Here’s a sample writing in my online course in Writing for the Web that I want to use as an illustration of how print-style texts can be optimized for online reading. Course participant Carole Rich examined an article titled “Plagiarizing across Europe” and rewrote it by following a “template” I created for this assignment:
- Read the article and summarize the main ideas/highlights/conclusions in two or three sentences, this will go to the beginning and serve as an overview of the rewritten article.
- Read the article again, identify at least two sub-topics, and restructure the article into two or more sections accordingly.
- Work on a subhead for each section.
- Read each section and summarize the main ideas for that section in two or three sentences, this will go to the beginning of each section and serve as a “section overview.”
- Break long paragraphs into shorter ones – one idea, one paragraph; use lists where appropriate; cut out non-essential information and words – keep the rewrite short and concise.
Carole’s rewrite is being copied below in between the dotted line:
Many students do not understand what plagiarism is, according to a Europe-wide study.
Here is how students differ on the definition of plagiarism:
- In a situation where 40 percent of a text is copied word for word without using quotations, citations or references, 91 percent of respondents accurately identify this as plagiarism.
- In the same situation where “some changes” have been made to the copied text, almost 40 percent of respondents say they do not think it is plagiarism or are unsure whether it is.
“It’s surprising how many students are not sure whether that’s plagiarism or have changed their minds from a previous question, when actually it’s the same,” said Irene Glendinning, a member of the Impact of Policies for Plagiarism in Higher Education across Europe project.
“You’ve still taken the idea and almost the same words, and used them without acknowledgment. You could even say it is worse, because the student is trying to deceive that it is their work or avoid detection software.”
The study is the result of a three-year project led by Coventry University, based on an anonymous and voluntary survey of almost 5,000 students, teachers and senior managers across Europe.
Who plagiarizes the most
Data from the survey show the percentages of students from the following countries who think they have plagiarized deliberately or accidentally:
- 65 percent in Lithuania
- 46 percent in France
- Almost 33 percent in Great Britain
- 10 percent in Germany
However, Glendinning, academic manager for student experience at Coventry’s Faculty of Engineering and Computing, pointed out that the results had to be understood with reference to students’ understanding of what plagiarism is.
“Some people believe they have never plagiarized. It might be because they haven’t, but it might also be that they don’t understand what it is,” she said.
The results showed that students need more education on the subject, she added.
According to the study, no one knows how prevalent plagiarism is, Glendinning said. That includes educators in Britain, which in general is “well ahead of the game” in terms of prevention and detection.
Need for common standards
National data on the subject are collected in countries including Sweden and Austria, but this requires common standards for defining and reporting cases and removing inconsistencies between institutions, something British universities often resist in the name of preserving autonomy, she added.
A part of the study based on interviews with senior higher education figures highlights essay writing mills as an “elephant in the room.”
“A lot of research has to be done about how you go about detecting those cases and how you provide satisfactory proof the student didn’t do it themselves,” said Glendinning. “A lot of countries aren’t even aware this is going on.”
Study results may be skewed
Over all, the study was likely to present a positively skewed picture of plagiarism policies and procedures in Europe because participation was voluntary and many institutions declined to take part, she added.
The preliminary findings will be presented next week at a conference hosted by Mendel University in the Czech Republic and sponsored by plagiarism detection service Turnitin.