Plagiarism—passing off another’s words or ideas as one’s own—has always been a problem in universities. Lack of time, knowledge, or ability, and the desire for a good grade often tempt students to look for shortcuts. Computers make it easier for professors to both identify plagiarized work and trace its origin. But a few years ago a student unknowingly made it very easy when he handed me a paper on the subject of “public speaking.” I liked the way it began. Here were the first
“Do you get nervous and fearful even thinking about the prospect of giving a speech or presentation? If so, you’re not alone. Speaking in front of a group is the greatest fear of most people. It ranks ahead of the fear of dying, riding in an airplane, or failure in other areas of
“You may be unsure of your own speaking ability. But there is good news. You can be an effective speaker, the kind others admire—the kind who gets the job done in every speaking situation.”
I told him I liked the beginning of his paper. Then I asked, “Who wrote it?” He stammered and then finally admitted he copied it from the Internet. He reluctantly showed me where. He had copied it word for word. I explained this was a case of plagiarism even though no author was listed. Furthermore, I told him I knew the author and would prove it. I then handed him a copy of a training document I had written some years earlier—one widely distributed throughout the Air Force. Somebody had recently placed my words on the Internet, passing them off as their own. My student had copied them and presented them to me as his own. The opening lines of the document I had written were identical to the ones the student had quoted. The student was dumbfounded. (By the way, they are now the opening lines of my book,
I showed mercy on the student. He learned a valuable lesson. I am sure he thought about it often as he wrote a new paper on a different subject. He has long since graduated, and sometime later wrote to thank me for both a valuable lesson and for the compassion I showed him.
He was fortunate. You might not be that fortunate. Don’t plagiarize. It is wrong, you may get caught, you won’t feel good about yourself, and the consequences might be severe.