Friday, May 21, 2010

To: San Francisco State University Administrators
Re: A Reform in the Plagiarism Policy

In My English 114 course the theme of our class was highly based on college culture and plagiarism. For the majority of the class time we did reading on the different aspects of plagiarism and the reasoning behind why students commit this offense. Modeled on Susan Blum’s book, My Word our classroom conducted our own research of college culture and plagiarism in San Francisco State University— the results were astonishing. In the survey we passed around campus, out of the 44 students surveyed 42 admitted to plagiarize. To me this was very alarming and very curious. How is it that so many students are resorting to plagiarism in a higher education institution? I refuse to believe that the majority of the students are “cheating” in college—I believe that there are other components as to why college students are plagiarizing. Susan Blum says, “If more than half of students plagiarize, then there is clearly some cultural influence urging them to do so” (Blum, 2009). In the research my class conducted, the reading I did in the course and in my own personal experiences I have concluded that students who commit plagiarism is unintentional—this may be because students lack the knowledge on what to cite or it may the that they simply do not understand the work they need to write on. I think that the University should address these issues that are causing students to plagiarize rather than just dismissing the students needs by punishing them and to punish according to the degree of the offense.

Plagiarism can be very ambiguous to a student sometimes because there are many gray areas within what plagiarism can be. We can all agree that buying a paper from a paper mill, or contracting another student to write your paper is clearly an intentional act. Yet there can also be instances where a student may unintentionally plagiarize as well. The notion that “common knowledge” does not have to be cited differs on what is “common knowledge” from person to person. This is further supported by Rebecca Moore Howard’s article Plagiarisms, Authorships, and the Academic Death Penalty where she states that, “‘common knowledge' varies from community to community”(Howard, 1995). San Francisco State University does not make it clear on what “common knowledge” is and they do not teach students what kind of information does not need citation. Failing to cite sources is under the umbrella term of plagiarism because it is taking the work of another as your own work. If SF State does not teach students what “common knowledge” is, students may not feel the need to cite a particular piece of information—potentially causing them to plagiarize unintentionally. The university should take the responsibility to teach its students on what “common knowledge” means. Since every student in San Francisco State University has to take General Education classes this is the perfect setting to teach what “common knowledge” is in each department since it differs from “community to community” as Howard states in her article (Howard, 1995). In the survey our class passed out to San Francisco Students, twenty percent of the students plagiarized because they failed to cite a source. It could be that in those twenty percent students felt anxious because they did not know when citing was appropriate or not. Personally, not knowing what to cite is my own issue when writing academic papers. I know first hand on how a student hesitates on what needs to be cited. If San Francisco State professors teach students what needs to be cited the anxiety and percentage of students who fail to cite may significantly go down.

More often than not knowing what plagiarism is, students do not understand the work they have to write about. When students do not understand the material they often conduct in “patchwriting.” Patchwriting is "copying from a source text and then deleting some words, altering grammatical structures, or plugging in one-for-one synonym-substitutes." (Howard, 1995) This can be considered plagiarism because it is paraphrasing without giving credit to the author. In the group that researched the extracurricular culture of SF state students they wrote in their report, “Variations in the academic world of what is considered plagiarism could affect the way students answered the surveys and viewed they’re actions. On such way is the idea of patchwriting, which is common among lower level English student writers.” (Yuen et al, 2010) The students who are committing this type of plagiarism are those who are not at the college level writing standard. San Francisco State University should not punish those who are in need of extra help. Although the university considers patchwriting as a form of plagiarism it should be adopted as learning mechanism instead. Howard states, “To treat it negatively, as a ‘problem’ to be ‘cured’ or punished, would be to undermine its positive intellectual value, thereby obstructing rather than facilitating the learning process.” Patchwriting has been proven to be a beneficial learning mechanism to those students who are learning to write in an academic setting. Patchwriting therefore should not be considered as a punishable act of plagiarism. The university should address this issue of patchwriting by allowing those students that are not at the expected standard or do not understand the material, to emulate the language of the textbooks as a foundation for learning purposes.

San Francisco State University should not treat all plagiarism offenses as the same. In this letter I wanted to give you some examples when plagiarism is not the student’s fault. Therefore what I purpose is a new policy for San Francisco State to categorize the offense by the degree of intentional offense. I think it is unfair for a student to be punished because they failed to cite a source—especially if they thought it was considered “common knowledge” or just because they tried to emulate the academic language from a source. As I had stated before, there are two kinds of plagiarism—intentional and unintentional and each should be treated differently. In my report on the research conducted my group mate wrote, “Someone who is knowingly plagiarizing should be punished however the student who simply doesn't know how to cite his or her sources, should be educated on how to do so rather than be punished.” It is San Francisco State University’s responsibility to teach their incoming students what plagiarism means in the institution because “plagiarism has so many meanings and definitions it is very tough to determine what is or is not plagiarism for someone who is not educated on the topic.”(Guillen et al, 2010) How can a student commit a crime when they did now it was one from the beginning? In conclusion what I ask for you to consider is to change the policy so that the punishment is more appropriate to the crime and to educate the professors and students on what plagiarism is so that it can be prevented in the future.
Thank you for your time,
Cynthia Guillen

