Just Run It Through the Plagiarism Program

By Marcy Sugar

By Kathy Mitchell

July 14, 2013 4 min read

Dear Annie: I am still fuming over something that happened a month ago. I was contacted by my son's high school teacher, alleging that he plagiarized parts of his final term paper. Annie, I coached him through the writing process, making sure he followed through with his outline. It took an agonizing 15 hours over several days. I know he didn't plagiarize, because I was in the room the entire time and watched him come up with that sentence.

The teacher ran the paper through one of the commercially available online programs designed to catch plagiarism, and part of one sentence popped up. She insists he copied the sentence from some book published in the 1950s and expects him to cite his source. Aren't students allowed to have the same thoughts someone else has had before?

My son is being called a liar and told to give credit to some writer he never heard of. How many unique phrases can students come up with these days? I asked my older child whether she runs her papers through this program and changes them if anything gets flagged. She says she does. I don't believe students should have to change their wording if they wrote it themselves.

I explained this to the teacher, but she still insists he cheated. I think teachers should stop relying on computer programs and start teaching kids to think, read and write. I told my son he should be proud of his hard work, but he thinks it simply wasn't worth the effort. And now the teacher doubts my integrity, as well.

How do I handle this for the upcoming school year? — Disgusted Parent

Dear Parent: We agree that this is a sorry commentary on schooling, but you need to be practical. If teachers use these online programs to check for plagiarized phrases, it makes sense for students to double-check their papers the same way. Of course, two people could come up with the same sentence independently, but the teacher has no way of knowing this is the case. And a parent's word is, sorry to say, insufficiently believable. Your son can protect himself from future accusations by running his papers through a program similar to what the teacher uses.

Dear Annie: My husband and I are going to his best friend's wedding in two weeks. I've picked a teal-colored dress to wear, and he's going with a black shirt and pants. We're not sure what proper etiquette is on couples matching. Is it tacky or juvenile for his tie to match my dress? — Curious

Dear Curious: Some people think it's cute if a tie matches the partner's dress, but others would consider it a bit much. Since your husband is wearing a black shirt (with no jacket), we assume this is an informal wedding. If you want to match while being less obvious, a more muted compromise would be a patterned tie with some teal in it.

Dear Annie: I read the letter from "Phoebe's Human Mom," who took her 8-month-old puppy to a dog park, where it was attacked by a dog on a leash. Your answer was great, but I wanted to add that any smart dog owner who takes their pet to the off-leash dog park should be aware that any dog on a leash may be fearful and may show aggression when approached by off-leash dogs. They have nowhere to run and may feel trapped. — CRH

Dear CRH: Several readers pointed out that leashed dogs may feel threatened when approached by an off-leash animal. Our thanks to all who wrote.

Annie's Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please email your questions to [email protected], or write to: Annie's Mailbox, c/o Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254. To find out more about Annie's Mailbox and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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