Mar 20

What is Plagiarism?

After tiring of the excuse that “I didn’t know that counted as plagiarism,” I wrote up a lengthy explanation of the different types of plagiarism out there. It hasn’t stopped it from occurring, but it has diminished it, and it does negate the most common excuses. If anyone finds it valuable, you should feel free to use it.

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism occurs whenever you use another person’s words or ideas and represent them as your own. Since philosophy deals almost exclusively with the development and evaluation of ideas, plagiarism is particularly troublesome in this field. My rule for papers is as follows: if there is anything in your paper that is not clearly cited, I take that as a statement from you that the words and ideas expressed in the paper are your own. If I find out that they are not, the paper is plagiarized. Here are types of plagiarism that are encountered often, in diminishing degrees of severity. Note, however, that all of the following are forms of plagiarism, and any of them could result in a 0 for your work:

-Cutting and pasting: When a student takes work directly from another source without alteration. This is plagiarism unless all the material is in quotation marks, and a citation clearly indicates that the content is from that source. Since philosophical works are supposed to represent your own understanding of an issue or idea, large blocks of quotations should not constitute much of your paper.

-Cutting and Thesaurus-ing: When a student takes work directly from another source but changes a few words. Using the thesaurus function does not make the work your own. This sort of content should be left unchanged, put in quotation marks, and clearly cited. Even with a citation, this can still count as plagiarism in the absence of quotation marks since it is, by and large, using another person’s words (or their equivalent) while representing the phrasing as your own.

-Re-wording or re-arranging Content: When a student looks at a source, and writes down the exact same ideas, but changes around some of the phrasing or ordering of the sentences. This sort of work does not require any actual understanding of the issues, only a grasp of the English language, and so does not represent your own ideas about the issue. As a general rule, if you could not have written the paragraph without looking at the source, then you didn’t really understand it, and so you must cite the source. If the content of the ideas is sufficiently similar, this can count as plagiarism even with a citation, and certainly counts as plagiarism without one. Again, you would be better off leaving the material in quotes and then explaining what it means in your own words after the quote.

-Paraphrasing without Citation: One of the main differences between a paraphrase of an idea and a re-wording of an idea is that paraphrasing requires understanding the idea well enough to express it on your own, while re-wording an idea does not. A paraphrase of an idea you got from another source should still cite that source. A properly cited paraphrase does not count as plagiarism. An uncited or improperly cited paraphrase does.

-Ambiguous Citations: Sometimes students will have citations either at the end of a paragraph or in the bibliography, but it will not be clear from reading the text which ideas in the relevant portion of the paper are the student’s, and which ideas are from the source. In this case, students are still failing to properly identify whether or not the ideas are your own, and so it still counts as plagiarism. All sources must be cited in the body of the paper itself in a way that makes it clear which ideas in the paper are the student’s and which ideas come from somewhere else.

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