Monday, December 08, 2008

Cheaters

A couple of my students are about to learn the hard way that cheaters never prosper. Or at least not when they are so unclever as to announce their duplicity to the professor by committing one or more of the following careless blunders on a term paper. (N.B. These are problems for the casual plagiarizer who only wants to borrow select phrases from another source, not for the serious plagiarizer who plans to copy/download/buy entire papers.)

1. Sudden changes in tone. If you are interspersing your prose with text copied directly from another source, massage the wording of the copied text until it blends with your writing style and conforms to an appropriate level of mastery on the subject. This makes it more difficult for your professor to Google suspicious phrases.

Here is an example of what not to do:

There are many huge and awesome applications for astronomy in the real world. It is extremely important that we find out ways to show these amazing ideas to the general public who don't know very much about what kind of stuff is out there. One example is the charge-coupled device, or CCD, which is an analog shift register, that enables the transportation of analog signals (electric charges) through successive stages (capacitors) controlled by a clock signal. Charge-coupled devices can be used as a form of memory or for delaying samples of analog signals. Today, they are most widely used in arrays of photoelectric light sensors, to serialize parallel analog signals.
Unfortunately, in order to properly massage the borrowed passage (copied from the Wikipedia entry on CCDs, by the way), you would have to make an attempt to understand it, and you are either too lazy or too pressed for time because you waited until the last minute to write your paper.

2. Sudden changes in font. Your professor is reading a passage of your paper and notices that the font changes mid-sentence from black size-10 Times New Roman to grey size-12 Arial. This is likely to arouse suspicion, and could lead to Googling of the phrases that stand out.

Example:
There are many huge and awesome applications for astronomy in the real world. It is extremely important that we find out ways to show these amazing ideas to the general public. One example is the charge-coupled device, or CCD, which is an analog shift register, that enables the transportation of analog signals (electric charges) through successive stages (capacitors) controlled by a clock signal. Charge-coupled devices can be used as a form of memory or for delaying samples of analog signals. Today, they are most widely used in arrays of photoelectric light sensors, to serialize parallel analog signals.
Busted.

This is not a problem if you learn to use a markup language like LaTeX. For Word users, here's a tip: Use ctrl-a (or command-a on a Mac) to select all of the text, and change it to one style, one size, one color.

3. Awkward paragraph structure. Sentences that fail to wrap properly onto the next line constitute obvious signs of copy-and-paste. Take the time to proofread your plagiarized work to ensure that the paragraphs look like you typed them yourself.

Example:

There are many huge and awesome applications for astronomy in the real world. It is extremely important that we find out ways to show these amazing ideas to the general public. One example is the charge-coupled device, or CCD, which is an analog shift
register, that enables the transportation of analog signals (electric charges)through successive
stages (capacitors) controlled by a clock signal. Charge-coupled devices can be used as a form of
memory or for delaying samples of analog signals. Today, they are most widely used in arrays
of photoelectric light sensors, to serialize parallel analog signals.
High Google probability, especially if you have been so careless as to commit either (or both) of the first two blunders.

Tip: Leave more than five minutes prior to the deadline to glance over all the pages and make sure nothing stands out.

Of course the simplest way to avoid the pitfalls of cheating is not to cheat. You will feel much better about yourself, too.

5 Comments:

Blogger MadRocketScientist said...

Some people REALLY need to not go to college.

12/08/2008 3:06 PM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

At least one of them won't be after this semester.

12/08/2008 3:22 PM  
Blogger Gringo_Malo said...

CCD's are an application of astronomy? Perhaps I need to go back to school.

12/10/2008 10:32 AM  
Blogger Stickwick Stapers said...

The student is referring to spin-off technology, but as you can see it's not worded very well. My freshman students are almost uniformly in need of remedial composition, even though they should've developed writing skills in high school.

12/10/2008 7:41 PM  
Anonymous Floyd R. Turbo said...

I busted a student last year. He did the idjut version -- copying a SparksNotes book review. I turned him in... he did the same thing in the same class (a retake last Spring with a different prof) in the Spring -- he was a graduating Senior (let's say was). They let him walk -- I guess to assuage the parents, but he did not graduate (I checked up on that).

I was more offended by the idea that he thought he'd get it by me and my TA. Nice kid too.

12/21/2008 9:19 AM  

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