Group paper and questions about plagiarism...
December 6, 2014 10:39 AM   Subscribe

I just submitted a group paper. Hours before I ran it through a plagiarism checker, turns out two (!) of the group members had directly copy and pasted sentences from accademic articles into our paper. In total, no more than five sentences were plagiarized These sentences were cited but not quoted directly. I informed all group members who seemed unconcerned...Is this a big deal? Is it worth reporting? (Fwiw, I edited their work before submitting a final copy)
posted by anonymous to Education (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What do you mean "cited but not quoted directly"? We're they verbatim cut-and-pasted or rephrased?

It won't take more than a quarter of an hour to put in the proper references for five sentences. Just fix it. Submit an errata list.
posted by Namlit at 10:44 AM on December 6, 2014

"Cited but not quoted directly" is one of those fiddly corner cases which are largely due to ignorance, not malice - they clearly didn't mean to plagiarize - if they had there wouldn't have been any citation at all - they're just not totally up to speed on how to properly use direct quotations from outside sources. Hell, five sentences is few enough that it might have even just been an oversight. I don't think you need to report it, just take them aside and politely say "by the way, for future reference any direct quotes should have quotation marks, not just citations, and missing that is the kind of thing that can get us in trouble".
posted by Itaxpica at 10:52 AM on December 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

I don't understand how they directly copied and pasted sentences if the sentences were "cited but not quoted correctly." Do you mean that they wrote something like:
This is a plagiarized sentence (sockermom, 2014).

rather than correctly writing:
"This is a plagiarized sentence" (sockermom, 2014).

If this is the case, then it's fine to just say "hey, don't forget to use quotations when citing a direct quote!" and leave it at that. If they wrote something like:
This is a plagiarized sentence.

And kept writing without citing in-line, that's a problem. But I don't think it's a reportable problem, since you edited the work and handed it in without the lifted phrases. But if you hadn't edited it and you were handing something in with writing that was lifted from other people's work, then I would contact the professor. But that doesn't sound like what happened. Just keep an eye on their work again in the future if you work with them again.
posted by sockermom at 10:59 AM on December 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think that you've done well, and I wouldn't call this an offense worth reporting, you can be done worrying about it, and take pride in the fact that you're holding yourself to high standards. You've informed them that you edited their text, with the explanation that taking a whole sentence without quotation marks is something that is Not Okay and that such plagiarism could get them in trouble in the future. You now know to check for this kind of thing in collaborative work, and can feel confident in keeping your own name clean, which is great. If they are unconcerned, that's kind of their problem; if they keep doing this, let them run into trouble without your name associated with it at all.
posted by aimedwander at 10:59 AM on December 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'll add, if you're all students, there may be a "coolness factor" in which they're not going to act as if they're concerned that they've done this non-major infringement, but now that you've brought this up as something that's Not Okay, they might be (very quietly) much more careful in the future. Just because they say "yeah, whatever" doesn't mean they won't add quotes next time.
posted by aimedwander at 11:02 AM on December 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

It depends on who is grading the work. Some professors would say it was a big deal, even with the citations. I would mark it under the mechanics section of the rubric and note that direct quotes need quotation marks, and refer the writers to documentation on how to cite and reference quotes, but it would not be plagiarism for me (because of the fact that it was cited) as long as it was only a few sentences and citation attempts were made. Depending on how bad the rest of the paper was, there might be a writing center referral.
posted by joycehealy at 11:16 AM on December 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you fixed it, I don't think there's anything to report. I don't think it's possible to report something and use as evidence a preliminary version of a paper that was never submitted. If someone reported something like that to me I would find it weird and proceed to do nothing.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 11:19 AM on December 6, 2014

I think it's serious, but if a student turned in what you describe, I would mark them down but not fail them or refer them for further discipline. Accordingly I don't think it's worth reporting this.
posted by grouse at 11:20 AM on December 6, 2014

It's serious if it was turned in at some point, but if this was before it was turned in, the self-editing process is supposed to catch stuff like this as a matter of course. It was sloppy and potentially detrimental to your work process together as it was about to be turned in, and as such, it was negligent of your classmates to not have caught it before passing it to you. But I agree with those above that say this is not reportable at this point and definitely an issue to bring up in discussion for future reference. You shouldn't have to be in the position of needing to edit the final product to such a degree.

By the way, this is why I hate group projects like this.
posted by SpacemanStix at 11:27 AM on December 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

First of all, good catch, and good on ya for attempting to inform your group of the (we'll assume) error.

I've been finishing up a long-delayed bachelor's over the past couple of years, and it's been kind of astounding/alarming to see how poorly-trained kidsthesedays are when it comes to even the basics of 1) how to do research, and 2) how to apply it in a paper.

It's important to be gracious, and/or empathetic, towards others in your group who may be dealing with say, language barriers or other stumbling blocks as they try to get up to speed. That said, I suspect that there may well be some element of "whatever, dude" going on here.

One thing that may be driving this is that people just don't seem to be held to standards, anymore. Your groupmates may have learned that instructors are just happy that something, anything, was turned in. For instance, one group I'm in recently submitted a well-researched preliminary fact-finding assignment, only to receive a "Superb! A+!" grade back from the (otherwise engaged and competent) professor... Within, literally, five minutes of submission. I hate to jump on the everyone-gets-a-trophy-arrglebarrgle train, but years of being given a pass can teach bad habits.

A more sinister assessment could be that some members of your group have picked up that you're more committed, and are happy to let you pull the weight. Is this worth reporting? No, not yet. But be careful of developing a sense of martyrdom (says a guy who never struggles with that). You are paying to take the course, not being paid to teach it. You are within your rights to alert your group that it's unfair for them to pawn off this level of editing, moving forward. And yes, if they continue to slack, to make that known to your instructor.

Oh, and as a rule of thumb, make sure all revision and commentary has a formal record/paper trail, e.g. a specified email thread.
posted by credible hulk at 11:50 AM on December 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
OP here, wanted to post a follow up to my anonymous question Group paper and questions about plagiarism...:

Thanks everyone for your advice, a lot of the comments really hit the nail on the head. The discovery of plagiarism was just the final straw after being given a whole lot of pages of sub par/incoherent work to edit.

Yes, I agree with posters who have written that it was more out of carelessness rather than malice. Oh, group projects!

Anyway, thanks everyone!
posted by mathowie (staff) at 12:08 PM on December 6, 2014

I would have a chat with the professor about it, but not make it into a huge drama. You could let her know that some membets of your group seem to need a refresher on how to cite correctly, because some might view this is as an example of plagiarism and you don't want them to get into bad habits. They might take this more seriously if it comes from a figure of authority and not from a classmate.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 9:30 PM on December 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

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