Today I spoke at length with several students whose research papers I failed because of plagiarism or obvious misunderstanding of what a research paper IS.
When I graded the papers, I felt angry and insulted because I had been working with these students for eight weeks to help them write an original paper with correct in-text citations corresponding to a valid Works Cited list. The documents these students had produced made me wonder if they had paid any attention to the in-class work at all. Their documents leading up to the research paper had not been failures, so I was surprised and disheartened to get such a poor result when the actual papers were submitted.
Not ALL the students failed -- most did a decent job. But several failed miserably.
After talking with these students, I discovered that past experiences with writing courses had left them misinformed. Perhaps the professors in those other courses did not check the research papers as thoroughly as I always do: I not only make sure that each in-text citation is matched by an entry in the Works Cited list; I examine the titles of the sources to make sure they are relevant to the in-text material. It is easy for a student to write a paper and insert citations at random points throughout the text, without even having used material from those sources. Thus they produce the appearance of a research paper, but not the substance.
One of today's students said, "This paper is not like the paper I wrote in my last course" -- that is, the requirements for my paper seem very different. But I don't require anything that is not typical of a research paper.
The class I'm teaching is for international students. They come from various parts of the globe, and often their language systems differ starkly from English. I can understand writing problems arising from second-language differences. What I don't understand is what on earth went on with the research papers in their past courses. I'm teaching a second-semester course; the first-semester course is supposed to give these students basic research training. I feel angry at past professors who did not demand enough precision of understanding from the students. Those professors set several of my students up for failure in the future.