Saturday, 14 September 2019 22:51:11

Failed by Copy and Paste

A Story of Plagiarism Gone Wrong

13 April 2018.

I'm in my The Art of Clear Writing seminar.

We are discussing plagiarism, and participants are sharing their personal experience with cut-and-paste.

Here is Jim's story:


By the middle of Form One, I had many friends in Form Two; but Chris was the best.

We went to the same primary school; and, when I joined high school, he helped me find my way around. He held my hand as an elder brother, and he defended me when older boys tried to bully me.

When school reopened after the second term, I wanted to write a letter; but I didn't know how to go about it. I had never written such a letter before, so I needed some guidance. I asked Chris to assist me, and, as usual, he responded like an elder brother.

"That's simple," he assured me. "I just finished writing one this morning, but I have not posted it. You can copy it."

That evening, I retreated to my desk to write my first-ever letter of this nature. I copied it word by word and read it several times to make sure it was perfect:


"Dear Florence,

I thank God for giving me this golden opportunity to find out how you are navigating the academic weather at Lugulu Girls.

Since the last time we met at your father's shop in Kitale, I have been thinking about you.

Your brown complexion and the pink dress you were wearing are still fresh in my mind...."

(The letter was five pages)


When I was satisfied that the letter sounded great, I slipped it into an envelope, sealed it, and affixed a stamp.

Then I added a "By Airmail" sticker. Chris had told me that such a sticker would make the recipient think I am cool.

I then addressed the envelope precisely as it appeared on the small note she had given me; then, on Saturday, I went to town to post it.

Her reply came three weeks later:


"Dear Jim,

Thank you very much for thinking about me.

I hope you are well.

I am writing to inform you that I received the envelope you sent, but the letter inside was not mine.

Firstly, my name is Janet, not Florence.

Secondly, my father does not own a shop in Kitale. I have never been to Kitale, and therefore you could not have met me there.

Thirdly, my school is Moi Girls, not Lugulu Girls.

Finally, I don't have a pink dress, and I am dark-skinned. Therefore, I can't be the brown-complexion girl you met wearing a pink dress.

I am returning Florence's letter so that you can send it to her. I don't want to see you again.




Her letter stressed me, so I took it to Chris to ask him what I had done wrong. He was surprised I had copied his letter word-by-word.

"You should have changed names of people and places," Chris said.

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