Guide Overview

While we all know stealing is wrong, recognizing plagiarism is not always as easy. Plagiarism sometimes happens not as a result of conscious cheating, but because of a lack of understanding about what actually constitutes plagiarism.

This guide intends to clarify what plagiarism is, identify the different types that exist, and show you how to avoid it. Recognizing the various forms of plagiarism is an important step in preventing it. Plagiarism is a serious academic offence and pleading ignorance will not protect you!

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is stealing

To “plagiarize” means:

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own
  • to use (another’s production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.

Source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

Academic Integrity and Plagiarism

Learning and knowledge production of any kind is a collaborative process. Collaboration demands an ethical responsibility to acknowledge who we have learnt from, what we have learned, and how reading and learning from others have helped us shape our own ideas. Even our own ideas demand an acknowledgement of the sources and processes through which those ideas have emerged. Thus, all ideas must be supported by citations. All ideas borrowed from articles, books, journals, magazines, case laws, statutes, photographs, films, paintings, etc., in print or online, must be credited with the original source. If the source or inspiration of your idea is a friend, a casual chat, something that you overheard, or heard being discussed at a conference or in class, even they must be duly credited. If you paraphrase or directly quote from a web source in the examination, presentation or essays, the source must be acknowledged.

Types of Plagiarism

Sources Not Cited 1. “The Ghost Writer” The writer turns in another’s work, word-for-word, as his or her own. 2. “The Photocopy” The writer copies significant portions of text straight from a single source, without alteration. 3. “The Potluck Paper” The writer tries to disguise plagiarism by copying from several different sources, tweaking the sentences to make them fit together while retaining most of the original phrasing. 4. “The Poor Disguise” Although the writer has retained the essential content of the source, he or she has altered the paper’s appearance slightly by changing key words and phrases. 5. “The Labor of Laziness” The writer takes the time to paraphrase most of the paper from other sources and make it all fit together, instead of spending the same effort on original work. 6. “The Self-Stealer” The writer “borrows” generously from his or her previous work, violating policies concerning the expectation of originality adopted by most academic institutions.

Sources Cited (But Still Plagiarized) 1. “The Forgotten Footnote” The writer mentions an author’s name for a source, but neglects to include specific information on the location of the material referenced. This often masks other forms of plagiarism by obscuring source locations. 2. “The Misinformer” The writer provides inaccurate or incomplete information regarding the sources, making it impossible to find them. 3. “The Too-Perfect Paraphrase” The writer properly cites a source, but neglects to put in quotation marks text that has been copied word-for-word, or close to it. Although attributing the basic ideas to the source, the writer is falsely claiming original presentation and interpretation of the information. 4. “The Resourceful Citer” The writer properly cites all sources, paraphrasing and using quotations appropriately. The catch? The paper contains almost no original work!  5. “The Perfect Crime” The writer properly quotes and cites sources in some places, but goes on to paraphrase other arguments from those sources without citation. This way, the writer tries to pass off the paraphrased material as his or her own analysis of the cited material.

Why is it so important to avoid Plagiarism?

Higher education is about learning to process new facts and many different perspectives about those facts. Scholars and academics spend a great deal of time and effort to uncover or discover new facts through field work, analysis, research etc. Much effort is also spent on analyzing and processing facts and existing ideas to develop new concepts and ideas or to establish fresh ways of relating or perceiving the ever-changing world around us. To reproduce the dedicated work of others without acknowledgement in order to present it as one’s own is an unethical act of deceit. Beside the question of ethics and honesty, plagiarism may also result in legal consequences for copyright infringement, disrepute among peers as well as disciplinary issues within educational institutions. All means do not justify the end. While it is important that students seek to complete all their assignments in time and score high marks, attempting to do so through deceit will only short-circuit the joy and excitement of learning and acquiring knowledge. Moreover, students seldom get away with plagiarism. So, it is better to concentrate on learning the skills of academic writing through practice, rather than the skills of cheating the system. Academic integrity is an indispensable quality.

This in no way means that students should get paralyzed while using sources. At this stage, students are expected to read voraciously and learn from the work done by others. Students are expected to develop an argument based on reasons and evidence. Using sources to support and strengthen arguments or to provide evidence is a practice that is encouraged. The crucial aspect, however, is that such the sources be credited properly.

Further Reading:

Handout on Citation Guide.