I’ve always looked forward to busting a plagiarist. My daydreams of such an event mostly include me finding a student’s paper on a free papers website or whole paragraphs and pages of text copied and pasted from a web source into the paper. But of course, such a gloriously and obviously egregious instance of plagiarism is too obvious to come true very often.
So when I noticed that a few of my students seemed to be paraphrasing to an inordinate degree and were using effectively large phrases, I checked their sources and found strings of direct quotes that were not quoted. It was frustrating; I was frustrated; and my handwriting grew larger and the graphite marks darker as I marked up those papers. After grading these papers, I knew I was skewing the rest of the class’ grades down. I felt a little like a failure, like I hadn’t made it expressly clear to them exactly what plagiarism was and is.
But I made myself go back the night before I handed the papers back and reassess the grades. Though I didn’t really want to put forth the effort, it was suprisingly satisfying to go back over the much better papers and realize that the vast majority of the class had actually met the assignment and clearly spent time finding sources and trying to effectively integrate them into their argument.
So my dream of catching the plagiarist was not particularly fun or fulfilling. But the students who I did catch and who I did give a chance to correct their citation errors seemed to have learned their lessons. In all cases, none of the plagiarism was devious but was mostly a misunderstanding of the fairly clear instructions I provided on how to cite. Alas, yet another case of miscommunication.