A Case Study

Here's an example of what can happen when an instructor suspects plagiarism. The details have been compiled from several real-life cases at the University of Guelph. Names have been changed.

Mary Jones, an instructor in the English department, was marking her term papers when she came across an essay that set all her alarm bells ringing. First of all, one paragraph seemed to be suspiciously familiar. In fact, it was from an article she herself had written and she remembered how fond she had been of a certain turn of phrase, a phrase which had also apparently attracted her student. Then again, there seemed to be differences in writing style within the essay itself. Whereas at times the writer’s style was characteristic of much student work, with occasional grammar and punctuation errors, as well as a certain awkwardness of phrasing, at other times it was extremely sophisticated, and that of an expert writer in the discipline.

Mary Jones began to investigate further. By entering a few words from suspicious passages in Google, she instantly found that her student had plagiarized from several sources available on the Internet. By combining her own considerable knowledge of writing in the field, and by checking the articles listed in the bibliography, she found more examples of outright unacknowledged copying. What her student had done was to create a patchwork quilt of plagiarized paragraphs from a number of sources, a patchwork joined together within the student’s own organizational framework.

Professor Jones wrote asking the student to come in for an interview and reported the plagiarism to the Dean. In the end, the student received an official warning and received a zero in the course.

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