Say it in Your Own Words

Remember why the good Lord made your eyes Let nothing evade your eyes Plagiarise, plagiarise, plagiarise!Tom Lehrer, Harvard mathematician

That rather tongue-in-cheek advice from a modern-day satirist-songster seems to have become the rule for many writers of the day. We at Teacher Plus are discovering the unpleasant fact that the copy-paste culture has spread even to those of us who should be discouraging our wards from practicing it!

Readers may recall the cover story in the July 2007 issue of Teacher Plus which considered the issue of plagiarism as something teachers need to watch out for in student work. But children, after all, learn from adults, and plagiarism appears to be a major problem in the adult world as well. The temptation to use something that has been said before, and said well, instead of going through the labour of producing one’s own material, is hard to resist – especially when the Internet has made it so easy to find and reproduce material from a wide range of sources. There are a few different issues at play here. One might say that plagiarism, of both the conscious and unconscious kind, springs from three impulses. The most inexcusable is laziness. We cannot be bothered to spend time creating something original, so we look in different places for words that fit, and then pass them off as our own. The second, just a little bit better, is when, in the course of looking up information, we find material that seems to articulate exactly what we want to say, and we use it (again, verbatim) because it seems harmless, especially if it is only in small bits and pieces.

Of course, to do this with acknowledgement of the source is acceptable – but this often does not happen. The third is a sense of insecurity, a panic that sets in when we are required to write something – god forbid, on our own! Are we so afraid to think afresh, to construct our own opinions without the scaffolding of other people’s words? We all recognise that true originality of ideas is rare, so the most we can strive for is originality in expression, or in the application of an idea. And all that one needs to do is value one’s own experience enough to write about it. So like old wine in new bottles, pour those ideas and experiences into a piece that is your own rather than borrowed from someone else. Express your opinions in your words, however rough-edged the final product may be. So please, resist that mouse click, and use the keyboard (or the pen) instead! Say what you think and feel, in your own way!

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