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Skeeter McCheater’s Plagiarism Quiz
Evin Cruz
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You’re sitting calmly in your lofty business chair, drinking coffee as you gaze upon the city around you. You are simply in love with your high-paying CEO position. Then a knock at your door disrupts your thoughts. You stride across the room, thinking you’re so important, who could possibly be pestering you now?

The man standing at the other side of the door says, “You’re fired. We caught you using material in your reports that is uncredited. Simply put, we caught you plagiarizing.”

Maybe you think I’m exaggerating, but this scene, more or less, has taken place many times. Avoiding plagiarism isn’t just about making your teacher happy: You can be thrown out of college, or lose your job and reputation if you steal someone else’s work.

Sometimes Tricky

In 2008 a high school principal in Naperville, Illinois was fired after he delivered a former student’s speech without attribution. The same year, a professor of psychology at Columbia University was fired after an investigation that determined she had plagiarized academic work. Imagine spending all those years in school and wasting all that money to become a professional no one can trust or will hire.

According to MerriamWebster.com, to plagiarize is “To steal or pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own: Use (another’s production) without crediting the source.” (Notice how I cited my source for that definition?)

This means that plagiarism is not only copying exactly what is written (which is pretty easy to avoid); it also refers to copying an author’s ideas. Making sure you don’t do this can be slightly trickier.

We’ve come up with a quiz to help you identify plagiarism when you see it. Below are examples of information a classmate of yours, Skeeter McCheater, found online, along with an explanation of how he presented this information for class.

In which cases is he plagiarizing? Answers are at the end.

1. What Skeeter found on www.space-and-the-universe.com:

In space the vast universe seems never to end.

What Skeeter wrote in his essay on black holes:

In space the vast universe seems never to end!

Is it plagiarism?


2. What Skeeter found on a slate.com article about voter registration patterns:

The first-time voters who were caught up in Obamamania when they registered are likely to stay Democrats well into the future.

What Skeeter wrote in a report on President Obama’s popularity:

The debutante voters who were swayed by Obamamania when they registered will probably remain Democrats for a long time.

Is it plagiarism?


3. What Skeeter found in YCteen (formerly New Youth Connections) magazine:

According to a Yale professor of psychology quoted in Psychology Today magazine, stereotypes arise from the way we process information…

What Skeeter wrote in his essay:

Stereotypes arise from the way we process information.

Is it plagiarism?


4. What Skeeter found on www.tick-tick-tock.com:

Here, Skeeter found an article about watches. The first paragraph of this article talks about the history of watches. The second talks about how watches are made, and the last paragraph mentions what brand-name watches celebrities wear.

Skeeter loved this essay so much he decided to structure his essay the same way, and used some of the same transitions between ideas. But he didn’t copy a single sentence from the article.

image by Erika Faye Burke

Is it plagiarism?


5. What Skeeter found on www.trash-to-the-sun.com:

My idea is that if we gathered all the trash in the planet and sent it into the sun then we would have less garbage on earth.

What Skeeter wrote in an essay for his science class:

To solve the problem of excessive waste on Earth, we should shoot all the trash on the planet into the sun.

Is it plagiarism?


6. What Skeeter found in an article about happiness by Pagan Kennedy in Boston magazine:

Now I, too, get to examine my emotions while they are still wriggling and alive, like fish just wrenched from the deep.

What Skeeter wrote in his paper about scientific studies on happiness:

The psych study helps participants look at their emotions while they’re fresh, like fish just pulled out of the sea.

Is it plagiarism?


7. What Skeeter McCheater found online on www.oil-fires-are-not-cool.com:

Never use water to put out an oil fire, because the oil will just float on the water and spread wherever the water flies.

What Skeeter wrote in his essay on fire safety:

I’ve learned from www.oil-fires-are-not-cool.com that you should never use water to put out an oil fire, because “the oil will just float on the water and spread wherever the water flies.”

Is it plagiarism?

1. Answer: Yes, it’s plagiarism. Though Skeeter changed the period at the end into an exclamation point, it’s still plagiarism because Skeeter copied the sentence from the website word for word, without putting it in quotes and saying where it came from.

2. Answer: Yes, it’s plagiarism. True, Skeeter McCheater got out his trusty thesaurus and changed the words around. But the structure of a sentence still counts as another person’s idea. If you use the same sentence structure and substitute words here and there, you’re still taking another’s ideas.

3. Answer: Yes, it’s plagiarism. Skeeter didn’t discover how stereotypes arise using his own research—he relied on the research of Yale professors, and he found this information in a magazine article (that correctly cited a previous magazine article). Yet he didn’t state that he was relying on someone else’s research; he didn’t even cite either of the magazines that quoted the professor. This is plagiarism.

4. Answer: Yes, it’s plagiarism. Even though he is not copying the sentences, Skeeter is copying the way the author wrote the story. The author of the original article thought her material through and relied on her own mind to come up with a way of structuring the article. When structuring his paper, Skeeter relied on her mind, too. That’s why this is plagiarism.

5. Answer: Yes, it’s plagiarism. True, Skeeter used his own words and sentence structure. But he’s taking credit for an idea that he got from someone else, so it’s plagiarism.

6. Answer: Yes, it’s plagiarism. Here Skeeter is copying an original metaphor that he found online. Certain metaphors are common, like “It’s raining cats and dogs.” Such metaphors are called clichés—a sign of poor writing, since they’re understood to be unoriginal. But because they’re unoriginal, you can use clichés without committing plagiarism.

Original metaphors, however, are like works of art the author has created. If you copy them, you’re taking credit for a creation that’s not yours, so it’s plagiarism.

7. Answer: No, this is not plagiarism. Skeeter did everything he was supposed to: He told where he found the information, and used quotes around the part that he was copying word for word. Skeeter is finally getting the hang of it.

After taking this quiz, you might be thinking, “How am I ever going to NOT plagiarize? There are all these ways to do it that I didn’t even know about.”

You can always ask your teacher or professor if you’re not sure—but if there is any simple way to avoid plagiarism, it’s to follow a golden rule: Always cite your sources. Once you’ve done that, no one can accuse you of trying to pass off someone else’s work as your own.

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(NYC-2010-12-06)

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