Plagiarism’s Fine Lines

I know several school students who live in acute fear of plagiarizing.  They’re not sure what constitutes it, but they understand that it’s very very bad and can get them in lots of trouble.  Their uncertainty about the difference between plagiarizing and writing about something you’ve read somewhere is understandable – it’s a fine line and one that doesn’t… can’t, probably… get enough attention in their classrooms.  What’s worse is that I see many of them shying away from writing anything at all about what they’ve read because they’re so afraid that it’ll be or at least be considered cheating.  If you get the chance, this is a great conversation to have with young people, and I find that somewhere around the ages of 10 or 11 tends to work particularly well.  (Not only because this is a time when this kind of task may come up, particularly if they’re in school, but also because it’s a time when they’re likely to be particularly interested in fairness and issues of fair use.)  When I bring it up, I talk about how it’s tricky to find that line between copying and writing from your own mind about what you’ve learned.