a single word is misspelled!

Too bad it’s total gibberish.

In order to correct misspellings in that messy draft—in order to produce a clear, informative paragraph—I should have followed up on each of the spellchecker’s “suggestions” with close, thoughtful inspection (Do I really mean “toe world”? What’s a “pod tip lighter”?) and, in some cases, a trip to the dictionary (“Acetate” just doesn’t sound quite right…).  If I had done that—if I had not entrusted my spellchecker with the entire task of proofreading—the results would have been considerably less embarrassing:

The word processor, unlike the old typewriter, allows the writer instant access to dictionaries, style sheets, and other reference sources, allowing the writer to produce accurate drafts free of misspellings, grammar errors, and questionable word choices.

Indeed, the spellchecker is a great tool—a wonderful first line of defense against typos and misspellings.  Example: When I typed “embarrassing” earlier, I left out one of the Rs (I often do—“embarrassing” often embarrasses me), and that wavy red line saved me. But by itself it won’t save me—or you—from startling and often hilarious word errors.   To your spellchecker,gym and gin, marriage and mirage, udder and utter, paste and paced—they’re all good, regardless of what you are actually trying to say.

When you use your spellchecker and it suggests a substitution for a misspelled word, always:

  1. Take note of that suggestion and make sure it is the word you meant to type.
  2. If you’re not sure—if you think it’s correct, but you can’t claim to know it’s correct, then stop and get out your dictionary.

If you don’t own a dictionary, there are some free online: Merriam-Webster has a particularly helpful one.  Now, when you don’t know how to spell a word it can be a challenge to find it in the dictionary, but this is a challenge worth meeting.

  • For one thing, the more time you spend rummaging through dictionaries and matching spelling with meaning, the more skilled you’ll become.  Once you become comfortable with your dictionary, you’ll realize what a fantastic resource it is.  Dictionaries don’t just give spellings and meanings: they provide synonyms and usage examples.  They even tell you what part of speech the word is.  The dictionary—not the spellchecker—is the writer’s trustworthy companion.
  • For another, taking this issue seriously will save you from handing in papers confusing phenomena with pneumonia,balcony with baloney, and madam with madman.

So:  Treat your spellchecker as a helpful underling.  It’s good at guessing, not knowing. It’s not the boss of you.

Written by Jincy Kornhauser at Pearson Tutor Services

Does Copying Only 10 Words Constitute Plagiarism?

The New York Times recently published an article in it’s Arts Beat section that gave a perspective on dissertation plagiarism from Dora D. Clarke-Pine, a professor of psychology from La Sierra University. Professor Clarke-Pine conducted a study to examine dissertation plagiarism by evaluating a sample of papers from psychology students at universities across the country. She also made a clear distinction between religious and non-religious universities to see if ‘moral values’ played into the incidence of plagiarism.

Her findings were pretty much what we’ve come to expect as far as high percentages of copied materials. From the NY Times:

“Four of every five dissertations examined contained examples of word-for-word plagiarism. Ms. Clarke-Pine found no difference between religious and secular schools.”

The study yielded the interesting notation that there wasn’t any distinction in plagiarism between religious and non-religious schools. Ms. Clark-Pine originally thought there might be a lower incidence of plagiarism in religious schools because of stricter moral codes that would deter students from cheating. The lack of differential could be taken as an indicator that students across the board were accidentally plagiarizing, or didn’t know exactly how to define plagiarism.

One part of the study that took heat was Ms. Clark-Pine’s methods for determining what constitutes plagiarism. In her study, she considered plagiarism as ‘copying 10 or more words without proper attribution.’ Many opponents of the study voiced their opinion that copying 10 or more words could be entirely accidental due to the limited constraints that certain phrases can be structured.

One article comment poster, “norman,” wrote:

“I’d like to see Clarke-Pine’s paper. Defining plagiarism as copying 10 or more words sounds awfully slippery. If I write a sentence of 10 words on a common theme that can be found somewhere with a Google search or somewhere in a term-paper database, is that copying or coincidence?”

