I finished writing a 5-page course report in LyX on Logical Volume Management. It is available here for anyone interested (I’ll make it available in a few days). Reading through the report and talking to a colleague over the same topic later the day, I could not help but thinking over the dilemma some students come across often when submitting in course or project reports.
Plagiarism is rife among students when it comes to writing documentation or reports. There is plagiarism almost everywhere, in almost everything, but documentation and particularly report writing is what I am going to give my attention to. With the average number of students with good writing skills and ability to express themselves in words clearly and fluently shrinking at a fast pace, it makes sense for such students to be copying stuff to get through reports and get grades. Irrespective of the moral implications of such practice, one major side-effect of it that is overlooked is that it leaves a disturbing impression behind in the mind of the person grading reports. The grader or instructor usually has a fair idea what is what, and who is who, and therefore grades reports accordingly. I said “usually”. This isn’t a problem for students who write well, but over time, as instructors change, and new ones come in, such as with the start of a new course, things start to turn the bad side.
As instructors spend time grading students’ reports, a general pattern starts to develop. A report written beautifully, with near perfect grammatical correctness, impressive display of vocabulary and with a fluent trail of thought and discussion, is instantly tagged “plagiarised” by the person reading it. Unless they know enough about the student who has written the report to safely accept the work as genuine (as being written by the student, opposed to being copied), the report lives on with the tag. Sure, everyone gets the same marks (which are usually good, considering reports often don’t hold that much value as they should) and goes away happy. However, for the student who did invest time in putting their thoughts and words across to make the report, it backfires. Over time, the same student starts to think, every time they are about to write a report, whether it is really worth going to the trouble of investing time, and effort and writing skills into making a report when the resulting work will most likely eventually be looked upon similarly as any plagiarised work. If they have a strong conscience, they continue to do the morally just thing. More than half of the time, they don’t. The students plagiarising stand to gain nothing but better grades. The hard-working student, in this case, although gets just as good grades, stands to lose a very virtuous quality and skill.