Understanding Plagiarism

GW is an academic community that respects the work and ideas of others.  In the academic world, words and ideas are protected by rules and regulations that an institution adopts.  At GW, these rules are presented in the GW Code of Academic Integrity  which defines plagiarism as:

Intentionally representing the words, ideas, or sequence of ideas of another as one’s own in any academic exercise; failure to attribute any of the following: quotations, paraphrases, or borrowed information.

This is the scope of responsible writing and research that the GW academic community adopted in AY 96-97.  Though the definition does not provide a laundry list of modes of communication such as audio, video, images, etc.,  the use of the word “ideas” functions as an umbrella term for today’s multi-modal communication platforms.

Even though plagiarism is not a law—more of an academic construction of appropriate professional behavior—much of the ideas adopted in academia about plagiarism derive from the constitutional statute of copyright.  Moreover, the concepts that formulate plagiarism and copyright law itself come out of Western cultural concepts of intellectual property. Consequently, nonwestern scholars often do not understand plagiarism as the foundation of intellectual property rights is not part of their culture.  For more on English as a Second Language issues concerning plagiarism, see Cultural Issues and Plagiarism

Types of Plagiarism:  Intentional and Accidental Plagiarism

Plagiarism is can be divided into two types: intentional and accidental.   

Intentional plagiarism is when a person knowingly and willfully presents someone else’s work as his/her own.  Robert Harris, in his article “Anti-Plagiarism Strategies for Research Papers” identifies seven types of intentional plagiarism:

  1. Downloading a free paper from the Internet and turning the paper in as one’s own work
  2. Purchasing a paper from a commercial paper mill and turning the paper in as one’s own work
  3. Copying an article from the web and turning the entire article in as one’s own work
  4. Using a paper written by another student and turning it in as one’s own work
  5. Cutting and pasting content in a paper and presenting the content as one’s own
  6. Misrepresenting direct quotations
  7. Faking a citation

Intentional plagiarism is often detected when an instructor notices an inconsistency in the writing such as a change in style, content, or vocabulary.  Other times an instructor might suspect plagiarism because something about the content seems familiar to the instructor producing a feeling of “I’ve read that before.”

Accidental plagiarism, on the other hand, is when a person does not understand how to properly quote, paraphrase, summarize, or cite resulting in the content being unintentionally attributed to the compiler and not the original author. The Council of Writing Program Administrator’s (WPA) in “Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA statement on Best Practices” identifies reasons for this unintentional form of plagiarism:

  • Not knowing how to take careful notes

  • Not knowing how to integrate sources

  • Not knowing how to compile a bibliography

  • Confusion due to inconsistent definitions of plagiarism by faculty

  • Confusion due to a foreign student’s unfamiliarity with American conventions of academic attribution.

  • Contextual confusion caused by switching from a business or organizational environment where it is acceptable to use other’s words and the academic environment where it is not without proper attribution. (2-3)


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One Response

  1. Dear Professor,

    I have read this website of your of your and I am completely overwhelmed by the amount of information present here regarding plagiarism. I am not a student of this college . I am a student from India and have not been exposed to citation style to write a paper. I have always written papers by quoting the sources at the bibliography section. I have continued to write papers in the same fashion in my college also, until recently when the professor reported me and my university decided to punish me by suspending me. I was shocked and shattered because till then I had never heard the word plagiarism mentioned by my professor, or my dean or by the academic integrity council. My syllabus does not talk about any citation style, neither does my business school have a standard citation standard and my honor code does not mention it either. I have to present my case in front of the college committee some time next month and I do not know if I will be thrown out of this country for an act commiitted in ignorance, but I feel if I am wrong then so is the system for not recognizing my difference as an international and educating me on such nuances. I read your college guidelines and completely agreed with it. I wish colleges would understand such behaviours and take approprioate steps to counter it. Meanwhile it feels good that such detailed standards are being presented to universities to help international students understand such aspects.

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