Understanding Plagiarism | Webster University
Understanding Plagiarism | Webster University

Understanding Plagiarism

 Understanding Plagiarism Introduction

The first step in the process of maintaining honesty in academic coursework requires having an effective understanding of what plagiarism is. Just as you do not want others to rifle through your backpack and lift your wallet or cell phone — because that's personal property — authors do not want others to "rifle through" their research or texts and "lift" their words and ideas — because that's intellectual property. Using another person's ideas, words, data, graphics, or other intellectual property without attributing them is plagiarism.

Plagiarism, however, isn’t solely about giving credit to the source. Citation is an important and vital step of using source material, and this is something that most of you are generally aware of. Crediting source material is only one aspect of source use, though. Another component that you might overlook is just how the source material is presented or used in the project. Misusing or misrepresenting the source material can lead to plagiarism just as lacking citations can.

Turnitin Spectrum

To understand how source material is used incorrectly, it’s important to realize that plagiarism occurs in a range of ways, with different levels of severity. Being able to identify how or why source use is problematic is the first step in ensuring that use of source material avoids those practices. To help you gain a better understanding of the nuances of plagiarism, consult Turnitin’s Plagiarism Spectrum, which defines various types of source misuse:

The Plagiarism Spectrum is a guide to help educators, students, academics, and writers recognize the various forms of plagiarism. This spectrum moves plagiarism beyond the black-and-white definition of “literary theft” to one that captures the nuances of how plagiarism can take form.

As part of this study, Turnitin surveyed both higher and secondary education instructors to take a measure of how prevalent and problematic these instances of plagiarism are among their students. The Plagiarism Spectrum ranks the types of plagiarism by intent and then provides data on the prevalence and problematic nature of type based on the feedback from 879 survey respondents.

Ten Types of Plagiarism

  1. CLONE: An act of submitting another's work, word-for-word, as one's own

  2. CTRL-C: A written piece that contains significant portions of text from a single source without alterations

  3. FIND-REPLACE: The act of changing key words and phrases but retaining the essential content of the   source in a paper

  4. REMIX: An act of paraphrasing from other sources and making the content fit together seamlessly

  5. RECYCLE: The act of borrowing generously from one's own previous work without citation to self plagiarize

  6. HYBRID: The act of combining perfectly cited sources with copied passages -- without citation -- in one paper

  7. MASHUP: A paper that represents a mix of copied material from several different sources without proper citation

  8. 404 ERROR: A written piece that includes citations to non-existent or inaccurate information about sources

  9. AGGREGATOR: The "Aggregator" includes proper citation, but the paper contains almost no original work

  10. RE-TWEET This paper includes proper citation, but relies too closely on the text's original wording and/or structure

Adapted from "The Plagiarism Spectrum: Tagging 10 Types of Unoriginal Work." Turnitin.com. iParadigms, 2012. Web. 22 Sep. 2015.

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Exploring Types of Plagiarism

The Turnitin Plagiarism Spectrum provides quick definitions of some of the more common types of plagiarism, but knowing a basic definition of a problem is only the start of solving it. First, you need to understand the specifics of those forms of plagiarism and consider why each is problematic in different ways. Further, assessing some of the possible behaviors or habits that lead to these forms of plagiarism will aid you in understanding how to avoid them.

1.  CLONE: This form of plagiarism, also sometimes called complete plagiarism, is one that most of you universally recognize and are aware that it is dishonest. When an entire project is taken from a source (either another student or elsewhere) and presented as your own, this falsely represents your knowledge and efforts on the subject matter. This method of plagiarism is often a result of poor time management or other academic pressures.

2.  CTRL-C: This form of plagiarism uses sections of a source’s words, presented exactly as the source wrote them without the use of quotation marks or citation. Using a source’s words, even in small sections or pieces, is falsely representing the words as your own if no quotation marks indicate that the material is exact wording. Further, if quotation marks are used but citation is missing, then this doesn’t properly give credit to the author of the words you are using, even though the reader was notified that they are someone else’s words. This is another form of plagiarism that most of you are generally aware of, but it still happens frequently, typically from carelessness in notetaking or the writing/typing process.

3.  FIND–REPLACE: When you understand that CTRL-C isn’t appropriate source use, you might attempt to put an idea in your own words (paraphrasing). This often results in FIND-REPLACE, a form of plagiarism that substitutes synonyms or alternate word choice to only slightly change the wording of a source. Even if citation is provided for the passage, adjusting only a word or a few words does not truly put the idea in your words. This generally occurs when you don’t fully understand what proper paraphrasing entails.

4.  REMIX: This form of plagiarism takes a range of material from diverse sources that touch on the same content and presents the ideas together as your own analysis, without citation. The wording will be slightly changed or perhaps even paraphrased accurately, but lack of citation presents the material falsely. This often comes about when you attempt to make your work seem original; where using one source may be a direct flag, piecing together and rewording material from diverse sources seems like it may not register (it does). If unintentional, this can occur due to lack of effective citation habits and sometimes poor notetaking.

5.  RECYCLE: This form of plagiarism is often misunderstood or difficult to understand. RECYCLE occurs when you submit your own work, typically from a previous course but sometimes from personal projects, as an assignment in a current course. You might say, “It’s my own work and ideas, so why is that a problem?”  Where this can get you into trouble is that it presents the material as a recent creation when it isn’t. The root of why that’s problematic is that the instructor expects the material to reflect what you have learned in the course. If a paper written a year ago is recycled for a course now, does the material illustrate what you gained from that year of learning, in particular the course you are currently in?  This is why most instructors don’t allow students to re-use their own work. However, if you obtain permission from the instructor and makes adequate changes to the material to reflect new ideas and understanding, then this may be considered an appropriate re-use of ideas. When you don’t receive permission or don’t make effective changes to the material, this is problematic. You may sometimes tempted to re-use your own projects to save time or to avoid additional work.

