There is something to be said about the written word and the weight it carries. In academia, there are strict rules against cheating - on homework assignments, quizzes and tests. However, for the countless English classes required for my degree, the syllabus for every class, in every semester, was guaranteed to have a note bolded about plagiarism - Don't do it! There are great consequences for essentially stealing someone else's words and writing and thereby misrepresenting them as your own original work.
With the advancement in technology and the easily accessible library of information a Google search away, plagiarizing is so much easier to accomplish. Having said that, the Internet is also a fantastic tool to catch people who have been tempted and have committed the theft of words.
It seems harmless enough because anyone's words can be turned into a copy-and-paste composition without the original writer knowing about it. Besides, who would actually take the time to research such blatant theft?
While I was at Georgia State University, I was the victim of plagiarism. I felt absolutely violated - just like the time someone stole my car. The violation was the same. Something that belonged to me, my writing and my car, was taken from me by someone else.
The class in particular was a Document Design class. The name is self-explanatory. The final project that the whole semester led up to was to design a document that also included the copy and text within the document. The final project was then to be uploaded and posted online via our virtual classroom board where every student has access to the everyone else's work. This medium was to encourage creative collaborations from classmates as well as feedback from the professor. The fault in this type of technology allowed for another classmate to view my completed assignment that was submitted well before the midnight deadline in its entirety, and she basically stole my entire project with its document design and formatting and merely replaced some of my words with her own. She then posted her (my) project online with a time stamp just before the midnight deadline.
She must have missed the whole goal of the course, or more likely, procrastinated until it was too late, and then proceeded to plagiarize figuring no one would know the difference. It was harmless enough.
Except, I like to check out everyone else's work to compare and contrast my fellow classmates' work to see what I'm up against as far as final grades go. This is how I stumbled upon her theft. Back to the consequences of plagiarizing in academia - you can immediately fail the course and, even more severely, be expelled from the university completely. I friend requested her on Facebook to let her know that I knew what she did and that she should hope the dean doesn't kick her out of GSU, especially since it was her last semester and she was just two weeks away from graduating with a degree in who knows what. She never confirmed our friendship. Go figure.
In the grand scheme of things, most people can agree on what is right and wrong. Stealing something is wrong. It's more black and white that stealing a car is wrong. Stealing someone else's writing doesn't seem as tangible as a car, so perhaps it seems like shades of gray to some. Regardless, taking something from someone else that he or she perhaps worked very hard on and simply putting your name on the byline is by all definitions stealing.
English author Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined the phrase "The pen is mightier than a sword." Just as swiftly as a sword, the pen can sever someone's credibility, career and reputation. Your name and your word are irrefutably linked. If people can't trust that your word is true, how then can they trust you?
Cheaters don't win. Ask Lance Armstrong.
Nhi Ho is a copy editor for The News. She can be reached at email@example.com.