As a graduate student with teaching responsibilities as part of my financial aid package, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to prevent plagiarism in the classroom. Schools and universities have taken increased measures to address increasing levels of plagiarism in the past several years, and I think some of what they have learned can be useful to the book blogging community as we continue to address the plagiarism in our own midst.
Over half of students admit to academic dishonesty. The percentage can range from 50% to 75% depending on the source or study you read, but the point is that the number is high. While I doubt the amount of plagiarist book bloggers is anywhere near this large, I do think it’s worth noting that plagiarism is a real problem.
So what should we do? Start by addressing the reasons that people plagiarize. The reasons I list below are common ones students give when confronted with their plagiarism by an academic council, but they strongly mirror the reasons plagiarist bloggers give. None of them, however, are good excuses–and I’ll explain why.
Excuses for Plagiarism
I’m listing this one first just to get it out of the way. I believe there is a small segment of the population who actally is a bit hazy on what exactly constitutes plagiarism. For instance, adult learners might be more at risk for accidental plagiarism due changing standards and research methods since they were last in school, and international students used to different conventions of citation may also struggle.
Therefore, I’m all about clearly defining plagiarism for people who may be unaware, so here it is: “the act of using another person’s words or ideas without giving credit to that person” (Merriam-Webster). This includes direct copying and pasting, paraphrasing that clearly still mirrors the original author’s words, and paraphrasing that changes the original author’s wording significantly but still steals the original author’s ideas.
However, my personal opinion is that most people who use the ignorance explanation are using it to avoid the consequences of their actions after being caught plagiarizing. Most people do know what it is and that it’s wrong. And the fact that most bloggers caught plagiarizing don’t mention ignorance as a reason supports this.
Lack of Time
This is a big one for book bloggers. The pressure to have a consistent blogging schedule, to post frequently to please readers, to meet deadlines for review copies or book tours can be real. As a community, book bloggers can do little to combat this for others. We can’t pick up another blogger’s house chores or work responsibilities to help them make more time for reading and writing. However, whenever possible we should make stressed-out bloggers this assurance: If you ever feel a need to plagiarize to keep up with your blog, it’s time to take a break. You are not going to lose readers, publicity contacts, or friends because you take a hiatus or post once a week instead of seven times a week. We will all still read and love and support your blog. And if you really feel the need to always have new posts, here’s a better solution than stealing: look for a co-blogger who can help shoulder some of the workload.
Pressure to Succeed
People often plagiarize when they think their own writing isn’t “good enough.” Maybe it isn’t “long enough,” “insightful enough,” or “smart enough.” In the blogosphere, these thoughts are just garbage–in a good way. Unlike academic writing, book blogging comes with few conventions. Personal voice and style are valued. A review can be short, long, chatty, analytical, or full of gifs, and it can be a good review. Your reviews never have to sound like someone else’s in order to find an audience. You never have to review a certain way in order to get followers or publicity contacts or traffic or anything else you think makes a blogger “successful.”
Lack of Stigma around Plagiarism
People who plagiarize often do so in environments where they have seen other people doing the same. This can be seeing other students cheating in classes or seeing journalists get away with plagiarism online. The idea is that other people are plagiarizing and succeeding because of it: getting high grades, awards, or public praise. Plagiarism begins to look desirable and normal.
Belief that Plagiarism is a Victim-less Crime
It isn’t. Small school children being taught the evils of cheating often use this logic to defend cheating: It doesn’t hurt the other person and you’re not technically taking something away from them. They still have their original work; you just happen to have a copy of it. Small school children are mistaken.
Plagiarizing does hurt the people whose words are stolen, and it hurts the people who had supported the plagiarist and promoted their work. In the blogosphere, it can also hurt the book community at large, as publicists and authors become wary of working with bloggers and providing them with ARCs.
Belief that Plagiarism Won’t be Caught
It will. Plagiarist bloggers have been caught multiple times in the past. Sometimes the matter is resolved quietly with private emails between the original author and the plagiarist. Often is not. Plagiarists then face public shaming, angry tweets and emails from the victims, and reports made to review sites and publicity contacts. Often the plagiarists end up deleting their blogs, Goodreads, and social media accounts–or having them deleted by the host sites. Worse, plagiarists who blog under their real names are left with clear online records of their unethical actions, which could affect things like their future job prospects.
So if you think plagiarizing seems worthwhile, think again: Is it worth losing a career opportunity because you just had to post that review of the newest YA book on Monday instead of Friday? Are the benefits really greater than the costs?