6.  HYBRID: This form of plagiarism mixes together effective source use with inappropriate source use. In certain passages of the paper, citation conventions and quotations/paraphrases are done correctly; in the midst of that, other passages are used without citation and are often word-for-word (without quotation marks) or ineffectively paraphrased. This is often done to attempt to mask uncited work, where another’s work can be used to cut corners in order to save time or effort. If this is done unintentionally, then it seems to occur due to lack of consistent citation methods and notetaking.   

7.  MASHUP: Similar to CTRL-C plagiarism, this will take not one source of exact wording but a range of source’s words, all without citation. Lack of quotation marks presents the material falsely, as does the lack of citation. As with REMIX, this often comes about when you attempt to make your work seem original; where copying one source may be a direct flag, piecing together copied material from diverse sources seems like it may not register (it does). If this form of plagiarism isn’t done intentionally, then it will often occur through poor citation habits and lack of effective notetaking or source organization.

8.  404 ERROR: This type of issue comes when you use sources or links that aren’t real or provide source information that is incorrect in some way. This often happens when you attribute the wrong signal phrases or authors to the material. For example, you may say Quote 1 is from Author A when it’s in fact from Author D. Another example of a situation that happens often is when you uses an idea and attributes it to Author/Source B, but the citation list at the paper’s end doesn’t contain Author/Source B. Similarly, the citation page may include Author/Source C, but this source is never clearly or accurately used in the paper. These issues can lead to material not being correctly credited. This form of plagiarism can occur when you are required to conduct research and provide citations but deliberately don’t go through the actual research and citation process and instead make up the information, generally to save time or work. When this is done unintentionally, it occurs when you don’t take proper notes in the research and source integration process, resulting in writing down incorrect information. This can also occur if you don’t fully understand citation methods or rules.

9.  AGGREGATOR: This form of plagiarism is another that you might struggle with. This use of source material entails proper citation and using quotation marks or paraphrasing source material correctly. If the citations and quoting/paraphrasing is correct, what more is there, right? Instructors will often assign a research project or otherwise ask their students to perform research and write about a topic. You might translate that into the idea that the paper needs to be (or can be) entirely research with little addition or contribution from you; this is a misconception. Essays are expected to be an analysis of a topic, where you will use research to learn about the subject but then apply critical thinking and other skills to learn something new or to provide an opinion or arguable claim about the topic. This requires that you balance source use with your own ideas, opinions, and observations. The AGGREGATOR will present the source material with little to no personal addition to the material. This often occurs when you misunderstand assignment expectations or when you are pressed for time; this can also stem from struggling to find something personal to contribute to the topic.

10.  RE-TWEET: The last major form of problematic source use entails giving proper credit to the material but not correctly adjusting the wording and structure. Similar to FIND-REPLACE, this technique is where you attempt to put an idea in your own words—and do a better job at it than simple synonym replacement—but still aren’t quite meeting the mark of appropriate paraphrasing. This will occur when you don’t have a thorough understanding of paraphrasing or when you are rushed. Lack of proper notetaking can also lead to this issue.

With an understanding of major forms of plagiarism and how they arise, you should be well on your way to avoid these measures in your own work.

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Examples of Incorrect Source Use

The following examples illustrate a number of faulty — or plagiarized — uses of source material. First, look at the original, an excerpt from John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address:

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

Source: Kennedy, John K. “Inaugural Address.” Writing and Reading across the Curriculum. Ed. Lawrence Behrens and Leonard J. Rosen. Boston: Little, Brown, 1982. Print. [Note: this citation and the others used in these examples are done in MLA style.]

Failing Quotation

As John F. Kennedy passionately proclaims, America shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty (76).

Why is this incorrect? The writer does not enclose Kennedy’s words within quotation marks. This presents the words to the reader as if they are the writer’s when they are not. Even though a citation is provided that includes author and page, the way the source’s words are misrepresented through lack of quotation marks makes this plagiarism.

Failing Paraphrase

In his Inaugural Address, John F. Kennedy contends that America would spend any amount, suffer any weight, entertain any trial, stand by any ally, defend against any enemy, to foster the continuance and the supremacy of freedom (76).

Why is this incorrect? The writer uses the same sentence structure as the original and “plugs in” synonyms for the nouns and verbs that are in the original text. Therefore, this is a faulty paraphrase. To correctly paraphrase, a writer must “own” the idea of the original and recast it by using his own words and by using his own sentence structure. Again, even though the words are slightly changed, author is given, and page is noted, this doesn’t properly present the material as adequately paraphrased and therefore constitutes plagiarism.

Failed Quotation & Paraphrase Together

In his Inaugural Address, John F. Kennedy contends that America will bear any burden, that it will meet any hardship, and that it will support any friend in order to ensure liberty (76).

Why is this incorrect? In this case, the writer has added a few words, such as “that it will” before the president's words in an effort to disguise what is essentially a direct quotation. In addition, the source’s exact words (when they are used) are not enclosed within quotation marks. Although author and page are noted and some words are changed, this presentation of source material relies too closely on the original and is therefore plagiarism.

[Examples adapted from Teresa Sweeney’s Feb. 2004 discussion by Laura Hardin Marshall, Plagiarism Prevention Program Specialist, Sep. 2015.]  

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