Works Cited:

1. Blum, S. D. (2009). My Word!: Plagiarism and College Culture. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

2. Extracurricular Activities. (n.d.). ilearn. Retrieved May 17, 2010, from

3. Guillen, C., Acala, K., Echaves, F., Zuniga, V., Stus, A., & Sedlak, G. (n.d.). Demographics. ilearn. Retrieved May 17, 2010, from

4. Howard, R. M. (1995). Plagiarisms, Authorships, and the Academic Death Penalty. College English, 57(7), 788-806.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


The most interesting part of this whole project was the interview. I interviewed my friend and I found out stuff I didn't even know about him in this interview. He shared how he would plagarize in highschool because he didn't think it was a big deal but that in college he didn't because he was more scare of the consequences. This made me think of my personal take on plagarism. I agree with him because in high school I feel the academic of I all was very lenient. We could probably get in trouble but not kicked out of the school. I began to think that what if students felt that college though was similar to high school therefore plagarism for them is not a big deal. This interview opened up more questions for me personally and if I had to do a more I depth research I would look at the types of students they were in high school and how it compares to their college culture.

Friday, April 9, 2010

College Bubble

College for me so far has been really boring. I do not feel like I am living the “college life”. I still live at home and commute every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday making me really tired by the end of the week. Since I live so far away from college life, I do not participate in any clubs at school, protests or much of anything. This is my first year at SFSU so all the classes I am taking are General Educations classes. Last semester was far more interesting because I took courses that I was personally more interested in such as Psychology and Human Biology. This semester the classes I am taking are mostly just fulfilling the requirements like English 114 and Comm 150. As for the workload I feel much more stressed out this semester because all my classes are based on reading a lot of text that are long and boring. I skip some of the reading sometimes to be honest because I feel it is a waste of time. For example, in my philosophy class all the reading we have the instructor goes over it the next class. When I read the texts for my philosophy class I am lost so by hearing what the instructor has to say about it I learn and save some time. In Notre Dame in the chapter Growing up in a College Bubble, a student speaks about this same thing. I think most students do this, so it is a similarity between Notre Dame students and SF State students. It is human nature to go with easy rather than hard. If we can do less work and still achieve our desired goals, we feel “smart” even. This same chapter talks a lot about how the students in Notre Dame are idle at times. They seem to be doing absolutely nothing just hanging out with friends in their dorms. Lately I have caught myself doing the same. I have all the time and sometimes I push things to the very last minute. For example this blog, I started around 8 pm and I pushed it until now. What did I do today? I decided to go to the gym and hang out with my friend instead. Although I am doing before the deadline I had since yesterday to finish this blog.

I am also first generation born in the United States and I am the first person in my nuclear family to go to college. This adds a lot more pressure for me in college. Getting bad grades or not graduating is not even an option for me. I feel that my family has all their hopes on me, causing a lot of stress on me. Because of the fear that I might fail college I try to study more for tests and stay away from parties. I did not really relate to the students from Notre Dame because simply I have not been to any parties since I been at SF State. The issue of partying and drinking though is probably very possible to occur in SF State though. Most college students like to party, and have fun interfering with their studies. I personally have a lot in stake though, so I do not engage in any of those activities.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


With school and everything finding time to read is quite difficult but for this semester in my American Values class I have read two book that are really great.

The first is Twilight: Los Angeles by Ana Deveare Smith. This book is really interesting because it really an interview on their thoughts of the Rodney King riots that happened in LA. This book is actually a play where she plays the part of all the characters she interviewed in a monologue.

The other book I read was the Laramie Project by Moises Kaufman. This is similar to Ana Deveare’s book because it is also based on interviews done to the city of Laramie asking about the Matthew Shephard murder. Matt was a gay college kid who was murdered by two Laramie citizens—this book is also a play. I really liked this book because it really captures the people’s opinions. I read this book on Bart and I almost cried because of the power of the voices.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


I want to write about how Wikipedia should not be allowed by college students. That will probably be my thesis statement. Wikipedia should not be used my students in academic writing because it is unreliable.
I want to talk about the unreliability of the article’s information. The reasons being that any regular Joe could be writing on topics that he does not have expertise or knowledge in. This creates issues because then students will be using the wrong information in their academic writing. Encyclopedias in the first place are not “primary” sources. They also are not giving in depth information, just an overview. Therefore Wikipedia should not be used for academic writing in any case even if it was reliable. Most of my past professors did not even want secondary sources, especially in my biology class.

An example of Wikipedia being unreliable was with the article on John Seigenthaler. He was accused of being suspected for assassinating John F. Kennedy, which was totally not true. This is not the only case in which articles have been “vandalized”. I have been a witness of a person writing a totally bogus article on Wikipedia. As a school prank, my friend wrote on our high school Wikipedia article, “You have been Moshed”, an inside joke within our group of friends. That article was on Wikipedia for over a year, I think, and no one caught it. Anyone can “edit” these articles and write wrong information. Not only could information can be wrong but also an important fact can be omitted. Also it could be biased to the person’s opinion. This could extremely dangerous in stuff like global warming.