Although it is true that cases of accidental plagiarism can potentially occur, that doesn’t mean that many of the word-for-word matches in the study weren’t intentional cases of plagiarism. There is only a finite number of ways to structure a particular phrase or sentence, but that’s exactly what makes the content unique.

Some of the greatest words and phrases in written history have been ten words and under:

“Words may show a man’s wit but actions his meaning.” – Ben Franklin “An unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates “Poetry is what is lost in translation.” – Robert Frost

Though some cases of plagiarism may be accidental, that doesn’t mean papers shouldn’t be checked. Even if one single case of intentional plagiarism is discovered by checking hundreds of papers – it’s worth it.

Citations Cohen, Patricia. “Thinking Cap: The Seemingly Persistent Rise of Plagiarism.” The New York Times. August 23rd 2011. Quotes

Famous Plagiarism Quotes

Below are more quotes from famous authors, artists and public figures who voiced their opinion about plagiarism:

“Most plagiarists, like the drone, have neither taste to select, industry to acquire, nor skill to improve, but impudently pilfer the honey ready prepared, from the hive.” – Walter Colton Source:

“What a good thing Adam had. When he said a good thing, he knew nobody had said it before.” – Mark Twain (1835-1910) U.S. humorist, writer, and lecturer. Source:

“There is much difference between imitating a man and counterfeiting him.” – Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) American statesman, scientist and philosopher. Source:

“To copy others is necessary, but to copy oneself is pathetic” – Pablo Picasso Source:

“He that readeth good writers and pickes out their flowres for his own nose, is lyke a foole.” – Stephen Gosson Quotes Source: In the School of Abuse–Loyterers

“Intentionally using the quotes of others without author attribution is plagiarism and contributes to illiteracy.” – Rain Bojangles Source:

“Borrowed thoughts, like borrowed money, only show the poverty of the borrower.” – Lady Marguerite Blessington, Countess of Blessington Source:

What’s your favorite plagiarism quote?

Can Students Get Better Grades Using Social Media?

If you’ve blinked in the past couple of years, you’ve probably missed what could possibly be remembered as the birth of social media. The internet experience as we know it has certainly changed. Some may argue for the better, others, not so much. However, what everyone can agree on is the impact social media is having on pretty much everyone with internet access.

Particularly for college students, social media has become a major part of everyday life. In fact, so many students use social media to connect with friends, share pictures or videos that it’s beginning to take the place of traditional hang out sessions. It seems like everyone meets online these days instead of at the mall, the movies or even study groups. As this new phenomenon becomes a reality, is it possible to improve grades using social media? Some people think so.

Social Media Dominates Internet Use recently posted an interesting infographic that took a look at the question of whether grades can be improved using social media. Whether you agree with the idea that social media can be used to improve grades in school or not, there’s no denying it has complete dominance over the internet. Facebook is the second most popular site in the world after Google, the search engine. Interestingly, according to statistics offered by, a large portion of those who visit Facebook are browsing from school. Other social media sites are not far behind. In fact, YouTube, a video sharing site with social media features, holds the fourth spot, slightly behind Facebook for most visited site in the world. The bottom line is that while the internet offers a plethora of information to users worldwide, activity on social media sites is consistently occupying the majority of user time spent online.

Studies Confirm Link between Social Media and Improved Grades

There have been numerous studies that look at correlations between grades and social media. In one study, students reported that through social media, they were able to independently create and participate in study groups with other social media members, improving grades. It makes sense, given the amount of time students spend visiting these sites. There’s even evidence to support implementing social media sites in the schools themselves to “encourage discussion on the material both inside and outside of the classroom”. After all, 96% of students surveyed use Facebook on a regular basis. Social media is certainly a valuable resource for at the very least, reaching students.

One of the most valid arguments supporting the idea that heavy social media use improves grades is the notion that by using social media, students are learning to relate their schoolwork to their own personal experiences. Described as a form of “active learning”, the idea is that students can relate what they enjoy doing or talking about with their class work, increasing interest and ultimately, improving grades.

While it may not be a proven fact that social media use improves grades, there is certainly enough evidence to support the statement that most students use it frequently and will most likely continue to do so for quite some time. How social media will impact the future and the classroom, we don’t know for sure.