'When degrees are seen as a means to an end, anything justifies getting the mark'

March 17, 2006

It's a problem every student is familiar with: how to squeeze as much material as possible, from as many different sources as possible, into a 1,500-word essay.

Phil Spooner, a second-year classics student at Leeds University, feels that the demands of balancing source material and essay length often mean that such assignments default into a string of loosely associated quotes. "We're expected to cite as many references as possible to gain maximum marks but keep our word limit to 1,500. Well, it is almost impossible to use so many references, as well as your own words, without it looking like a copy-and-paste job."

Mr Spooner said that he had been penalised for not including all the references on a recent work assignment, but stressed that he hadn't been accused of cheating by lecturers.

He said: "I once lost a few points because referencing needed to be more thorough. I was not accused of plagiarism - fortunately, my lecturers take a personal interest in our work and they take time to explain these things properly."

Mr Spooner said that this problem could only get worse as more sources become available online. The search engine Google intends to develop a database of books available electronically, so the pool of resources could grow to unprecedented levels.

"I am fortunate in being part of a very small department where lecturers know our individual way of thinking and our style of writing and will immediately spot any inconsistencies. We have to sign a form attached to every essay that we hand in to say that we haven't plagiarised," he said.

Often students are oblivious to what plagiarism means in practical terms, Mr Spooner said. Personal definitions vary widely from buying an essay on the internet to incorrect referencing. Mr Spooner said that it was imperative that students realised the importance of adequate referencing.

He said: "Unfortunately, degrees are often seen as a means to an end and anything justifies getting the mark. But if you're not caught the first time you'll definitely be caught the second. It is short-sighted and the student loses out in the end."

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