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Faculty Viewpoint: Vice Provost Laura Brown

Professor Laura Brown

Prof. Brown: “My own definition of plagiarism does have, at the core of it, something about trying to trick somebody into thinking that someone else’s writing is your own.”

Laura Brown is the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and the John Wendell Anderson Professor of English at Cornell University. She became involved in a number of plagiarism cases during her term as chair of the department.

In one case, a student’s three-page paper contained passages that were virtually identical to passages contained in sources the student referenced at the end of the paper. More than half of the paper consisted of these copied passages—presented not as complete paragraphs but as interwoven pieces.

The instructor’s viewpoint was, “This is plagiarism. It’s stealing. You have to be punished.” The student’s viewpoint was, “I put the sources at the end of the paper. I wasn’t trying to trick or fool anyone.”

Was this plagiarism? In Professor Brown’s opinion, the student was not attempting to “steal.” Instead, the problem was one “of composition and of how to create an argument that is guided by your own thesis.”

When you compose essays and utilize sources, do you copy and paste blocks of text? Professor Brown suggests that this is a key point in the process for students, and one at which instructors can provide valuable assistance. If you have questions about whether you have incorporated or cited material properly in the paper you’re working on now, this resource may provide some of the answers you need—but remember that you can always ask your instructor for guidance.