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Faculty Voices: What Causes and Can Prevent Plagiarism? Inexperience Paraphrasing

Visual: Video opens to the opening title with the video series title, Faculty Voices: Walden Talks Writing, then the title, “Why is academic integrity important?”


Visual: The screen changes to show each speaker talking to the camera in their home offices. Each person’s name and college is listed as they speak.


Dr. Catherine Kelly, Center for Academic Excellence: Paraphrasing can take a lot of time and practice, and a lack of experience can lead to making mistakes in terms of writing about the contents. And students who are inexperienced with paraphrasing might struggle at first and make a few mistakes, and those instances can lead to unintentional plagiarism. But those instances are still form of plagiarism nonetheless.

Dr. Darci Harland, Riley College of Education and Leadership: There are a number of reasons why students plagiarize. The first one is it's totally unintentional. You know they don't mean to, but instead of truly paraphrasing, they keep the same sentence structure as the original and just swap out words. We call that patchwork paraphrasing, and they believe it that's good enough. And in a time crunch, it's what a lot of students do, it's what a lot of students do particularly in the beginning of their programs.

Dr. Laurel Walsh, Riley College of Education and Leadership: So, plagiarism is really a hiccup in paraphrasing. You can only get better at paraphrasing by doing it. Those skills that you need to be able to eventually synthesize are not activated until you really, really get good at paraphrasing. And, honestly, when you can see yourself taking a word mountain and making it into a word molehill, you start to recognize how difficult it is to not adopt some of the phrases and terms and even the tempo and rhythm of the original author. Pay attention to that. Look at that sentence that you've made from a paragraph and put it into Google and see, am I too close? Is it still going right back to that original article? Have I too closely mirrored the tempo, the word choice, and the way that this author spoke that I could potentially be accused of something?

It's only in that practice of distillation of words where you're summarizing, you're boiling them down, and you're using the author's ideas, not your opinion of the author's ideas, to create a clean summary. That process eventually becomes much more streamlined, much more automatic, much less painstaking, and far more organic to your voice. You start to naturally find synonyms that are more useful in your area of scholarship or the way that people in your company talk about these types of ideas.

Dr. Darci Harland, Riley College of Education and Leadership: But really, the one that bothers me the most is that students plagiarize because they don't have the confidence or that what we call that authoritative writing voice that they need to properly describe what they've read. Like the old game of telephone, sometimes students are just scared that if they change the words they'll change the meaning. And so instead, they use that patchwork paraphrasing or outright plagiarize and attempt—with good intention—to keep that meaning intact. So as a faculty member who works closely with students on their writing, I work with them to improve that authoritative voice.

Dr. Laurel Walsh, Riley College of Education and Leadership: So if you want to get better at paraphrasing, the only way to do it is get summarizing. So the exercise that I always gave my graduate students in my first course when I was teaching at an MBA program was, look for a journal article that is really important to something your company's looking into right now or something your organization would like to be able to implement—something that's important to you, because you need to be interested in it for this first assignment. Now, find a big peer-reviewed journal article that's, you know, 15, 25 pages long, and go through and take every single paragraph and make it into one sentence--just one. Not one really, really long sentence with 14 commas that looks almost like a paragraph, no. Take a big paragraph of complex ideas and make it into an easy to read sentence and do that over and over and over again until you get through that 25 page article and you now have what's closer to a paragraph than what was a very long series of journal articles.

Visual: The video ends with the closing title with the video series title, Faculty Voices: Walden Talks Writing and the Writing Center’s e-mail address: