Book by Laura Hennessey DeSena
Review by Barbara J. Lamont
Colleges’ Freshman Advising Center
University of Texas at San Antonio
In her book, Preventing Plagiarism: Tips and Techniques, Laura Hennessey DeSena unravels the mysteries of analytical, critical, creative, and original thought. Seven succinct chapters, sandwiched between chapter one “The Rewards of Original Thinking,” and the afterword “Negative Space” assist teachers in finding their students’ voices. The latter DeSena terms an “analogy,” but it reads like a mini social commentary. As such, academic advisors who teach first-year seminars and who conduct learning assistance workshops might consider including DeSena’s book in their reference library.
Readers should know at the onset that the title of DeSena’s book suggests it is devoted solely to plagiarism. But this little book packs a lot of vital information for instructors between its paperbound covers and, while plagiarism dominates, other related topics are also included. DeSena entreats instructors to encourage students to think both as individuals and on a global scale, to relentlessly ask questions and to fully engage in free- writing, to recognize and embrace culturally diverse communication barriers and, most importantly, to acknowledge that “writing is not merely a form of communication but a vehicle for the transference of ideas from writer to reader…it is a study of self.” (p. 1)
DeSena builds her book chapter upon chapter meticulously guiding the instructor in the technical elements of formal writing and selecting legitimate research sources. Formal writing, DeSena contends, is impossible to master unless students understand and practice the art of freewriting which is, she stresses, “the concrete representation of the mind at work.” (pp. 86) As for research sources, while she generally argues strongly for using primary sources first, DeSena acknowledges there may be instances where secondary sources may be more appropriate. Throughout the book, DeSena offers tips for improving thesis writing, honing research techniques, and organizing writers’ portfolios.
Readers might suggest that the seeds of plagiarism prevention may be sown long before a child begins school. Unfortunately, the 21st century boon of technological breakthroughs makes it difficult to curb the incessant electronic and media onslaught children face and, without proper nurturing and intervention, these seeds wither and die. The consequence is that these students are robbed of the opportunity to think; legitimate research escapes them and effective formal writing eludes many. Stealing the words of others, whether inadvertently or not, is so much easier for them.
To DeSena’s credit, however, she does not just deliver bad news; she seeks to encourage change and provides practical avenues to identify and deter plagiarism. It is not an easy task, nor an enviable one, to uncover and verify instances of plagiarism. Some would call it an art; others a curse because once discovered, instructors are bound to confront the transgression. Or not!
Ultimately, DeSena’s most impactful message is delivered to instructors who, she claims, may be part of the plagiarism problem. Rather than challenging students with clear, concise assignments that encourage creative, critical, analytical, and original thinking, some instructors may err in the opposite direction. DeSena attempts to turn that perspective around, and her exceptional suggestions detailed with specific examples will assist instructors who are looking for innovative writing and research strategies in the classroom. For example, the text includes several variations of assignments, note-taking and outlining techniques, composition hints, and writing samples.
If readers want to curb plagiarism in the classroom, teach students how to research and write well-synthesized papers that ultimately enrich students’ worldviews, then reach for DeSena’s book.
Preventing Plagiarism: Tips and Techniques. (2007). Book by Laura Hennessey DeSena. Review by Barbara J. Lamont. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. 117 pp., $29.95 (paperback). ISBN # 978-0-8141-4593-7