Understanding Plagiarism

Understanding Plagiarism

Simply put, plagiarism is ‘stealing’ and ‘lying’ about your work. Whether done intentionally or unintentionally, plagiarism is unacceptable in academic situations. With the Internet being a medium to carry information widely and diversely, it can be difficult to attribute credit to sources of information. Your source can be a website, a podcast, a presentation or a video clip. However, if it contains original representations of ideas, thoughts or outcomes of another individual’s efforts, then it must be acknowledged.

Every website is a document which was authored by someone. Every visual or diagram is the result of creative efforts of another individual. If you copy and paste from any electronic document into your academic work and do not clearly identify those portions in your work, your work is plagiarized. During the course of research, if you collect information across websites without noting what you have accessed and when, you may end up stating others’ work as yours.

Plagiarism is not always obvious.  While it is obvious that copying someone else's words as they are and presenting them as your own is plagiarism, subtle forms include rephrasing, rewording and duplicating a sequence of thoughts and ideas using language that makes it look as if they were own.  Knowing the kinds of plagiarism that are likely to show up in academic writing will help you keep your research and writing honest and responsible.

What are some of the sources that are easily ignored? Easily ignored sources can be online blogs, oral presentations, visuals shared over slides, discussions over podcasts, video tutorials etc. Make sure that as you surf, you take note of all the sources from where you have drawn information from and cite them without missing any.

Using what you have heard or seen online without giving due credit is also considered plagiarism. What about your classroom discussions and instructor lectures? There can be ideas that come as a result from class discussion or peer group exercises. You can treat these as results of collaborative thinking and not just the outcome of one person's thoughts and ideas.

As a student you can become confused about how your work becomes your “own”? How would you know which work of others must be acknowledged and what is common knowledge? The answer to this challenge is “engage”. It is important for you to understand the definition of plagiarism by practice, feedback and discussion. As you practice your researching techniques you will come to appreciate the need to acknowledge another person’s work. When you read someone’s article or book, it’s natural to get inspired and it’s common that in your writing you may include a phrase or try to rephrase what you have heard or read. On completing your work, share your work with others and get their feedback on your work and especially your reference list, you will learn to recognize how to evaluate and validate your sources. 

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