Research with care

It’s getting close to the end of the year. That means finals, big projects and, most commonly, huge research papers due.

As a person in the communications business, I feel obligated to mother the general PSU population by warning them about the dangers of plagiarism.

For those of you who don’t know, plagiarism is the act of taking someone else’s written thoughts, ideas or research, and claiming it as your own. In this country, it is illegal, and is a serious offense at the university level.

There are many activists out there who claim that there is no such thing as original thought in the world, and so, all ideas should be shared. While that is a nice thought, it’s just not relevant in today’s society, where everyone claims ownership for everything. Plus, how could someone think that Einstein’s theory of relativity was NOT an original thought?

The pressure to plagiarize is high during crunch time. There are more ways to cheat than ever these days. According to Christopher Scalan of The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, “The Information Age has made it easier than ever to plagiarize.” The immense superhighway of the Net allows students to find information on just about anything from hundreds, if not thousands of sources. That sort of power makes it tempting for one to just copy and paste. In addition to that, there are even Web sites out there that specialize in selling term papers for high prices.

All of the above-mentioned methods of cheating are plagiarism, and are strictly prohibited in the academic arena. If one is caught plagiarizing at Portland State (or any other university of that matter), it means an “F” for the class, possible revocation of scholarships and financial aid status and maybe even expulsion from school. It’s no laughing matter.

Though the Internet is a great resource for plagiarists, it’s also friendly to the professors who suspect it. Search engines on the Web can scour the world’s Web pages by phrase, making it possible for suspecting teachers to find the exact Web page you may have plagiarized from. It’s not pretty to get caught, and it’s easier than you think.

Here’s how you can avoid plagiarism: First thing, do your own research. This may not always be the answer, because research costs time and money, but by doing your own research, you can be sure the information you present is yours and yours alone.

Second, cite your source. This is probably the most important one, because it’s the one that people overlook the most, outwardly guilty or not. I almost found myself in deep doo-doo when I took the basic facts from a source and used them in a paper of mine without attributing any of the information to the original researcher. While I wasn’t personally trying to break the law or steal, it was the simple act of not giving credit where it was due that can get people into trouble.

And finally, read it over. Look at what you have written. If anything seems questionable, cite it. You can never cite too much. “If you think you should attribute it, then attribute it,” says Thomas Mallon, author of the book “Stolen Words.” By double-checking and following any bad gut feelings you can eliminate all questionable material.

So as we head into the last few weeks of school, I urge you not to do anything hastily. Do the work. Do the research. Cite your sources. By using other people’s ideas and work, you’re not only showing that you can’t come up with original innovation yourself, but you risk the chance of ruining your education, and in turn a potential career. Good luck on finals, and keep your noses clean!