Friday, September 4, 2015

Confessions of a Plagiarist

Nearly everything I write starts out stolen.

Imitation is learning, after all.

But to avoid academic dishonesty or an "F" for the class, you need to do what any good thief does with valuable material.

Launder it. In writing, you can steal the purpose of someone else's words instead of the words themselves, and the writing you produce by following that model can work just as well.

An argumentation paper is a good option for this strategy. So when that assignment falls into your lap, we have a few tips here to help you succeed.

Here's how to steal like an academic.

1. Draft directly onto any examples your professor hands out.

If you have a digital copy of a successful paper, just load that beauty up and write your name at the top. Be sure to highlight everything so you can remember what's stolen later.

Congrats, you're a thief. Twirl your mustache before proceeding to step two.

"I shan't!"

2. Figure out why that example is good.

Make a list of what each highlighted sentence accomplished. Did it state an opinion? Did it provide context for an argument? Did it summarize a complicated idea?

In the Writing Center, we call this metacognition. Two-dollar word right there. Feel free to steal that too.

3. Copy the purpose, not the words.

That list should help you learn why the paper succeeded, and you can follow those guidelines as you insert your own ideas.

For instance, if your notes say that the first sentence of the sample paper simply introduced an argument or thesis statement, then you should do the same.

Go through the list with your topic in mind and write sentences that do what the example sentences did. Write your sentence right after the stolen one and compare them.

At this point, you're more like an art forger than a thief. But hey, that's still cool.

4. Fill the document with quotes.

Here's a good place to start when your professor doesn't give you a sample paper.

If the professor allows quotes, I load my document with enough of them to meet the assignment's page requirement. If nothing else, it makes me feel better that the end is in sight.

There are only two rules: the quotes need to be related, and I need to have something to say about each of them. That need is what will help fill the gaps later.

4. Read that ugly mess.

With the small bits I've added, that once glorious sample paper will now look like total carnage.

I recommend channeling Edward Norton for a zen moment.

Now it's time to clean up that mess.

5. Revise, revise, revise.

I usually can't help but write at this point because, for me, revising is easier than drafting.

Wanting to bring order to the world (or a lowly paper) is pretty a common desire, so I'm betting you'll be ready to write too.

Delete anything that doesn't connect to your topic. Bridge those gaps between quotes. It's usually as simple as introducing the quote and then explaining why it's important to your argument.

If you have any more stolen material that needs to be there for the paper to make sense, cite it carefully. Here's the website we use in the Writing Center to make sure our citations are perfect:

Yeah, sorry, you still have to cite. There is no perfect crime.

In short . . .

It's all about stealing the purpose of words, not the words themselves.

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