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Diary: Plagiarism just isn’t fair


Training manager Josie Roberts tackles a blatant case of plagiarism in some training material, with mixed results.

I am something of a stickler for correct grammar and spelling. This is not guaranteed to make me popular but if I find errors in training material distracting then there are surely trainees who share this view.  My feeling is that if a trainer hasn’t bothered to check the spelling, how confident can I be of their material?    

"No-one takes kindly to having such things pointed out, but if I spotted it then someone else would, and we hardly want to send the message that taking other people’s stuff off the web is OK."

I have a slightly unnatural enthusiasm for checking my colleague’s work and can often be found contentedly hunched over training material with my red pen. I was thus engaged last week when a section of the text caught my eye.  The style of writing changed quite abruptly. My immediate thought was that it had been copied from somewhere else and it took 20 seconds on Google to confirm this. 

I wasn’t sure of my best approach on this. No-one takes kindly to having such things pointed out, but if I spotted it then someone else would, and we hardly want to send the message that taking other people’s stuff off the web is OK. I tried to be diplomatic suggesting that the inclusion or credit was an error, but that didn’t go down well. In fact the whole thing got somewhat heated with returns on website copyright, intellectual property etc. 

In the end I escalated it to the person’s manager who was clear about not wanting to risk any kind of argument with the website and had it removed. I had been uncomfortable about working with a document with such a clear example of plagiarism on it, so I was relieved but also a bit uncomfortable that I wasn’t able to sort it out more amicably. It’s certainly not going to improve an already slightly uncomfortable relationship.

I train communication skills and as often, as I say, there isn’t one formula that will resolve every situation, I still get frustrated when I think I could have communicated better with someone. 

Having repeatedly postponed it we finally have enough people attending to run “Train the Trainer” next week. I asked for copies of the existing course training notes and handouts – and my heart sank.  They clearly haven’t been updated in some years. I think the younger attendees will want to know what an OHP is rather than have a session including top tips on how to use one. There are sections that no doubt meant perfect sense to the original author – “Tell the story about Mike and the butterfly” but no clue as to what the story is and a note that Bob will be coming in to demonstrate setting up screens and projectors. I’m not even sure we have a Bob working here any more.

It has been cancelled so often I never thought it would run but can’t escape the fact that I should have checked through the material earlier. So I have frantically been putting the course together afresh. Obviously it’s familiar territory and I know most of the attendees and they are very keen. My original panic is starting to turn to excitement at the prospect of watching some new nervous fledglings gradually gaining confidence and trying their wings in the world of training.  Maybe some of them will end up like me, making a full time career of it. Now I do it I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else.                

Josie Roberts is a pen name for a training manager working in the corporate sector.

Read more on the subject of plagiarism and writing skills:

Plagiarism in blogs

The write way


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