Intentional Plagiarism

Economists are supposed to weigh up the costs and benefits of any action. The benefit of plagiarism is that it saves you some time and thinking. The cost is that, if caught, you will probably be expelled from your university (this varies by university, but it’s unlikely to be a slap on the wrist).

Actually, it’s much worse than you think. Not only will you have wasted three years of your life (dissertations are handed in at the end of the final year), but employers are much more likely to want a (probably honest) A-level student than a university drop-out who cheated to get a better mark. So after being kicked out of university, you’ll probably be able to command less of a salary than some 18-year-old kid who has just left college.

And cheats are increasingly likely to be caught. As well as being marked by a specialist in the topic field, departments increasingly are using software like Turnitin to scan dissertations for similar work elsewhere

Unintentional Plagiarism – or the perils of sloppy note-taking

Time and again those hauled before university disciplinary panels on charges of plagiarism claim that they didn’t mean it, that they’d never heard of the work that they are supposed to have copied or (more likely) that they simply forgot to reference something.

Of course, if you are deliberately cheating you are likely to try and pass it off as a simple mistake. But as the authorities know this, they are likely to treat everyone as lying and a deliberate cheat. This means that the penalty for making a mistake is high. Fortunately, it is simple to avoid. Make sure you record the article or textbook that you are making notes from, and make sure you reference it appropriately in the final text (guidelines on referencing should be given by your university, but generally references will either be in footnotes or ‘in text’ e.g. ‘Romer (1990) finds that…’).

And of course, direct quotes should always be surrounded by quotation marks. Anything that you copy from a book or article verbatim you should make clear in your notes is a quotation. If your notes are on a computer, then you might want to colour the text a different colour to make it clear. This seems too obvious, and most people’s reaction is ‘I’m not going to be that stupid’. But it seems more stupid to take the risk that you’ll forget, or that a quote will get split up when you edit a draft and only some of it will remain in quotation marks.

You don’t need to reference general statements such as ‘demand curves are negatively sloped for normal goods’ (if it did, dissertations would be extremely tedious to write and read). But it would apply when drawing on more complex ideas, such as repeating a proof or an interesting result.

In fact, correctly referencing something might even be better than forgetting to reference it even if you are not called up on it. This is because by referencing something you are showing knowledge of the relevant literature. If you then go on to apply that knowledge in an appropriate way, it can be very impressive.