Defining Plagiarism

There are different approaches to defining what plagiarism is and is not. One text described plagiarism as “a deliberate activity–as the conscious copying from the work of others” (Feak & Swales, 2009, p. 79). Others clarify that when talking about plagiarism, the copying is specifically presenting someone else’s work as your own, and likewise emphasized that there are cultural differences in what is perceived as plagiarism (Dollahite & Haun, 2012, p. 80). Macbeth and Chmarkh (2019) provide examples of ways to avoid plagiarism, and in turn examples of what would not be considered plagiarism (see discussion, pp. 54-55), emphasizing that “to avoid plagiarism, it is often necessary to use more than one technique [of paraphrasing] at the same time” (p. 54).

Reflection Questions:

  1. Are you familiar with the term plagiarism? What is your understanding of plagiarism? How is your understanding similar to or different from the definition given in the chapter?
  2. Is plagiarism an issue seriously discussed in classrooms in your home country? How does it affect your performance in class?
  3. What is the consequence of plagiarism in your country?

In essence, what plagiarism is depends on how ideas and words are presented. In the previous paragraph, the three sentences talking about plagiarism are all referring to the words or ideas of others, but because they are cited, that is, explicitly labeled with the original authors and publication information, using them is not plagiarism. In other words, we have not presented them as though they were our own words or ideas but rather those of others.

The value of using other sources is that they can make a claim more justified by using the evidence or testimony of other trusted authors, for example, our claim about the meaning of a complex idea like “plagiarism”. Additionally, citing them in the above paragraph does not decrease the value of the original source, but instead arguably shows that those three sources are also important and draws more readers, such as yourselves, to those sources as well. This is particularly the case in the third citation, of Macbeth and Chmarkh (2019), in which readers are specifically encouraged to see their list of suggestions for how to avoid plagiarism when using sources. This is all a part of what is considered fair use in academic writing, a term that will be important later in this chapter.

Using sources well is not merely a matter of following rules, but also of your judgment as an author. As Feak and Swales (2009) and Dollahite and Haun (2012) mentioned, what is and is not plagiarism is related to how the ideas of others are deliberately presented–thus, in a sense, one cannot accidentally plagiarize if they simply do not know how to cite another source accurately, though this may be controversial. Regardless, in the U.S., it is assumed that all university students, if not high school students as well, have already been taught how to cite another source correctly. As a result, what looks like deliberately presenting someone else’s words or ideas as one’s own, that is, plagiarism, will be treated as plagiarism in the United States, whether or not it is intentional. The severe consequences of plagiarism are discussed in another section.

Another example of what is not technically plagiarism having severe consequences is when too much of your paper is quotations from other people. Even if those quotations are correctly cited, your instructor will likely say that you did not write too much of your paper. Paraphrasing is acceptable as your own writing, though not your own ideas, and so quotations should be avoided as much as possible in favor of paraphrasing. It is vitally important to cite both of them correctly.


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