by Liz Benavides
A student sits at his desk; it’s midnight and his English paper is due first period the next morning. He studies his empty Word document and ponders what to do. A late grade would mean a bad grade in the class, which would be followed by punishment from his parents. But he can’t seem to organize his thoughts.
So he Googles the paper topic, and up comes 123helpme.com.
This site, along with many others, was designed as a “study-helper” for high school and college-aged students to get ideas from already-written papers.
The actual use of these sites is not as innocent.
It seems like a good idea at first; students can use the papers online to get ideas to bring them out of writer’s blocks. But websites like these lead students down a slippery slope to plagiarism. This specific story is hypothetical, but the scenario is more common.
Dictionary.com describes plagiarism as “the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work, as by not crediting the author.”
Not many people know that ideas, as well as words, must be credited. The Honor Council tries year after year to clearly define what constitutes as a violation of the honor code. Of course they cover major issues, like buying entire essays online or copying a friend’s paper, but there are many gray areas that students aren’t aware of.
“There have been times when I’ve looked at a source, and I thought I already knew the material so I won’t cite it. Afterward, I’ll feel guilty because I’m not sure if I should’ve considered it common knowledge or not,” senior Mary Rose Hazel said.
Having these gray areas has caused students to violate the honor code without knowing they were actually in the wrong.
“I can’t give specifics, but I can say there have been times when students coming to the Honor Council were unclear about what they did, so that has led the council to make the presentations that we have made,” Chair of Honor Council Natalie Ducharme-Barth said.
But even with these presentations, students still have trouble identifying where they might be plagiarizing in their papers and projects.
According to Ducharme-Barth, the best way to avoid any plagiarism is to cite every source at the end of the paper, even the ones containing facts that are supposedly common knowledge. This will ensure that the teacher is clear that the student is not trying to pass off another’s ideas as their own.
And for those times when students are tempted to buy essays online as an easy fix to a fast-approaching deadline?
“If you’re feeling crammed about something, talk to your teacher. Not only can they give you more time, but they can also give you ideas on what to write about,” Ducharme-Barth said. “A late grade is always better than a zero.”