I had often wondered what it would be like to cheat on my assignments during my university days. Thank God I did not have to find out first hand. The humiliation would have been unbearable.
A few of my acquaintances were less fortunate. For whatever reasons, one decided to "copy" the other's assignment. Although, they reasoned that their respective papers were the result of their close discussions, both their papers were flung back at their faces by their law lecturer with embarrassingly large red-scribbles and an obvious "F" at the top of the front pages.
Maybe this sort of thing would happen less now that papers can be bought and sold over the Internet. With a large enough data-base and some intelligent manipulation or alteration, one can easily cook-up a essay on whatever subject one likes.
Of course, we get what we pay for. One particular "free site" - http://www.cheater.com/ - did not have the sort of quality papers one would expect for the purpose of getting B+ and above. However, one may still be surprised since some of them are not bad at all.
In my attempt to get access to cheater.com, I had to submit an essay. So I submitted my recent article to BICNews on "Of Terrorism and Double Standards" (see http://ireland.iol.ie/~afifi/BICNews/Afaiz/afaiz2.htm). I arbitrarily put my "grade" as B+. Access was instantaneous.
Most of the articles that I came across were not exceptional. Clearly, those who were capable of producing better writings would not in their right mind resort to writing for and taking from such cheat sites. However, in desperation, some of these students may become tempted to gain access to the ones that require payment: the ones that would "ensure" a B+ or an A or A+grade.
Out of desperation, some would justify that they are not into committing plagiarism as such. Their intention is to merely to survey "model essays", the sort that are available even in respectable journals and reports. Of course, this is nothing but a half truth. Sure enough, originality in writings involves perusing books, journals and reports. However, the writer's edge comes from whatever he or she feels for the thing that is being written. It is that sort of originality which others would be able to identify particular authours with.
Such originality would be wholly absent from writings that involve plagiarism. The student might be able to get away with it a couple of times but a they say, "one can always fool others, but one can only fool people a few times because, in the end, one cannot fool everyone all the time." Tell tale signs would be the language flow as well as angle and structure of analysis, all of which are hinged upon individuality or the lack thereof. The reason why the essays of my acquaintances were thrown back at their faces by their law lecturer was not because their essays lacked content or academic analysis. It was because they lacked that touch of individuality so crucial to original writings.
And even if one were able to fool one's professor or tutor to the very end, one day one would wish that cutting corners were not such a difficult habit to break: in business, cutting corners would entail the loss of clientele goodwill; in the professional field, one's ignorance would result in great embarrassments to one's profession and even law suits.
Then, it would be too late to lament, "If only I had paid attention to my studies and learnt what it really meant to savour the fruits of my labour."
Ahmad Faiz bin Abdul Rahman
8 September 1997.
[Currently, he is a Researcher with the Institute of Islamic Understanding, Malaysia (IKIM) and a Pro-temp Committee Member of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST).]