What is Plagiarism & Why is it Bad?

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is the deliberate unacknowledged use of someone’s else’s material ie passing off someone else’s ideas as your own. That’s why we have referencing systems 🙂 .

Plagiarism is NOT repeating a point that your lecturer made when you have forgotten where the information came from. It is a deliberate misappropriation of someone else’s work. Take heart: the sort of plagiarism that will land you in academic trouble is not something you can do accidentally or unconsciously.

Why is it Bad?

This is quite simple. It’s dishonest, it’s lazy, ultimately it’s intellectual theft. Take your pick and add to the list 🙂 . No-one is perfect but plagiarism is a no-no.

How Can I avoid Plagiarism?

Avoiding plagiarism is easy: give people credit for their work! This is usually done by quoting but sometimes by paraphrasing. Always make it clear who you’re paraphrasing or quoting.

eg: Swan argues: ‘Understanding the legal context unlocks both the comic and tragic potential of eighteenth-century texts, enabling us to appreciate more fully their colour and vitality but also their rôle in exploring some of the most important socio-legal issues of the period.’

You would then footnote my name, the title of my book, Fictions of Law, publisher, date of publication, page number etc – the format would depend on which referencing system you are using.

It’s important to tie the quotation / reference to your own argument. This can be done very quickly: ‘As Swan argues’ indicates that the quotation will support your argument. ‘Swan notes helpfully,’ ‘Swan argues pertinently’, ‘Swan highlights this issue in…’ all do the same thing. Of course you may prefer to disagree, in which case you can say ‘Swan argues that … but the textual evidence does not support this view’. You are then in a position to explain your own argument, naturally with superior textual evidence 🙂 .

It is usually better from a point of style to quote than to paraphrase but there are times when paraphrasing can work. Paraphrasing is simply saying the same thing but using different words eg Swan argues in Fictions of Law that understanding the legal context is essential to appreciating eighteenth-century texts fully. You would still need to footnote the study you’re talking about if you have a specific point in mind.

Plagiarism is usually deliberate eg cutting and pasting chunks of text from the internet (or a book), putting them into your essay and hoping that the tutor won’t notice.

She or he will notice.

Tutors are not daft. Plagiarised sections tend to stand out because there is a change in style (amongst other things). You could disguise it but changing your writing style is much harder than you think. Frankly it is much easier (not to mention honest) to simply attribute material to its source and to get the added bonus of credit for your research.

Do Plagiarism Rules Apply to Lectures and Seminars?

For the purposes of writing essays plagiarism applies to written words rather than spoken ones.

Plagiarism rules do not apply to lectures or seminars ie where you sit and listen to your lecturer speak about a topic. If the lecturer gives you a handout or a written transcript of the lecture either in print or online then it is good practice to reference them.

If in doubt just reference clearly and then you won’t fall foul of plagiarism rules.