How to be a Better Plagiarizer


The Real Reasons Your Professor Doesn’t Want You To Plagiarize.

Every semester around Week 12, I roll out my super-deluxe “Why You Should Not Plagiarize” lecture.  It’s a riotous good time for all involved: there are thrills, there are cliff-hangers, there are built-in drum rolls.  Every student in attendance leaves the classroom 100% pumped to write their own work and not plagiarize.  Until 10 days later when they turn in their research paper and then we get to have that really awkward conversation in my office as my lunch wilts in the corner of my windowless cubicle.

I’ve been doing this a while.  I’ve been busting plagiarists a while.  And check me out getting in on the ground floor of this plagiarism business here!  If you really want to know why your professors care about plagiarism so much, read on.

Ethics shmethics.  Professors want you to turn in your own work because you’re supposed to learn and because someday you might be the one resuscitating us in the ER.  Blah blah blah.  Your thesis on Wordsworth won’t save lives.  No new ground here.  You knew this one already.

Blame it on the Man.  Everybody has a boss, including us.  Plagiarism is one coefficient in a vast equation that keeps the university credible: if too many students plagiarize, the whole thing capsizes, and we’re on the streets.  They call it ‘losing accreditation’ or some such nonsense.  Enter institutional mandates, departmental meetings, subcommittees, and lengthy statements we’re required to copy and paste into our syllabi.

Some of my colleagues really care about students doing their own work.  They can’t believe students would pass up the amazing opportunity to do the work assigned to them and that they’ve paid for the privilege to complete.  Then there are the rest of us: we’re supposed to bust you, we work on a semester-to-semester contract (this means shit benefits [go, Union!] and no job security), and we worry there might be some faceless bureaucrat tracking how many of you we do bust and factoring that into our future rehire.  Which brings me to my next point.

Don’t make it so goddamn easy to bust you.  If you turn in a paper copied and pasted off Wikipedia (it’s really helpful when you leave the hyperlinks intact or the URL right above your name), we have no choice but to act (see that bit I just mentioned about the faceless bureaucrat holding our rehire in their hands).

And that’s when I personally get pissed off.  Because you broke my cynical little Daria-heart with your plagiarizing?  Because now I know all those times you smiled and nodded during class you were just plotting your evil plagiarist takeover?  No: it’s a much simpler math than that.

Time, like matter, is neither created nor destroyed.  Those two and a half hours you saved yourself by downloading some piece of shit from CheatHouse now cost me two and a half hours as I have to download the academic dishonesty form, climb two flights of stairs to retrieve it from an office that actually has a printer, fill in and sign said form, print out a copy of your original CheatHouse mess, highlight the areas of similarity in both documents, email you, set up a meeting with you, actually attend my own office hours, listen earnestly as you pretend you had no idea how this happened, campus mail a report to my Associate Dean and the Dean of Students, and keep two copies for my records for at least a semester.  Did you see how long that sentence was?  Multiply that by 3-4 students per class and 5 sections in a good semester.  Do you know now why professors hate plagiarism?

Graduate school installs inside every Professor’s brain.  You’re probably beginning to see now that professors are just like you.  We like craft beer, we zone out too much in front of Netflix, and we live our lives to generate as many really awesome Facebook updates as possible.  We are just like you—except in one really important way when it comes to plagiarism.  Professors love language, and we spent the best part of our reproductive years reading books: reading motherfucking books instead of carousing, eating Bdubs, and honing our amateur porn star skillz.  Books.  I know.  What a wasted youth.

Now that you know this, you will know how I always bust students for plagiarism.  Language.  It is like an internal, always updated, never-fail installed in my brain.  If you’re plagiarizing something from The New York Times, that section of your paper will sound just like The New York Times.  If your English 101 paper uses the word “phenomenology” and it doesn’t have to, I’ll know it for the JSTOR rip-off that it is.  If your paper happens to drop a “hitherto” or “hereunder,” I’ll know that, on the other side of the world, some poor resident of a former-English speaking colony is truly grateful for the $12 you kicked their way in exchange for writing your paper for you.

Remember this as your plagiarism credo: my professors are and are not like me.  These days, we’re poring over climate models to pick the best spot on which to erect our eco-bunkers and wait out global warming (the good spots called “refugias” and I’m not telling where mine is).  Back in the day, though, we wrote whole undergraduate papers on one use of the past progressive tense in an early colonial captivity narrative.  If we can take one verb shift and turn it into a whole paper, we can sure as shit spot when a paper does not sound like its author.  (Undergraduates are pack animals: cute, cuddly, and pretty predictable in speech, writing, and thought.)

No woman, no cry: no copy and paste, no proof.  So now you know why we really hate plagiarism and how we really detect it.  Here’s the unbeatable way around plagiarism: the way that you will never get caught.  Stop copying and pasting.  Stop paying former subjects of the British Crown to do your work.

Plagiarism is a very serious charge to level against a student.  That same faceless bureaucrat who holds our job security in their hands does not want to get sued by you, the student, because of a false accusation.  I may know, to my bones, that you’ve plagiarized: I may dock as many points as I can to compensate myself for the lost minutes I spent investigating your paper on Google and SafeCheck.  If I can’t prove it, though, if I can’t print it the proof and highlight it, I’m not filling out an academic dishonesty form.  Bottom line.

Do yourself a favor and hire a professional, preferably an English-speaking one. Better yet, hire an Unemployed Professor who’ll have the cultural literacy to know that when you need a paper on someone with excellent leadership skills, you mean Jason Varitek and not Adolf Hitler (true story).