Plagiarism - passing off the work of others as though it were your own - is often a problem for first-year students. Where does the boundary line lie between legitimate use of secondary sources (textbooks, articles, etc.) and the act of plagiarism? The line is indeed difficult to define exactly. The University* has accordingly produced a formal statement to help both staff and students to fix this boundary line. Here are the parts of it which are relevant to students:
Cheating and plagiarism are academic offences. Plagiarism can be defined as the act of including or copying, without adequate acknowledgement, the work of another in one's work as if it were one's own. Plagiarism attacks the fundamental principles of scholarship and the foundations upon which the academic community rests. The plagiarist denies appropriate credit to the author of the work copied and seeks to secure it for him/herself. Plagiarism could also involve the civil wrong of breach of copyright. While it is perfectly normal in most academic disciplines and especially in first and second year undergraduate work to make use of another person's ideas and to take factual information from books and articles, the overall structure of the argument being presented, the weighing of the significance of the different points being made, and the final conclusion reached in response to the question posed, are expected to be the student's personal and original work.
All work submitted for assessment by students is accepted on the understanding that it is the students own unassisted effort. You will be required to sign to this effect when you hand in your work. In so far as students rely on sources, they should indicate what these are according to the appropriate convention in their discipline. This condition applies in particular to essays, assignments and dissertations, as well as to questions written under supervision in examination halls; the degree of referencing required will be appropriate to the type of work produced. Students are expected to offer their own analysis and presentation of information gleaned from personal research, even when group exercises are carried out, and should be on their guard against copying, whether subconscious or deliberate.
The innocent misuse or citation of material without formal and proper acknowledgement, can constitute plagiarism without the presence of deliberate intent to cheat. Examples of plagiarism include using another person's material with or without permission, buying or being allowed to copy another person's essay; copying the precise wording of sentences, paragraphs or pages from a paper or electronically published source as if it were the student's prose; paraphrasing an entire argument or section of a published work without referring to the source of this material in a footnote or essay bibliography; and the passing off of an entire essay or significant part of an essay as a student's own work when it had in fact been written by another person, whoever the other person was. Work may be considered to be plagiarised if it consists of close paraphrase or unacknowledged summary of a source as well as word-for-word transcription. Any failure adequately to acknowledge or properly reference other sources in submitted work could lead to lower marks or to a mark of zero being returned or to disciplinary action being taken.
The two most common forms of plagiarism by students are:
1) a student copying material from published sources and presenting it as his/her own work, and
2) a student copying material from past or current students and presenting it as his/her own work.
Within these two examples, further definitions of plagiarism can be drawn: complete plagiarism, near-complete plagiarism, patchwork plagiarism and inadvertent plagiarism.
Definitions are based on the Biology Program Guide on Plagiarism, University of British Columbia:
- Complete plagiarism is defined as a student submitting an essay which has been written by someone else, irrespective of whether it has been obtained from a published source or another student.
- Near-complete plagiarism is defined as the lifting of portions of another text and using them in the work, e.g. with a personal introduction or conclusion added, or with personal comments scattered throughout the text.
- Patchwork plagiarism is defined as a student lifting portions of another piece of work and using them without acknowledgement in their own work, e.g. ideas, phrases, sentences or paragraphs from a variety of sources and stitching them together into a piece of submitted work, without attribution to the sources used.
- Inadvertent plagiarism generally is caused by poor research and note-taking habits. It can include the inadvertent use of another's phrases; the failure to distinguish between direct quotes and general observations; the use of the footnotes or citations quoted in other sources as if they were the result of the student's own research, and sloppy or inadequate provision of footnotes.
(* Our thanks to my Alma Mater, the University of Edinburgh, for this contribution)
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