Saturday, 18 February 2012

What is Plagiarism?

Prof Mangesh Karandikar of Mumbai has forwarded the following. I believe this is useful particularly to media teachers, PhD scholars, and researchers. 

What is Plagiarism?
Many people think of plagiarism as copying another's work, or borrowing someone else's original ideas. But terms like "copying" and "borrowing" can disguise the seriousness of the offense:

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, 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.
In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else's work and lying about it afterward.

But can words and ideas really be stolen?

According to U.S. law, the answer is yes. The expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property, and is protected by copyright laws, just like original inventions. Almost all forms of expression fall under copyright protection as long as they are recorded in some way (such as a book or a computer file).

All of the following are considered plagiarism:

turning in someone else's work as your own
copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on "fair use" rules)
Most cases of plagiarism can be avoided, however, by citing sources. Simply acknowledging that certain material has been borrowed, and providing your audience with the information necessary to find that source, is usually enough to prevent plagiarism.


What is citation?
A "citation" is the way you tell your readers that certain material in your work came from another source. It also gives your readers the information necessary to find that source again, including:

information about the author
the title of the work
the name and location of the company that published your copy of the source
the date your copy was published
the page numbers of the material you are borrowing
Why should I cite sources?

Giving credit to the original author by citing sources is the only way to use other people's work without plagiarizing. But there are a number of other reasons to cite sources:

citations are extremely helpful to anyone who wants to find out more about your ideas and where they came from.
not all sources are good or right -- your own ideas may often be more accurate or interesting than those of your sources. Proper citation will keep you from taking the rap for someone else's bad ideas.
citing sources shows the amount of research you've done.
citing sources strengthens your work by lending outside support to your ideas.
Doesn't citing sources make my work seem less original?

Not at all. On the contrary, citing sources actually helps your reader distinguish your ideas from those of your sources. This will actually emphasize the originality of your own work.

When do I need to cite?

Whenever you borrow words or ideas, you need to acknowledge their source. The following situations almost always require citation:

whenever you use quotes
whenever you paraphrase
whenever you use an idea that someone else has already expressed
whenever you make specific reference to the work of another
whenever someone else's work has been critical in developing your own ideas.


Educational tips on plagiarism prevention
The most important steps in preventing plagiarism are those taken to address its causes. The strategies in this section are intended as guidelines to help you:

become aware of the reasons plagiarism occurs
identify the different forms of plagiarism
integrate plagiarism prevention techniques into your courses
Why Students Plagiarize

There are many reasons students plagiarize. Sometimes deadlines come around more quickly than expected, sometimes assignments feel overwhelming, and sometimes the boundaries of plagiarism and research just get confused. But what situations are most likely to result in plagiarism? More importantly, how can they be avoided? Learning to identify the factors that make plagiarism an attractive alternative is the best way to stop it before it starts.

Intentional Plagiarism

Just like hacking into websites, plagiarizing papers can be something of a thrill in itself. For many students it becomes a question of ingenuity: "can I sneak a plagiarized paper past my professor?" But there is usually more behind intentional plagiarism than just the thrill of deception.

Searching vs. Researching

Today's students learn quickly that finding and manipulating data on the Internet is a valuable skill. With the wealth of information available online, the production of original analysis and interpretation may seem like "busy work" compared to finding the best or most obscure sources.

Teach your students that the real skills they need to learn are interpretation and analysis -- how to process the information they find. Tell them that anyone with some basic knowledge can find information on the internet -- it's what they do with that information that is important.

"But their words are better"

Some students might think, "Why sweat over producing an analysis that has already been done better, by someone who knows more?" Students may also be intimidated by the quality of work found online, thinking their own work cannot compare.

Tell your students that what interests you most is seeing how they understand the assigned topic, and how they develop their own style and voice. This might go a long way toward making them feel more comfortable with writing. Explain to them that you know writing is a learning process, and that you do not expect them to be as brilliant as experts who have devoted years to the subject. You may also want to let them know that their experiences and the context of your class give them a unique perspective that may give them a far more interesting angle on the issues than those of the "experts."

Making the Grade

Students are under enormous pressure from family, peers, and instructors to compete for scholarships, admissions, and, of course, places in the job market. They often see education as a rung in the ladder to success, and not an active process valuable in itself. Because of this, students tend to focus on the end results of their research, rather than the skills they learn in doing it.

Explain to your students that while they may be able to hide ignorance of particular facts or theories, research and writing skills make themselves very apparent to anyone evaluating them. In other words, your students' grades won't matter if they don't have the skills to show for them. Also, you may wish to emphasize improvement as a factor in grading, as this can encourage students to try developing their own abilities. This depends entirely upon your own pedagogical style, of course.

"Everyone else is doing it"

Students often justify plagiarism by pointing out that since their peers plagiarize, they must do the same to keep up. They feel faced with a choice: put in several hours of work and risk a mediocre grade with less time for other subjects, or do what their peers do and copy something good from the internet for an easy A with time to spare.

One of the only ways to deal with this is by catching those students who do plagiarize. It takes a great deal of the pressure off of those who want to work honestly but are afraid of falling behind their peers.

