They’re my Words (Sort of): Plagiarism

Response to Scott Warnock’s Chapter 15

Teachers and students have misconceptions about plagiarism.

According to Scott Warnock, some teachers might have taken an aggressive approach towards students who plagiarize, but most of the time, “students often do not know they have plagiarized” (157). How is this possible? It all comes down to discussion. Let students become a part of the exploration and discussion. Ask them how do we credit others’ ideas? What style of writing should we use? What is different about giving an author credit in a news article versus an academic paper? Warnock states that this is an approach teachers should take because it promotes discussion about writing, credit, and research (157). Just as we want to teach students how to review and talk online, we want them to know that giving credit legally and ethically matters.

A comic courtesy of Randy Glasbergen at Warnock writes that the students he worries about plagiarizing is the “lazy student who buys a paper and slaps it up as his or her own …” (157).

To discourage plagiarism, OWCourses are made to encourage an open environment where everyone writes and reads each other’s work. A fresh pair of eyes make a difference. Warnock said when everyone in class participates in creating an honest culture online, it limits or eliminates plagiarism (153). The idea of an open discussion or online class reiterates Warnock’s point about the importance of peer review from earlier chapters. When students spend time looking at each other’s work, they get to know writing styles. They’re not talking face-to-face in class, so they get to know their classmates in a different way. Students may spot something dishonest in another student’s writing, and share it with the professor.

However, I prefer Warnock’s positive reinforcement of peer review, which discourages plagiarism. Students use one another’s post or blog as sources. They learn how to cite their work. Warnock states that even the student who buys a paper must incorporate classmates’ quotes or points with this assignment (155).

Another way to deter students from plagiarizing includes low-stakes assignments. Warnock writes that students often feel more pressure during high-stakes assignments, and are then more likely to cheat (159). Students can learn more, and teachers pick up on their style of writing the more drafts students’ write. Teachers also pay attention to drafts, and learn the students’ writing process. Focus on helping students’ improve.

Teachers also set the example. I am surprised to find out that Warnock said most books he’d read about teaching writing online did not have information about copyright law. It is still an area on which I’m not fully competent, but Warnock is correct in saying that we set the example for our students. “Observant students will notice this hypocrisy, and they may see the double standard as an invitation to break the rules” (Warnock 160). We must know the copyright laws and how we can use materials properly in an online educational forum.

Captain Copyright was an actual comic character created in Canada. While we should not use Wikipedia as a source, the photo is courtesy of Wikipedia.


Warnock, Scott W. “Intellectual Property: Plagiarism, Copyright, and Trust.” Teaching Writing Online. Urbana: National Council of Teachers of English, 2009. 152-162. Print.



  1. I once (before turnitin) found a student’s essay on one of those free essay sites and confronted the student about it. She said she’d never been to the site before and was quite adamant about it. She was visibly upset and I told her that the essay was obviously plagiarized, she finally shouted, “But I paid some guy in Florida thirty bucks to write that!” I had to laugh. I told her she got ripped off and should probably request a refund. Then, of course, we discussed what would happen with the grade.

    • Hi Melissa,

      Thank you for your response! I will say I’m lucky with the students at my school because we oversee a lot of the writing process. That is not to say we write papers for them. We discuss step-by-step, such as research. I am working with one tutoring student, outside of my school, of writing a short MLA paper about Uranus. We used Google Docs to put his information in one place.

      I would have enjoyed seeing your student’s face when you said she should probably get a refund. Hopefully, she learned from the experience! 🙂

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