Grade Policies

What is “Intentional, Substantial Plagiarism”?

Blackboard runs every one of your papers through a program called “SafeAssign.” The purpose of the program is to detect similarities between what you have written and other items from the Internet and from our college. I can see the results, color-coded by source.

When I read, I do not worry much if your Originality Report shows 10% or less of similarity to other sources. For example, I am looking at one from the first semester which showed 17% similarity, including the date it was submitted, the title of the article the student was responding to, and the basic question I asked in the assignment. All the important stuff in the essay was just fine. SafeAssign tends to panic a lot.

I also don’t worry too much if SafeAssign flags a bit of common knowledge, something you wouldn’t cite anyhow. (“Abraham Lincoln was the sixteenth President of the United States.”)

My alarm bells begin to ring when I see more than a line or two that that are presented as if they were the student’s own writing but without any kind of citation. Often, SafeAssign will give me a web address for the source, so I just open the web page and do some further looking. If that doesn’t show anything, I might do my own Google search. In practice, it is rare for an otherwise honest piece of writing to have only one paragraph lifted from another source without any citation—usually that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Not necessarily a precise copy

Changing out a few words but keeping the same general structure does not make the writing yours. Here is an example from Mercer County Community College to show what I mean:

Original source:

The craft of hurricane forecasting advanced rapidly in the sixties and early seventies, thanks to fast computers and new atmospheric modeling techniques. Now there is a lull in the progress, strangely parallel to the lull in the storm cycle. The National Hurricane Warning Center shoots for a 24-hour warning period, with 12 daylight hours for evacuation.

Plagiarized student writing:

Hurricane forecasting made rapid progress in the 60s and 70s due to fast computers and new atmospheric techniques, but there is now a lull in the progress. The Warning Center tries for a 24-hour warning period, including 12 hours of daylight.

Changing “advanced rapidly” to “made rapid progress” and “sixties and early seventies” to “60s and 70s” did not make this into the student’s own writing. When I see this sort of dictionary work—especially if the student has cribbed more than a line or two—I am looking at intentional plagiarism as well as substantial plagiarism.

Note, by the way, that the student’s editing fouled up the sense of the original. This student didn’t really understand the piece, so “new atmospheric modeling techniques” became “new atmospheric techniques” (which makes a lot less sense) and the whole idea of a 12-hour evacuation period just became twelve hours of daylight in 24 (which is again pointless). That is a fairly common marker of a plagiarized paper: the student writer has not really understood the piece being plagiarized.

How you got here

I don’t think very many students arrived at Ashland University thinking, “I’m just going to slack off and cheat my way through the place, hoping nobody is bright enough to catch me.” More likely, plagiarism comes from a combination of causes:

The path out of this is to become a real scholar and to ask for help from appropriate sources.

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by Ashland University.

Revised 12/24/21 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: