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Introduction | What is plagiarism | Avoiding Plagiarism | Examples

PLAGIARISM

What it is, and How to Avoid It

1. INTRODUCTION

 2. WHAT IS PLAGIARISM?

 3. AVOIDING PLAGIARISM

4. EXAMPLES

1. INTRODUCTION

Plagiarism is a serious academic offence. Each year a number of cases of plagiarism are brought to the attention of the Dean of Arts and the President’s Office. Depending on the severity of the offence, students found guilty of plagiarism may lose credit for the assignment in question, be awarded a mark of zero in the course, or face suspension from the University. Most cases which pass through the Dean’s office result in at least a temporary suspension from the University (permanently noted on the student’s transcript) and a mark of zero.

 

2. WHAT IS PLAGIARISM?

Complete plagiarism
Near-Complete plagiarism
Patchwork plagiarism
Lazy plagiarism
Self plagiarism

Most simply, plagiarism is intellectual theft. Any use of another author’s research, ideas, or language without proper attribution may be considered plagiarism. Because such definitions include many shades of accidental or intentional plagiarism, these need to be described more fully.

Complete Plagiarism

This is the most obvious case: a student submits, as his or her own work, an essay that has been written by someone else. Usually the original source is a published journal article or book chapter. The use of unpublished work, including the work of another student, is just as serious.

In such cases, plagiarism cannot be "avoided" by paraphrasing the original or acknowledging its use in footnotes. The work is the property of another author and should not be used. See Example #1

Near-complete Plagiarism

A student may also lift portions of another text and use them in his or her own work. For example, a student might add her or his own conclusions or introduction to an essay. Or a student might scatter his or her own comments through a text taken substantially from another source.

These practices are unacceptable. Even with some attribution, the bulk of the work has been done by another. See Example #1

Patchwork Plagiarism

In many cases, a student will lift ideas, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs from a variety of sources and "stitch" them together into an essay. These situations often seem difficult to assess. Most essays, after all, are attempts to bring together a range of sources and arguments. But the line between plagiarism and original work is not difficult to draw. See Example #2

Lazy Plagiarism

Lazy plagiarism crops up in many student essays, and is usually the result of sloppy note-taking or research shortcuts. Examples include:

inadvertent use of another’s language, usually when the student fails to distinguish between direct quotes and general observations when taking notes. In such cases, the presence of a footnote does not excuse the use of another’s language without quotation marks.

use of footnotes or material quoted in other sources as if they were the results of your research.

sloppy or inadequate footnoting which leaves out sources or page references.

Although it may not be the student’s intention to deceive, it is often difficult for instructors to distinguish between purposeful and accidental plagiarism. See Example #3

Self Plagiarism

The use of an essay written for one course to satisfy the requirements of another course is plagiarism. Students should not use, adapt, or update an essay written for another purpose.

This is not intended to discourage students from pursuing specific interests. If you want to use a previously completed essay as a starting point for new research, you should receive the instructor’s approval and provide her or him with a copy of the original essay. If you want to use substantially similar essays to satisfy the requirements of two related courses, you should get approval from all the instructors concerned.

3. AVOIDING PLAGIARISM

research
writing
footnoting
editing

It is not hard to draw the distinction between original and thoroughly plagiarized work. But the "grey areas" between these extremes are more vexing. Students should avoid any hint of dishonesty by maintaining good research habits and paying attention to a few basic rules of writing and documentation.

Research

Most written assignments begin with the collection of research notes -- a combination of ideas or quotes from other sources, and the student’s own ideas. Whether you keep notes on index cards, in a loose-leaf binder, or on old envelopes in a desk drawer, it is important to record and organize them in such a way that vital information is not lost.

Keep careful and complete track of sources. Accurately copy the author, title, and other information about the source publication, including the number(s) of the page(s) from which notes or quotes were taken.

Distinguish carefully between your ideas and the ideas of others. This is a simple question of intellectual honesty. If you use another’s conclusions, acknowledge them. If you come to the same conclusions as another on your own, you should still acknowledge the agreement.

Distinguish carefully between your own words and those of others. If necessary, highlight or use coloured index cards for directly quoted material.

Writing

As you begin to tie your ideas together in written form, consider the following:

Begin by organizing your essay in an original manner. Avoid mimicking the pattern or order of argument used by others. Remember: this is your humble contribution to a debate or a body of research; it is not (in most case) an attempt to summarize or paraphrase the work of others.

As you weave the ideas and language of others into your work, make clear choices about the use of quoted material. In other words, either quote directly, or state the idea(s) in your own language. Do not mess around with close paraphrases or purely cosmetic changes. See Example #4

Read the first draft carefully. Is the distinction between your work and the work of others clear and unambiguous? You might even take an early draft and highlight all those passages that summarize, paraphrase, or quote other sources. Is there enough of your own work left in the essay?

Footnoting

Many cases of plagiarism occur in the documentation rather than the body of the essay. You should have a clear idea of the variety of purposes a footnote (or endnote) may serve, and many different ways you can acknowledge the work of others. For specific cases See Example #5. Also note the following:

Always record your source of the information; never use or rely on another author’s footnotes.

The footnote should allow the reader to find or check the material being cited. Provide exact page numbers for direct quotes, and a range of page numbers for more general points.

If you included more than one source or reference in a footnote, the relevance or order of the various sources should be clear to the reader.

Editing

Once your essay is complete, consider each portion that is drawn from another source, and ask yourself the following:

Is the idea or argument expressed entirely my own?

Is the general language or choice of words (including even phrases or rough paraphrases) my own?

If either answer is "no," the work must be credited to the original author. And if the answer to the second question is "no," the passage should either be quoted directly or rewritten in the student’s own words and credited directly.

 

EXAMPLES

EXAMPLE #1

 

Complete or Near-Complete Plagiarism

Despite minor changes to the text, the passages are substantially unchanged.

In the first case, the plagiarist also lifts the footnote from the original. Note that the use of even very brief passages (such as the "wings of aspiration") constitutes plagiarism. Use of such passages throughout an essay would constitute complete plagiarism; use of such passages occasionally would constitute near-complete plagiarism. [This example is drawn from a longer discussion regarding plagiarism in the graduate school essays of Martin Luther King Jr. Students interested in a well-illustrated discussion of student plagiarism, might want to consult this: "Becoming Martin Luther King -- Plagiarism and Originality: A Round Table," Journal of American History (June 1991, pp. 11-123. The example used below is on p. 25.]

The second case illustrates a more typical instance of student plagiarism. Even the footnote to the original does not excuse the substantial use of the original’s language.

CASE 1

Original

It is Eros, not Agape, that loves in proportion to the value of its object. By the pursuit of value in its object, Platonic love is let up and away from the world, on wings of aspiration, beyond all transient things and persons to the realm of the Ideas. Agape, as described in the Gospels and Epistles, is "spontaneous and ‘uncaused’," "indifferent to human merit," and "creates" value in those upon whom it is bestowed out of pure generosity. It flows down from God into this transient, sinful world; those whom it touches become conscious of their own utter unworthiness; they are impelled to forgive and love their enemies....because the God of grace imparts worth to them by the act of loving them.* [footnote* is to Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros. (New York, 1932), pp. 52-56]

Plagiarized Version

As Nygren set out to contrast these two Greek words he finds that Eros loves in proportion to the value of the object. By the pursuit of value in its objects. Platonic love is let up and away from the world, on wings of aspiration, beyond all transient things and persons to the realm of the Ideas. Agape as described in the Gospels and Epistles, is "spontaneous and uncaused," "indifferent to human merit," and creates value in those upon whom it is bestowed out of pure generosity. It flows down from God into the transient, sinful world; those whom it touches become conscious of their own utter unworthiness; they are impelled to forgive and love their enemies, because the God of Grace imparts worth to them by the act of loving them.*
[Footnote* is to Nygren, Agape and Eros, pp. 52-56]

CASE 2

Original

The strike officially began on May 29, and on June 1 the manufacturers met publicly to plan their resistance. Their strategies were carried out on two fronts. They pressured the proprietors into holding out indefinitely by refusing to send new collars and cuffs to any laundry. Also the manufacturers attempted to undermine directly the union’s efforts to weather the strike. They tried to create a negative image of the union through the press, which they virtually controlled. They prevented a few collar manufacturers in other cities from patronizing the unions’ cooperative laundry even though it claimed it could provide the same services for 25 percent less. Under these circumstances, the collar ironers’ tactics were much less useful.

Plagiarized Version

The strike began on May 29, and on June 1 the manufacturers met publicly to plan their response. They had two strategies. They pressured the proprietors into holding out indefinitely by refusing to send new collars and cuffs to any laundry, and they attempted to undermine directly the union’s efforts to weather the strike. They also tried to create a negative image of the union through the newspapers, which they virtually controlled. They prevented a few collar manufacturers in other cities from using the unions’ cooperative laundry even though it could provide the same services for 25 percent less. Under these circumstances, the collar ironers’ tactics were much less useful.1

1. Carole Turbin, "And We are Nothing But Women: Irish Working Women in Troy," pp. 225-26 in Women of America. Edited by Mary Beth Norton (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979).

EXAMPLE #2

 

Patchwork Plagiarism

Here two sources are combined to create a new passage. As it stands, the passage is clearly plagiarized. If a footnote were added acknowledging the sources, the substantial use of the language of the original passage would still open the student to charges of plagiarism. An example of an honest and acceptable use of the information derived from these sources is provided at the bottom of the page. Note that the "acceptable version" uses the facts of the original sources, but organizes and expresses them in the student’s own language.

Originals

Source 1:

"Despite the strong public opposition, the Reagan administration continued to install so many North American men, supplies, and facilities in Honduras that one expert called it "the USS Honduras, a [stationary] aircraft carrier or sorts." (Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions (New York, 1989), 309.)

Source 2:

"By December 1981, American agents--some CIA, some U.S. Special Forces--were working through Argentine intermediaries to set up contra safe houses, training centres, and base camps along the Nicaraguan-Honduran border." (Peter Kornbluh, "Nicaragua," in Michael Klare (ed), Low Intensity Warfare (New York, 1983), 139.)

Plagiarized Version

Despite strong public opposition, by December 1981 the Reagan Administration was working through Argentine intermediaries to install contra safe houses, training centres, and base camps in Honduras. One expert called Honduras "the USS Honduras, a stationary aircraft carrier or sorts."

Acceptable

In the early 1980s, the Reagan Administration made increasing use of Honduras as a base for the contra war. The Administration set up a number of military and training facilities--some American, some contra, and some housing Argentine mercenaries--along the border between Nicaragua and Honduras. The country, as one observer noted, was little more than "a [stationary] aircraft carrier," which he described as "the USS Honduras."2

2. See Walter Lafeber, Inevitable Revolutions (New York, 1989), p. 307-310 (quote p. 309); and Peter Kornbluh, "Nicaragua," in Michael Klare (ed), Low Intensity Warfare (New York, 1983), 139.

EXAMPLE #3

 

Lazy Plagiarism

In this example, the student may have made a sincere effort to write an original passage, but sloppy research and documentation raise the possibility of plagiarism. Note the characteristic errors: confusion of original and student’s language, quotation marks in the wrong place, improper or incomplete footnotes.

Originals

Source 1:

"Despite the strong public opposition, the Reagan administration continued to install so many North American men, supplies, and facilities in Honduras that one expert called it "the USS Honduras, a [stationary aircraft carrier of sorts." (Walter LaFeber, Inevitable Revolutions (New York, 1989), 309.)

Source 2:

"By December 1981, American agents--some CIA, some U.S. Special Forces--were working through Argentine intermediaries to set up contra safe houses, training centres, and base camps along the Nicaraguan-Honduran border." (Peter Kornbluh, "Nicaragua," in Michael Klare (ed), Low Intensity Warfare (New York, 1983), 139.)

