Each Friday, at least for the foreseeable future, I will be sharing a blog post from the past. These will be posts from other places that I have retained the rights once again, or from this blog. I hope you enjoy these entries. I know they are ones that have made me smile.
This post originally was posted January 21, 2013.
I have a secret that I am going to share with you today. One of my very favorite tools as a homeschool mom, came from my career as a freelance writer. As a freelance writer and editor, I often used a plagiarism detection service to make sure that the articles my writers gave to me were original. It’s a common practice in the writing world and making sure that content is original and fresh is just part of the job. It’s just what you do.
When we began homeschooling, I really wanted to make sure that my son understood that he should write his essays, stories and research papers in his own words. As a writer, I often lectured on the folly of plagiarizing another person’s work. I felt pretty comfortable about things and knew that my son would never dare to use the work of someone else and pass it off as his own. I should have known better.
One day my son turned in a paper that was really, really good. My first thought was that our new writing program was really getting through to him and we had grown a lot in our writing. I made the mental note that we were going to have to start demanding more quality work such as this. Our standard had just been raised. Then I couldn’t suppress the niggling thought in the back of my mind, that maybe this paper was just a little too good. He had handed me a printed copy, and I asked him if he could email me a copy of his paper, as I wanted to file it in his sample folder. He emailed it and I sat and looked at that paper for about 30 minutes, debating if it was really his work or not. Then I found my fingers directing my browser to my account at copyscape.com. I logged in, copied the paper, pasted it into the search and hit the Premium Search button. Within seconds, I had my answer. My son had copied his paper from a website, almost word for word. Now, what was I going to do about it? I couldn’t let him get away with this, because if I didn’t stop it now, he would continue to do this all throughout his academic career. I pondered on this for a few hours before I decided exactly what I was going to do.
My first instinct was to hand him back his paper with a bright red F across it. Then I decided to make it a little more painful. I am creative that way. I wanted him to suffer a bit. He needed to know that plagiarism was not something that would be tolerated and a simple slap on the hands just wasn’t going to do. I waited until the next day to implement my plan.
We started the day with our regular work. Then just before lunch, I told him we had a special project to do. I calmly asked him if he knew what the word plagiarism meant. He asked me why. I simply stated that this was what his paper that he turned in was. It was at this moment I saw the color leave his face. I asked him to look it up and then explain it to me. He found a definition and we began to have a serious discussion about his paper. He admitted to copying, and I made him bring up the website and go through his paper and highlight the words that were not copied. I told him I would then grade those words. We won’t say what grade he managed. That isn’t the important part. I was nice and let him try again. He turned out a very nice original paper. Too bad it was only worth 80% of the possible point value. As his grades are very important to him, this was a painful lesson.
I am happy to say that we no longer have a plagiarism issue in our homeschool. He knows I will check each paper in my online program. I haven’t had a single hit since that day. The program keeps him honest. And the best part? It’s cheap. For just $10, you can get 200 searches that are good for one year. That is just 5 cents per search. A single nickel to ensure your student is doing their own work.
Now, I know some of you might be thinking that this wouldn’t be useful for you because your student only turns in their own work. Remember, I thought that too. And I have caught several writers in my years as a professional. You have to remember that with technology being more advanced all the time, that more and more research is being done online. Quite frankly, it is tempting to plagiarize when you have other things you would rather be doing. If your student is doing any research online, you need this tool.
Please be advised that this tool will only catch plagiarism if the content is online. It will not keep your student from copying out of a book. That is still up to you to monitor. But it can make it very simple for you to check all over the world wide web in just seconds. It will bring peace of mind. And it will keep everyone honest about what is their work, and what isn’t.