Poor Planning

Students are not always the best judges of how much time their assignments will take. They may not be aware of the extent of work involved in a research paper, or may simply be overwhelmed by the task and put it off until the last minute, leaving them with no time for original work of their own.

Scheduling stages of progress on their papers is a very effective way to deal with this. Having them submit bibliographies, outlines, thesis statements, or drafts on specified dates before the final draft is due will give them a good idea of the amount of work involved. It will also help them organize their time and make the task seem less overwhelming.

Unintentional Plagiarism

No honest student would walk out of a neighbors' house accidentally carrying their television. But even the most well-intentioned writers sometimes "appropriate" the work of others without proper authority. How does this happen?

Citation Confusion

Perhaps the most common reason for inadvertent plagiarism is simply an ignorance of the proper forms of citation.

See how to cite sources properly.

Plagiarism vs. Paraphrasing

Many students have trouble knowing when they are paraphrasing and when they are plagiarizing. In an effort to make their work seem "more original" by "putting things in their own words," students may often inadvertently plagiarize by changing the original too much or, sometimes, not enough.

Doing exercises in class where you hand out paraphrased and plagiarized passages in order to discuss the differences might be very helpful. Explain that your students must retain the essential ideas of the original, but significantly change the style and grammatical structure to fit in the context of their argument. You may also want to send your students to our What is Plagiarism? page.

"I was just copying my notes"

Students often mix their own ideas and those of their sources when they take sloppy notes, creating confusion when they begin writing their papers.

It may be worthwhile to go over some note-taking methods with your students. Teaching them to document their sources using different colored pens and "post-it" tabs to mark pages, for example, will save time and keep references clear.

"I couldn't find the source"

Students are often sloppy about writing down the bibliographic information of their sources, leaving them unable to properly attribute information when it comes to writing the paper.

Explain how important it is to keep careful track of references during the note-taking stage. Students may be eager to focus entirely on the content of their research, and need to be told that how they handle their reference material is a significant part of the assignment. Having them turn in bibliographies before they turn in the paper itself will also encourage them to pay more attention to their sources.

"I thought we didn't have to quote facts"

Because the internet makes information so readily available, students may find it difficult to tell the difference between "common knowledge" they are free to use, and original ideas which are the intellectual property of others.

The easiest thing to do is teach your students the maxim "When in doubt, cite sources."

Confusion About Expectations

Students may not be aware of what proper research requires. They may think they are being asked simply to report critical commentary, or to "borrow" from a number of sources to show that they have "done their homework." In either case, it becomes a problem if what they turn in tends to be predominantly the work of others.

One of the most common sources of confusion is the ambiguity of terms such as "analyze" and "discuss." You should explain to your students that these words have specific meanings in academic discourse, and that they imply a degree of original thought that goes beyond mere "reporting." Emphasizing your interest in their own ideas will also help them understand what you expect from them.

Cultural Perspectives on Plagiarism

Not all cultures take the same view of plagiarism. The Western notion that "ideas" can be the property of individuals may actually seem absurd to those with different views on what constitutes shared information or public discourse. Students from cultures which have a more collective sense of identity, for example, may have a difficult time understanding the distinctions some cultures draw between individual and public property. You might spend some very productive class time discussing your students' perspectives on this issue.


Types of Plagiarism
Anyone who has written or graded a paper knows that plagiarism is not always a black and white issue. The boundary between plagiarism and research is often unclear. Learning to recognize the various forms of plagiarism, especially the more ambiguous ones, is an important step towards effective prevention. Many people think of plagiarism as copying another's work, or borrowing someone else's original ideas. But terms like "copying" and "borrowing" can disguise the seriousness of the offense:

Sources Not Cited

"The Ghost Writer"
The writer turns in another's work, word-for-word, as his or her own.
"The Photocopy"
The writer copies significant portions of text straight from a single source, without alteration.
"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.
"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.
"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.
"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)

"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.
"The Misinformer"
The writer provides inaccurate information regarding the sources, making it impossible to find them.
"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.
"The Resourceful Citer"
The writer properly cites all sources, paraphrasing and using quotations appropriately. The catch? The paper contains almost no original work! It is sometimes difficult to spot this form of plagiarism because it looks like any other well-researched document.
"The Perfect Crime"
Well, we all know it doesn't exist. In this case, 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.


Priyam said...

This is a timely post. Most Indian communication and media 'research' across Universities (Central, State, Private) and Institutes of National Importance is plagued by less than appropriate means of going about publishing theses, articles and papers. In fact there are theses and papers available for sale in many places in India. All one needs to do is pay the money and put ones name on it and submit. The academic community in India needs to fight this cancerous growth with all its might! Sad and pityful is the plight of these so called 'PhD' and 'Masters' degree holders. Its a National Shame! :-(

Mrinal Chatterjee said...

Thanks Dr. Thakur for posting this.

Nidhi Shendurnikar said...

Sir thank you for posting this article. Very useful for students and researchers ...

bapu said...

thank sir, you are realy important information given to us that we want research something.

Mahesh Vijapurkar said...

If anyone plagiarizes after reading your post, he would only be a fool. Thank you Kiran Thakur. I intend to post this post on Facebook, of course, with due credit.