SPJ panel on plagiarism: Cite unoriginal ideas

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Humanities Professor Jane Focht-Hansen, Texas State University media law Professor Gilbert Martinez and chemistry Professor Jennifer Caraway address plagiarism during “Catching Copycat Culprits,” a panel discussion hosted by this college’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists March 28 in visual arts. Monica Avila Edman

Chemistry instructor said giving credit to sources is vital in research.

Jeff Riley


Plagiarism is on the rise in the classroom as students don’t use required documentation because they may be short on time or simply do not put forth enough effort, humanities Professor Jane Focht-Hansen said at a panel March 28 regarding laws, ethics and repercussions associated with plagiarism.

Focht-Hansen, director of the college writing center, was one of three speakers at the “Catching Copycat Culprits” panel hosted by this college’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the visual arts center.

Other speakers were Jennifer Caraway, chemistry instructor, and Gilbert Martinez, a media law professor at Texas State University.

Focht-Hansen said in her past five years of teaching she has seen what she considers a 50 percent increase of plagiarism from students.

“I notice most often in a student’s writing, the language that they use and how their sentence structure changes from the early sentences of a paper,” she explained.

Focht-Hansen said sometimes plagiarism is genuinely unintentional in which case she sits with the student and finds a way to correct the problem.

Martinez defined plagiarism as “the deliberate use of someone’s language, ideas or other original material without acknowledging them or giving credit.”

Martinez also said the modern tools that are used to plagiarize material are the same ones that can be used to catch plagiarism, noting that even photography could be traced via the internet to prove a picture’s originality.

Caraway explained that when work is not cited, it makes it difficult to prove the accurateness of the work referenced, which, in turn, can lead to the spread of false information.

She noted the importance of citing sources in the science world because so much research is being published in professional journals.

“Don’t just copy and paste,” Caraway said. “Even if you’re wording it a different way, cite it.”

Martinez said plagiarism was not worth the reputational damage one would receive in the work area, especially for journalists who can fall under attack today for “fake news,” and that now is the time to aim to be more credible.

The panelists gave advice on how to avoid plagiarizing.

Focht-Hansen urged students to learn about copyright-free websites and to cite every quote, paraphrase or summarization.

Martinez added a small trace of humor, saying the best way to avoid plagiarizing is to “create original work,” spurring laughter from the audience.

After the panel, Focht-Hansen said plagiarism is not something difficult to learn about and hopes students utilize the resources they have around to help them.

 “If students are willing to work with the faculty, the writing center and librarians, all of us can help students recognize when something should be documented and avoid plagiarizing,” she said.


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