Plagiarized Version

Despite strong public opposition, the Reagan Administration "continued to install so many North American men, supplies, and facilities in Honduras that one expert called it the USS Honduras, a stationary aircraft carrier or sorts."3

In December 1981, American agents--some CIA Special Forces--were working through Argentine intermediaries to set up "contra safe houses, training centres, and base camps along the Nicaraguan-Honduran border."4

3. Walter Lafeber, Inevitable Revolutions (New York, 1989), p. 309

4. Michael Klare (ed), Low Intensity Warfare (New York, 1983).

EXAMPLE #4

 

Close Paraphrasing

Students anxious about committing plagiarism often ask: "How much do I have to change a sentence to be sure I’m not plagiarizing?" A simple answer to this is: If you have to ask, you’re probably plagiarizing.

This is important. Avoiding plagiarism is not an exercise in inventive paraphrasing. There is no magic number of words that you can add or change to make a passage your own. Original work demands original thought and organization of thoughts. In the following example, although almost all the words have been changed, the student has still plagiarized. An acceptable use of this material is also provided below.

Original

Shortly after the two rogues, who pass themselves off as a duke and a king, invade the raft of Huck and Jim, they decide to raise funds by performing scenes from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Richard III. That the presentation of Shakespeare in small Mississippi towns could be conceived of as potentially lucrative tells us much about the position of Shakespeare in the nineteenth century. (Lawrence Levine, Highbrow, Lowbrow: The Emergence of a Cultural Hierarchy in America (Cambridge, 1986), p. 10)

Plagiarized Version

Soon after the two thieves, who pretend they are a king and a duke, capture Huck and Jim’s raft, they try to make money by putting on two Shakespeare plays (Romeo and Juliet and Richard III). Because the production of Shakespeare in tiny Southern towns is seen as possibly profitable, we learn a lot about the status of Shakespeare before the twentieth century.

Acceptable Version

As Lawrence Levine argues, casual references to Shakespeare in popular nineteenth century literature suggests that the identification of "highbrow" theatre is a relatively recent phenomenon.5

Note that this version does not merely rephrase or repeat the material from the passage cited above, but expands upon it and places it in the context of the student’s work.

EXAMPLE #5

 

Varieties of Footnotes

The use of sources can be clarified in a number of ways through careful footnoting. Consider the different forms of documentation and acknowledgement in the following:

With the election of Ronald Regan, covert operations in Latin America escalated rapidly.6 "The influx of American funds," notes Peter Kornbluh, determined "the frequency and destructiveness of contra attachs."7 In the early 1980s, the Regan Administration increasingly used Honduras as a base for the contra war. The Administration set up a number of military and training facilities--some American, some contra, and some housing Argengine mercenaries--along the border between Nicaragua and Honduras. "[T]he USS Honduras," as one observer noted, was little more than "a [stationary] aircraft carrier."8 These strategies seemed to represent both a conscious acceleration of American involvement in the region, and the inertia of past involvements and failures.9

6. The following paragraph is drawn from Walter Lafeber, Inevitable Revolutions (New York, 1989), p. 307-310; and Peter Kornbluh, "Nicaragua," in Michael Klare (ed), Low Intensity Warfare (New York, 1983), pp. 139-149.

Note: FOOTNOTE 6 provides general background sources.

7. Peter Kornbluh, "Nicaragua," in Michael Klare (ed), Low Intensity Warfare (New York, 1983), p. 139.

Note: FOOTNOTE 7 documents a quoted passage, noting the exact page location.

8. Observer quoted in Walter Lafeber, Inevitable Revolutions (New York, 1989), p. 309.

Note: FOOTNOTE 8 documents a secondary quotation.

9. Peter Kornbluh, "Nicaragua," in Michael Klare (ed), Low Intensity Warfare (New York, 1983), stresses the renewal of counterinsurgency under Reagan; Walter Lafeber, Inevitable Revolutions, stresses the ongoing interventionism of the U.S. (New York, 1989), p. 307-310.

Note: FOOTNOTE 9 distinguishes your argument from that of your sources.

 

Prepared by:

Dr. Colin H. Gordon
(Department of History, UBC)

Professor Peter Simmons
(President’s Advisory Committee on Student Discipline, UBC)

Dr. Graeme Wynn
(Associate Dean of Arts, UBC)

The Faculty of Arts
The University of British Columbia

 

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