Another issue is the lack of good editors. There is no expert behind these articles making sure that the information is wrong or not. They don not edit the structure of the article. This makes articles organization very poor creating confusion for the students. According to the Nature article it is not a couple or articles contain these issues but a vast majority.

This is among the lines that I was thinking on writing about. Although I think Wikipedia is unreliable, some of the articles citations on the bottom are actually pretty good, so I was thinking maybe I could write on how Wikipedia should not be used as a source but that maybe students should use it was a starting point to find better sources. I am not sure how exactly I am going to incorporate that into my thesis just yet because it might make my essay confusing. Also I am not sure how I would expand this thought because that is my only point. I still have to do a little more research to develop my ideas even further.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Extra Credit =)

In my opinion Helene Heggman did plagiarize. I would not consider it mixing because she took a whole page of an author’s actual work. If it were mixing, she would of taken the storyline but changed it excessively so that it would have been subtly recognized. That is what they do in music; they take a piece of the riff change it dramatically so it sounds completely new yet it subtly hints that it is a sample. She also did not mention that her book was a “mix” therefore it is considered plagiarism. Like in any other form of writing sources must be cited.

In Gardener’s post she cited “The guardian suggesting that “Hegemann simply does not understand what she has done—“To her, coming from the cut-and-paste world of blogs and Facebook, what she's done is no more than ‘mixing.’” I do not agree with The Guardian because people know when it is appropriate to use phrases without citation. One cannot compare writing quotes on Facebook to using a whole page in a novel. It does not justify Heggman’s actions. She should suffer the consequences for her imprudent actions. Heggman is also making revenue out of her novel, making her action un-ethical as well. Mixing is also not a legitimate reason for using other people’s work without citation. It should still be considered as plagiarism unless there was permission. Paralleling this back to music, musicians cannot take a song sample without permission even if it is being re-mixed. Many lawsuits have undergone due to these incidents, a recent one being the Black Eyed Peas for Boom Boom Pow. The same should be for “mixing” novels.

Although there are no legal repercussions for plagiarism I think there should be when money is involved. The reason because I think it is un-ethical for other people to make money off of someone’s creativity and originality. Heggman says “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity.” I agree with her, but she was not being authentic either. An authentic person would have been inspired by previous works and tried to make something different. By “mixing” the whole page with minimal changes in my eyes is not being authentic. Especially since she tried to hide the fact that she did indeed use another author’s work. Although her motives are unclear (it could be that she wanted to make money or she truly does it for the joy of writing), to me she is not really portrayed as an authentic person in these articles. Although she did admit to using nom de plume Airen she still is justifying herself. An authentic person would have just said sorry I was not thinking etc.
This article reminds me of Gladwell’s article. The playwright stole words from his article in her play. It has some similarities but the big difference is that the playwright did create something completely new. She gathered information from academic journal to create a play. She used this information more as background, Heggman though created the same thing, a novel. As if it should be treated differently I am not quite sure, although they both did plagiarize (knowingly) it can be that playwright was more authentic than Heggman.

Inventing the University

It was interesting to learn how instructors grade our timed- essays for the university placement test. I remember that my essay prompt was “Do you think tattoos effects the person in the workplace”, or something of this sort. It was quite difficult to answer this prompt because, I was not sure on how to write the essay. I knew that I had to have a more “academic prose” as David Bartholomae stated but at that moment I did not know what that was. It is quite difficult for first year students to write in a style of academia simply because students do not know what academic writing is. We are encouraged to write our opinions and simultaneously meet the requirements of the university. The language that is expected is unknown when writing “academic papers” making student’s feel that their writing is inadequate. As writers, we must always write in the language of our reader. In this case the university is our reader, an academic constitution in which first year student are new to. Students then have to take on the persona of the performer self instead of the authentic self. In a way many student’s academic writing may be an imitation just because we do not understand the academic language, it is unnatural to us. This though could be changed if we had a better experience of writing in grade school (especially public schooling where there are fewer resources).

During the group discussions, we had a question regarding if the amount of sentence errors correspond to how well the writers were able to approximate academic writing. Bartholomae said in his article that this is not true. He gave the example of the Clay Model writer and the White Shoes writer. The White shoes writer had a relatively error free essay compared to the Clay Model yet in an “academic setting” the Clay Model writer was better. Many student feel that they must stay in their “comfort zones” to have a clean paper and feel hesitant to expand their writing. Speaking about the White Shoes writer Barthalome says, “He will have to be convinced that it is better to write sentences he might not so easily control, and he will have to be convinced that it is better to write muddier and more confusing prose (in order that it may sound like ours)” p.22. What he means by this is that students have to take risks even if the sentence structure may be mal-structured. I think this is what happens to most students. We are trying to have error free essays that in the end we do not take the risk to go above and beyond due to fear.

I feel that this is what I do. I try my best to have error free essays that I lack ingenuity due the fear of having an unclear or “muddy essay”. If I want to write more academically though, I am going to have to go in deep into the discourse. With these reading I am able to figure out what professors are looking for in academic writing even though I still feel inexperienced.