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Avoiding Plagiarism

Melania Trump, wife of presidential candidate Donald Trump, performed her most important role in the US election to date when she took centre stage on the first day of the Republican National Convention. She praised her husband as a ‘compassionate’ man and one who would ‘fight for the country’, and since then Trump has officially secured the republican presidential nomination. Her speech, however, was not all success, as she has faced widespread allegations of plagiarism due to the similarities of her words with those of Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech.

For Trumps team of speechwriters it’s an embarrassing moment, but one that is not unheard of in politics.

In the speech, Mrs Trump said, “My parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise; that you treat people with respect.” These words bear an obvious resemblance to Michelle Obama’s in 2008, when she said: “And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.”

For Trumps team of speechwriters it’s an embarrassing moment, but one that is not unheard of in politics. US vice president, Senator Joe Biden, was accused of plagiarising former UK Labour leader Neil Kinnock in a 1987 speech, which is believed to have played a major role in ending his attempt to run for the presidency himself, though twenty years later he became Barrack Obama’s successful running mate. In Germany, politician Annette Schavan was forced to resign as education minister in 2013 after she was stripped of her doctorate by the University of Dusseldorf, who upheld accusations that she had copied parts of her thesis.

It is here, in education, that plagiarism is perhaps best known. Plagiarism is not merely ‘copying’, but committing literary theft; taking an original idea from an existing source and passing it off as your own. It is a more serious matter than many people realise, and one that is seen as a serious offence by colleges and universities.

As harsh as it might seem, failing to put a quotation in quotation marks is as much an offence as handing in someone else’s work, or completely copying their ideas.

Plagiarism rules don’t mean that we’re not allowed to use the words of other people, but rather than when we do, their name must be mentioned, quotation marks used, and the author included in the bibliography. Failing to include these references leaves you guilty of plagiarism, meaning that, as harsh as it might seem, failing to put a quotation in quotation marks is as much an offence as handing in someone else’s work, or completely copying their ideas.

When it comes to avoiding plagiarism in essays and coursework, it’s important to plan in advance. If you know what sources and information you are going to use, you can be sure to have a safe balance between ideas you have taken from exterior sources and those you have developed on your own. Planning will also leave time to take effective notes, ensuring you don’t get these ideas mixed up, and can accurately reference the texts you have used.

If you’re in doubt, cite sources. It’s better to show that you have engaged with lots of work that is already out there, and developed your original thoughts alongside them, than to pretend everything in the essay has come straight from your own head. Finally, don’t be afraid to ask; your Tutors will have the best advice available, and with plagiarism it’s always better to be safe than sorry. The Trump accusations haven’t stopped the Democratic party from officially nominating him as their presidential candidate, but an exam board would have looked at the whole situation very differently.

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