Plagiarism and Academic Paraphrasing

1.What is plagiarism?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines plagiarism as “the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own.”  The dictionary gives the origin of the word as the Latin plagiarus meaning kidnapper. This strongly implies that plagiarism is theft. 

2.The history of plagiarism

Plagiarism has been around for longer that we might think. In his article on the site [www.turnitin.com accessed 28.04.20], Jonathan Bailey tells the story of two first-century Roman poets, Martial and Fidentinus. When Martial found out that Fidentinus was reading his poetry to an audience and claiming it to be his own, he was not pleased and called Fidentinus a plagarius. It appears the Martial’s main concern was that he was not given any payment for this. However, in the following 1500 years or so, plagiarism was not an issue. The situation began to change with the invention of printing which was, in its day, as great a technological revolution as the digital revolution is in our day. Moreover, Bailey suggests that the word “plagiarism” came into the English language in 1601 when writer Ben Jonson defined literary theft as “plagiary”, and by 1755, Samuel Johnson had included the word in his dictionary. However, before this, in 1710, the British Government passed the first copyright act, known as the Statute of Anne.  During the late 20th and early 21st centuries, digital technology advanced rapidly, making it easier to copy another person’s work. As a result of this, academic institutions became concerned about the increasing incidence of plagiarism.  

3.Why is plagiarism unethical?

Although plagiarism is illegal in some countries but not in others, it is, nevertheless, regarded as theft as its definition implies. However, there are other implications. The person who commits plagiarism not only cheats the original author, but also cheats himself/herself. In the academic field, the purpose of attending university is for the student to develop his/her own thinking, and the presentation of another’s work as one’s own cannot be considered as an ethical means of obtaining a degree. With the availability of plagiarism detection software, the culprits are more likely to be caught. The consequences can be serious, ranging from being disciplined to being expelled from the university and consequently not obtaining a degree. 

4.What exactly comprises plagiarism?

Plagiarism can take many forms, the worst of which is copying and pasting another person’s work into your writing without citing the source or using quotation marks, thereby claiming it to be your own. It is therefore known as direct or verbatim plagiarism.  Furthermore, it is still plagiarism if you copy your own work from a previous assignment (self-plagiarism). Another type of plagiarism is to take text from various sources and to mix in into your own work without giving a citation and presenting it as your own work. This is known as mosaic or patchwork plagiarism. Paraphrasing is seen as a way of avoiding plagiarism, but this is only the case if it is done properly and thoroughly and that the necessary citations are given. Even if the paraphrasing is perfect, it is still plagiarism if no citations are given. Another type of plagiarism is known as stitching, which may initially appear to be ethical because it has been well paraphrased and all citations have been provided. However, the student has simply restated, in a paraphrased from, the ideas of another person without analysing the content and without arguing for or against the ideas. This is a type of what is called accidental plagiarism. Another point to note is that it is still plagiarism if the author of the original work has given permission for his/her work to be used, whether or not such author is paid. Yet another type of plagiarism is to quote an author incorrectly or to give incomplete information about a source. An example of this is to paraphrase or edit a direct quotation which results in giving a misquotation. Therefore, when a direct quotation is given, it must reflect accurately what the quoted person said, and nothing should be added or removed. 

5.What about essay mills?

The hiring of professional and/or experienced writers through essay mills can appear as an attractive option for students, particularly to those who may not be confident in writing. It appears so easy when all the student has to do is submit the question to a professional who will write the essay. However, this is a very serious form of plagiarism. The purpose of submitting an essay is to demonstrate to the examiner that the student has researched, analysed and applied his/her own thought processes to the subject. Although it is more difficult for universities to detect this kind of plagiarism, they are becoming increasingly strict about it. If it is detected, the penalties are severe and could involve expulsion.  Hiring another person to write an essay is sometimes called ghost writing, but, despite some similarities, the two terms are not interchangeable. In its correct meaning, ghost writing is mainly used in the publication of books, particularly biographies. In this case, all the detailed information is given by the person who hires the ghost writer. 

6.Is it best not to draw from other sources in order to avoid plagiarism?

Certainly not. Academic study involves reading and researching the work of experts in the topic, and every course will have set books which students are expected to read. They will also be expected to use their own initiative in finding other relevant sources. When information has been obtained from the various sources, it should then be analysed. This is where students present their own arguments either for or against the claims of the authors they have researched, possibly as the result of experiments they have conducted or original evidence they have obtained. They may also have researched the work of two or more authors who present conflicting arguments and use their own initiative and evidence to present their own argument.  

7.Writing style

If plagiarism is to be avoided, then any paraphrase applied should show the writer’s specific style. This is why it is essential that the sentence structure of any source text is changed totally to make it consistent with the writer’s own style. If there is a variety of styles, this will be recognised by the examiner and will certainly be detected by plagiarism detection software. Consistency in style is important if an essay is to be well written. 

8.Paraphrasing tools

In recent times, paraphrasing tools have been developed, many of which use artificial intelligence, which has led to much improvement. Such tools can be very helpful and can usually produce a reasonable paraphrase, but they do not guarantee 100% reliability. They may not always guarantee consistency of style or may not always find the most appropriate synonyms. Therefore, it is necessary to check the document manually as is the case with automatic grammar and spelling checks. 

9.Plagiarism detection programs

There are many plagiarism detection programs on the market which detect the level of similarity with literature that they search. Although such programs are very useful to check a paraphrased document, they need to be used in conjunction with a manual reading of the document. 

10. Is plagiarism the same as breaching copyright?

There are many similarities between them, but the terms are not interchangeable. As aforementioned, plagiarism is presenting another person’s ideas as one’s own, whereas copyright is generally associated with field of publishing and its purpose is to protect the rights of the author of a book, painter of a picture, or composer of a piece of music. When a book is published by a reputable publisher, the copyright is usually shared between the publisher and the author, meaning that even the author cannot repeat any part of the book without the publisher’s permission. Since breach of copyright has legal implications, it can result in a fine or compensation paid to the author/publisher. However, if there is mutual agreement between the parties concerned, part of the book may be reproduced in another publication, provided that the author and publisher are acknowledged. This usually (but not always) involves a fee, so in one sense, this is similar to the reference to the Roman poets Marital and Fidentinus in Section 2.

The Ultimate Proofreader provides a bespoke paraphrasing service to academics, students and authors.