Plagiarism – a word that inspires awe, mockery, rebukes and often, fears, in the hearts of anyone who is trying to come up with something new. Be it a book, a painting, a book or simply an academic assignment – to brandish a work as ‘plagiarised’ is to accuse its author or artist of a serious ethical and moral crime, if not legal.

What, indeed, is plagiarism? How thin or thick is the line between research and plagiarism? What kind of work qualifies for the accusation that it is plagiarised? Why is it so common? This blog post aims to answer all these questions – and more.

 

Plagiarism? What is that?

Plagiarism, as Wikipedia informs any layman, is

“the “wrongful appropriation” and “stealing and publication” of another author’s “language, thoughts, ideas, or expressions” and the representation of them as one’s own original work.[1][2]

Simply put, it is basically passing on somebody else’s work as your own. An online portal, Urban dictionary, which defines words the way they are understood today, describes plagiarism as:

“A term used to define ways people can acquire knowledge easily without actually using any of their own knowledge.”[3]

It is only human to succumb to the temptation of ‘borrowing’, so to say, the information and pass it as research, what with everything conveniently available on the internet! Everyone – from students to high-end politicians like Vladimir Putin have been accused of plagiarising material and passing it as their own! [4] (Yup, it is not that rare!)

 

What defines plagiarism?

Is it paraphrasing, putting someone else’s ideas in your own words, or simply copying? Owing to the lack of a set of standard rules or codes, it is very difficult to say what qualifies for plagiarism. Copyright issues and legal battles are all the games of those who might have plagiarised the works of well known people, in our everyday lives, the rules are not that strict.

Having said that, it is important to emphasise that in our daily lives, we face plagiarism in all long and short forms. Often, it masquerades as ‘research’. It would be good to iterate that there is a very thin but firm line between plagiarism and research. To settle the question in the easiest terms possible, let’s just say that research stands for aggressively studying the material available on a topic of interest and using it to form an opinion. Plagiarism, on the other hand, stands as a synonym for literally stealing the information without giving any credit whatsoever to the original source.

For instance, you may have heard someone quoting something – probably out of a movie – that is enormously relevant to the assignment in your hand. You decide to paraphrase it and use it for your assignment. Is that plagiarism?

According to a very interesting tutorial by Acadia University’s library (you can check it out here: http://library.acadiau.ca/tutorials/plagiarism/), it is! Ideally, you should locate the source and then, credit it in your paper. Having done so, it will be counted as a part of your research and fetch you more marks ~ if that’s what you were looking for ~ than plagiarising will ever do!

To put things straight, anything that is mentioned in a document that has not been properly credited and quoted is plagiarism. So, the next time you decide to paraphrase a book’s analysis found on the internet, you are plagiarising!

 

Why is it so common, if it is all that wrong?

There is only one answer to that question – the same reason for which movies are downloaded using the torrent – it’s easy, cheap and less work!

On a serious note, let’s look at what can be said to be the most common excuses for plagiarism.

1. Laziness.

Yes, that. It should not be surprising for you if you are a student struggling to submit a tally of assignments in the midst of rushing deadlines! It is easy, convenient and – tempting. The mere thought of not having to read a bazillion number of books is enough to send any student on a copy-paste spree in order to finish their assignments!

2. “I am not all that good.”

As mentioned earlier, students are not the only ones who plagiarise. Authors, poets, famous personalities of all kinds have been accused of plagiarism too! To think of it, it is not at all hard to believe that they might suffer from a lack of confidence upon their own work and what else can save you but picking up someone else’s work and calling it your own, right? Maybe.

3. “There is so little time!”

If we were to extend the aforementioned point on laziness, we would end up here. There is never enough time – neither for assignments nor for putting in that extra bit of work, right? (Wink wink) Plagiarism offers the best and probably the only way out of such time crunches. Students find it easier to pick stuff off the internet and paraphrase it and celebrities and politicians (ahem) find it easier to take help from already written thesis to create an impression, so to say.

Of course, there can be n number of reasons as to why a person opts – or involuntarily indulge in – plagiarism. These three reasons, by no means, should be considered the final word in this regard.

 

What does research mean? And how do I know the difference between the P word and research?

Plagiarism and research can be said to be two sides of the same coin. Many people find it easier to ‘Google’ their research topics rather than hitting the library. Often, strenuous browsing on internet can be termed as research, while it may not be so. How, then, does one become wary of plagiarising?

Going by “The High School’s Guide to Writing a Great Research Paper”, any information, line, quote or paraphrasing that has not been properly credited and cited is simply plagiarised.[5] If you think that it is OK to just put quotation marks around some statement, you are mistaken. Plagiarism is of several kinds and a website dedicated to dispelling the lesser mortals’ doubts about the same[6] defines ten kinds of plagiarism, including paraphrasing, changing something here and there while keeping the meaning intact and of course, directly copying.[7]  

More than often, we find ourselves indulging in plagiarism involuntarily. To reiterate the point that has been put forward time and again in this post, absence of citations makes a well-researched piece of information also seem like plagiarism.

 

What to do then?

One way of preventing yourself from being ensnared into this trap is to always remember the source of your information. Internet can prove to be an effective tool in gathering relevant information. However, the whole project can indeed fall flat on its face if one forgets to cross check the information and then, credit them adequately in the work.

The other way out is, obviously, to not be lazy, start your research on time and the best – when in doubt, hit the library!

Therefore, the next time you decide to write an interesting point off the internet, remember, God is watching, what with software like ‘Turnitin’ that checks documents for plagiarism for free!

On that cautionary note, I wish you happy and no-plagiarism writing!

 

Disclaimer: This is no tutorial on what you should do and should not do. Rather, read it as a piece of friendly information intended to help you prevent any errors that might occur when you write your next assignment or any work that requires you to ‘research’! (Of course, this post is properly cited!)
Check out how MyAssignmentExpert.com avoids plagiarism by using WriteCheck, a trusted anti-plagiarism software used in most of the universities across the world. 

Citation:

[1] From the 1995 Random House Compact Unabridged Dictionary:

“use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one’s own original work”

Quoted in Stepchyshyn, Vera; Nelson, Robert S. (2007). Library plagiarism policies.

Assoc. of College & Research Libraries. p. 65. ISBN 0838984169.

 [2] From the Oxford English Dictionary:

the wrongful appropriation or purloining and publication as one’s own, of the ideas, or the expression of the ideas… of another”

Quoted in Lands (1999)

[3] From urbandictionary.com

Plagiarism:

“A term used to define ways people can acquire knowledge easily without actually using any of there own knowledge. Methods include copy and pasting information.”

Quoted from http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=plagiarism

[4] From www.washingtontimes.com

Large chunks of Mr. Putin’s mid-1990s economics dissertation on planning in the natural resources sector were lifted straight out of a management text published by two University of Pittsburgh academics nearly 20 years earlier, Washington researchers insisted yesterday.

Quoted from http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2006/mar/24/20060324-104106-9971r/

[5] From Chapter 7, Plagiarism and Using Research in Paper:

 As long as credit is properly given, there is no plagiarism. If you improperly give credit or forget to cite all your sources, however, you can quickly find yourself in trouble.

Quoted from The High School Student’s Guide to Writing a Great Research Paper. Florida. Atlantic Publishing Group, Inc. 2013.

[6] www.plagiarism.org

[7] From www.plagiarism.org:

See ‘Types of Plagiarism’

Quoted from http://www.plagiarism.org/plagiarism-101/types-of-plagiarism