How To Write An Argumentative Essay By Shmoop Hamlet


It's the dirtiest of dirty words in the education world. Yeah, there's "cheating" and "bullying" and—must we say it?—"pre-calculus," but as far as intellectual honesty goes, plagiarism is pretty much the trump card.

But like just about everything, it comes in multiple forms.

Sometimes it's deliberate. Take the student who thinks: "Oh shoot! I have an essay on The Catcher in the Rye due tomorrow." [Quick online search.] "Hey—here's one. I'm sure my teacher won't know I didn't write it."

Other times, it's an innocent mistake. As in the case of a student who reads someone else's text, paraphrases a word here and there, and believes what they've done is completely acceptable because it's not an exact copy.

But regardless of how students come to commit plagiarism, they rarely realize just how serious the issue is or why it really matters. And that's precisely why we're here.

First: Educate

We're living in a copy-and-paste society.

There's a lot of debate around copyright and intellectual property laws, so the first thing you need to do to help prevent plagiarism in essays is to make sure your students actually understand the issue.

We've got a video for that. And a definition. And pretty much every course we offer has a bit on it, including ELA 7, Citing Online Sources, and Critical Thinking and Study Skills.

Once your students what it is and get how to not do it, the next step is making sure they actually, uh…don't.

Second: Mitigate

By instituting a few policies to govern the handing in of essays, you can make it harder for students to plagiarize. And helping mitigate the problem on the front end is way easier than having to punish on the back end.

And so, some sample policies for your instituting pleasure:

1. Require students to hand in all drafts of their work. If you can see the outline and the first draft right there, stapled to the final draft (as well as second and third drafts, if they were used), you'll be able to see the process your students went through. You can trace where various words, phrases, thoughts, and chunks of text came from. It's like an archeology adventure, but without the snakes or rolling boulders. Or Nazis.

Anyway, this should prevent the most egregious instances of plagiarism (the wholesale copying of another essay) altogether, since it would take quite a bit of work for students to work backward and create convincing original drafts of completed essays. Not bad, eh?

2. In addition to earlier drafts, have students turn in their research notes, doodles, outlines, pre-writing—anything that went into the construction of the essay. To ensure that students take this part seriously, you can factor it into the grading. Nothing like assessing the whole process to light a fire of responsible preparation habits under their, um, keyboards.

3. Structure writing assignments in stages. First, students must turn in their topic idea; next, a thesis statement; third, ideas for supporting paragraphs; et cetera. The steps that you include will depend upon the assignment (literary analysis, research paper, biography, creative writing, persuasive essay), but by having students turn things in at various stages you will eliminate many opportunities for plagiarism—or for students to say, "I didn't save my first draft," or "I don't have any notes."

4. Vary your assignments from year to year so that past student papers won't work as the basis for current student papers. How easy is that?

5. Finally (and obviously, we like to think), have a template for how works cited pages should work—and be broad. If they're including not just The Catcher in the Rye itself, but also any sources they glanced at while they were forming their argument, you'll get a sense of just how much actually is their own argument. And if they don't include something—well, that's where step three comes in.

Third: Investigate

After you've covered the education part, and you've instituted a few policies to help mitigate the problem, you still have one more thing to do: investigate. Most of your students will make a good effort not to plagiarize, especially after steps one and two. But as you know, even with the best intentions in place, it can still happen.

And so, here are a few ways for you to root it out. The first two are adapted from our article on strategies for preventing cheating. And, hey, there's more where that came from, so click on over once you finish up here. There's always more you can do.

Onto the tips:

1. Have your students complete some in-class essays so that you'll have a good feel for their individual writing styles and capabilities. Sure, in-class writing won't give you a perfect picture of what students may be able to complete with more time to think and write, but it will give you a baseline from which to evaluate their writing.

After all, if you're familiar with the kind of work your students are capable of in class, you'll have a good idea of what they should be able to accomplish on their own. And if there's a huge difference? There could be a bit of plagiarism involved.

2. Google it. Or Bing it, or Yahoo! it, or [enter preferred search engine here] it. The days are gone when all you had to worry about when it came to student reports or essays was copying out of an encyclopedia. Today, while it's easy for your students to search, "Term paper on Hamlet," it's just as easy for you to do the same. Even easier, if you read a student paper that seems like a departure from past work—then, you can search a particular phrase or sentence from that paper online (in quotes in the search box, of course) and voila! You easily come up with its source material. Or hopefully not, because we're just crossing our fingers your conscientious students dreamed it up all on their own.

3. Get even more tech savvy. Beyond the simple search-engine check, there is actually software out there that will check an essay for plagiarism for you. (Oh, this brave new world.) Here's a list of Christopher Pappas's "Top 10 Free Plagiarism Detection Tools for Teachers."

Of course, you'll need to have your students submit electronic copies of their essays to make this tip work for you, so if that's not possible, go back to tip number 2, select suspicious phrases, and do your own searching.

4. Know Your Enemy. We got this tip from MIT: their anti-plagiarism page lists the following websites where essays and papers are offered up to students (some free, some for a fee). Check them out to see what's available or to compare a suspicious student essay to the online offerings. The culprits:

Fourth: Celebrate

Yeah, we just wanted to finish up the rhyme.

But assuming you followed the other steps and dealt the deathblow to plagiarism in your classroom, then you've got reason to celebrate indeed.

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Who doesn’t love a good argument? There’s something invigorating about persuading someone to come around to your point of view. And hey—if you make them look a little stupid in the process, well... so be it.

Who doesn’t love a good argument? There’s something invigorating about persuading someone to come around to your point of view. And hey—if you make them look a little stupid in the process, well... so be it.


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