Why I Now Care More About Plagiarism

What a surprising way to welcome myself back to the online world after my self-imposed (trying to still be a good Catholic somehow) 3-day internet hiatus. As I slowly back-read tweets I began to see the a pattern of striking news from several tweeps I follow—tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan has offered to retire as ADMU’s chairman of the board of trustees after someone exposed his recent speech to the school’s graduates as having been copied from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Conan O’Brien and J. K. Rowling. In short MVP was guilty of plagiarism. So what really is plagiarism?

Basically, plagiarism is a word commonly defined as copying someone else’s literary work and trying to pass it off as one’s own. Literary works among other things like movies, technical drawings and music become copyrighted as soon as its original author makes it; which means that the author assumes immediate ownership and thus when his writings (or any other work) are plagiarized by another person, makes the act alone technically, a form of stealing. The topic of plagiarism has been actually a topic of discussion and argument among authors and scholars for a very long time, and as a matter of fact, according to Answers.com plagiarism dates back from the 17th century. The site’s definition states that the word plagiarism has its roots from the Greek word plagion which means to ‘kidnap.’ Furthermore, Plagiarism.org has a list of things that constitutes plagiarism. Here are some of them: 

Changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit.” This may occur when someone paraphrases, or reword, a thought but still ending up with almost the same as what the original document contains. This is either a product of poor reconstruction OR a purposeful intent to deceive its readers.

Copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not.” This instance would normally arise if one comes to a point when he wrongly decides to get as much facts as he can in order to support an argument, an analysis or a conclusion.

Failing to put a quotation in quotation marks.” Many of today’s technology applications probably make everyone guilty of this no matter how well the intent. Case in point, one can easily find in social networking sites, such as Facebook, sharing of inspiring stories or quotes which without the mere quotation marks (and worse, the quote’s author) may make someone who is not aware of the quote think that it actually is his/her friend’s own thought. There’s also Twitter (and SMS) where limits in the allowable characters makes it easy for one to plagiarize.

So is plagiarism bad? Yes. But like any other wrongdoing, it would be ethical to listen and know why someone did it in the first place. Again, Plagiarism.org sums up two general reasons why the act.

Intentional

According to plagiarism.org, those considered to be intentional are reasons like ”everyone’s doing it”—so why can’t I? ”But there words are better”—and why the need to waste time thinking about when in fact there’s already one that has been done by one who’s an expert. And there’s of course, the need to ”make the grade” which may be arise from cramming after realizing that schedules cannot be met. 

Unintentional

There are of course who despite their best effort to avoid plagiarism still fall to the trap of making the mistake of plagiarizing someone else’s work.

And also listed on Plagiarism.org are the following reasons students plagiarize:

There is “citation confusion.” According to this site, this is perhaps the most common reason students are caught plagiarizing. The question now is, “How should one make a citation?” Wikipedia.org has the answer. It says, ”While you should try to write citations correctly, what matters is that you add your source—provide enough information to identify the source, and others will improve the formatting if needed.” This simply implies that there is really no rule on how to cite a source as long as what is written to acknowledge it is correct and updated. Such rule may prove useful if a document or presentation will be for an informal setting (or if one is just preparing a draft) or if one is citing an online source as copying exactly the URL (or link) may be enough. Of course such isn’t always the case. Wikipedia.org explains further, ”Each article should use the same citation method throughout. If an article already has citations, adopt the method in use or seek consensus before changing it.” These statements refer to formal research, like in the Academe, where appropriate formats of citation are to be observed. Examples of recognized formats are the APA style, MLA style and The Chicago Manual of Style. For students and some individuals picking the choice of which citation format should be followed is just as confusing as the research itself. But at the end of the day, what counts the most is whether he recognized and acknowledged where he got his reference and giving credit to whom credit is due is very important to avoid or repeat such mistake.

Belief that “facts shouldn’t be quoted.” The availability of the internet and the thinking that what is being presented is common knowledge is one of the reasons  many think that it is not necessary to cite what they have extracted. In order to avoid plagiarizing, the website suggests a short yet foolproof tip, ”when in doubt, cite sources.”

The existence of “cultural relativism.” It is quite noteworthy that not every culture actually recognizes the need to acknowledge literary works. It is not therefore surprising if expat students who come from different cultural backgrounds commit plagiarism as their awareness to giving credit to literary works may be different compared with the other local students.

Interestingly another site, Irving Hexham’s Homepage discusses specifically about Academic Plagiarism and defines it as ”the deliberate attempt to deceive the reader through the appropriation and representation as one’s own the work and words of others. Academic plagiarism occurs when a writer repeatedly uses more than four words from a printed source without the use of quotation marks and a precise reference to the original source in a work presented as the author’s own research and scholarship. Continuous paraphrasing without serious interaction with another person’s views, by way or argument or the addition of new material and insights is a form of plagiarism in academic work.

“Deliberate attempt.” These two words from Irving Hexham’s definition is probably the best summary on how to identify whether one is really guilty of plagiarism or not. This definition complements the “unintentional” classification of plagiarism according to plagiarism.org.

After knowing why someone might commit plagiarism despite the best of intentions, the question that lingers is: How can we avoid plagiarism?

Personally, here are my 2 cents:

  1. Follow the ”when in doubt, cite the sources” rule.
  2. Check and re-check research paper if it follows proper citation.
  3. Consult an expert or someone more knowledgeable, if needed.
  4. Be more aware about how others expect their works to be cited.
  5. If possible, as permission directly from the original owner of the material.
  6. Understand Fair Use.
  7. Make use of CC or CreativeCommons.org.

Now, after this lengthy blog, you readers might wonder why I waste precious Easter Sunday time explaining what plagiarism is all about. That’s because just months ago I was into this same embarrassing situation of being accused as plagiarizing a school paper. It was one unbelievable experience because for years after I presented my college thesis–and more especially when I started blogging–I always make sure that I never copy anyone’s work without proper citation. Unfortunately, due to technicalities of this complex subject matter, my stock knowledge of it eventually caught up on me. Since then, I learned from the hard lesson and became more sensitive of how to properly attribute back someone else’s work than before.

***

Mood: 2/10 Honks (F1 Sepang about to start)

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