Cheating and falsification – two major breaches of academic integrity – are reasonably self-explanatory. However, plagiarism is sometimes misunderstood. Hence, the nature of plagiarism is briefly clarified below.
Plagiarism can be broadly defined as the reproduction or paraphrasing, without acknowledgement, of public or private material (including unpublished material and material downloaded from the internet), which is attributable to, or which is the intellectual property of, another person. The material can take just about any form. However, it most commonly takes the form of textual material.
Common Forms of Plagiarism
- Including in your own work extracts from another person’s work without the use of quotation marks and crediting the source.
- The use of the ideas of another person without the acknowledgement of the source.
- Paraphrasing or summarising another person’s work without acknowledgement.
- Cutting and pasting from electronic sources without explicit acknowledgement of the of the source, URL, or author, and/or without explicitly marking the pasted text as a quotation.
- Submitting a piece of work entirely as your own when it was produced in collaboration with others, and not declaring that this collaboration has taken place (this is known as ‘collusion’).
Some Concrete Examples
Here is an original passage from page 13 of Sue Spence’s (1991) book Psychosexual therapy: A cognitive approach (London: Chapman & Hall):
“Various models have been used to describe the human sexual response, most of which derive from the observational studies of Masters and Johnson (1966). Stunz (1988) provided a detailed review of the processes involved in what he terms the DEPORD model of the human sexual response cycle.”
An obviously plagiarized version of this passage (in red) might look like this:
“Until quite recently, there was little empirical research on the human sexuality, but this is no longer the case. Various models have now been developed to describe the human sexual response, most of which derive from the observational studies of Masters and Johnson (1966). Stunz (1988) provided a detailed review of the processes involved in what he terms the DEPORD model of the human sexual response cycle. Stunz’s work is important for several reasons …”
This amounts to plagiarism because the essay does not make clear that a bit chunk of it has been copied verbatim from Spence’s book.
Similarly, plagiarism can involve a minimal paraphrase of the original text, as in the next example:
“Until quite recently, there was little empirical research on the human sexuality, but this is no longer the case. Following the observational studies of Masters and Johnson (1966), the human sexual reaction has been described by various models, most of which derive from this classic research. In a detailed review of the processes involved, Stunz (1988) has developed what he calls the DEPORD model of the human sexual response cycle. Stunz’s work is important for several reasons…”
You will notice that the word order has been changed, and that certain words have been swapped around (e.g., “terms” becomes “calls”; “response” becomes “reaction”). However, the level of plagiarism is basically equivalent. All the modified passage shows is that the writer has basic knowledge of grammar, and can choose relevant synonyms. It does not show that she is thinking or writing independently. She is still letting someone else do all her thinking, and most of her writing, for her.
There are two ways to avoid plagiarism in this instance.
The first, and less satisfactory way, is to use quotation marks to acknowledge the author:
“Until quite recently, there was little empirical research on the human sexuality, but this is no longer the case. According to Spence (1991) “Various models have been used to describe the human sexual response, most of which derive from the observational studies of Masters and Johnson (1966) (p.13).” Spence also notes that “Stunz (1988) provided a detailed review of the processes involved in what he terms the DEPORD model of the human sexual response cycle (p.13).” Stunz’s work is important for several reasons…”
The use of quotation marks, author, date, and page references means that the writer is not claiming these words as her own. The fact that she has borrowed them to make a point does not count as plagiarism. Nonetheless, although her citations may be scholarly ones, she hardly demonstrates (at least in the passage quoted) that she has fully absorbed the meaning of what the two authors she cited were saying, or that she is capable of re-expressing it in her own words.
The second and more satisfactory way to avoid plagiarism in this instance is to read several relevant references, including the one above, and then to re-express the ideas articulated in those references in one’s own words:
“The work of Masters and Johnson marked a breakthrough in research into human sexuality. In the early 1950s, Kinsey’s questionnaire and interview methods provided the first data on what had previously been a taboo area for researchers. Masters and Johnson, however, went several steps further than Kinsey, by making use of volunteer subjects who agreed to…”
Here, it is clear that the writer is producing her own academic work, and not relying on anyone else to do it for her.
When you complete any academic assignment, you should be creating something new, not rearranging something old. If you make this your goal, you will never be guilty of plagiarism.
By all means borrow the terms other people use. However, avoid borrowing even short phrases that others use: this is still plagiarism.
It occasionally happens that students, when writing an essay, temporarily paste passages of text that other have written into that essay, so that they consult them as they write, but then forget to remove those passages, and proceed to confuse what others have written with what they have written. This is accidental plagiarism. However, it is still plagiarism, and students will still be penalized to the same extent.
Even if you ever feel tempted to plagiarise due to pressures of time or work, avoid doing so, for at least two reasons:
- First, you are liable to get caught. Instructors keep an eye out when marking written assignments for suspicious changes in tone and phrasing. They are liable to have a sense of what your typical writing style is like, and to recognize departures from it. Instructors may even be familiar with sources of plagiarize material that students might think are too obscure to be known. In addition, instructors standardly check text in written assignments for plagiarized material, either by typing suspect passages into Google (which can access text within digitized books and articles), or by applying commercial plagiarism detection software to it, such as TurnItIn.
- Second, when you get caught, a formal procedure begins. Except in very minor cases, this procedure will require you to attend a formal meeting to explain yourself to the Academic Integrity Officer and the Director of Undergraduate Studies. Guilty students can find this a stressful and embarrassing experience. Thereafter, a substantial deduction in marks awarded for the assignment containing plagiarized material is likely. Repeated offences are particularly serious, and may results in more severe disciplinary action, including degree termination.
From a personal point of view, you are also, by engaging in plagiarism, not only passing off elements of someone else’s work as your own, you are also depriving yourself of an opportunity to develop your academic and intellectual abilities by engaging seriously with the assignments you have been given.