Plagiarism

The construction of text as cultural activity

Throughout the world each culture has its own tradition of utilizing information and ideas. This means that many multilingual speakers are used to presenting information by different methods than those required by western academic conventions. If in your first language culture you have been used to summarizing what authorities have written about a subject or identifying and describing the factors involved in the subject, then the critical manner in which existing information is employed in an academic text may be unfamiliar to you. The focus in academic writing, particular in the humanities, in universities such as Monash moves the emphasis from preserving traditional knowledge to question and testing that knowledge. An example of the dilemma caused by not realizing that a different system of thought is required is explained by a Japanese student:

Also in Japanese culture (and education) the emphasis on training seems to be on intuition rather than logical construction of argument. This made it much harder for me to explain what I want to say in essays and tutorials.

(Ballard, B and J. Clanchy. (1984) p. 13)

The intuitive method of dealing with knowledge is based on the perception of knowledge as an accumulated store of wisdom preserved and handed on from past ages and added to by expert opinions of the present. Ballard and Clanchy (1985) give an example of a student who is used to this accumulative method of learning having to present an essay based on the comparison of a number of differing points of view. They describe how he might explain in great depth and detail a complete background for each of the experts. He would also show how each expert arrived at a particular point of view including the education and philosophical influences that had shaped that person’s thoughts. Having supplied the reader with this extremely detailed information he would expect the reader to intuitively reach an understanding of the merits of each different view, completely uninfluenced by the opinion of the writer, this method of learning demands that information must be accurately reproduced for the reader. It requires a vast amount of research as well as rigorous precision in summarizing to correctly articulate the ideas that will enable the readers to draw their own conclusions.

The perception of knowledge in Australian academic culture

In contrast an Australian student approaching the same task would critically analyze the view of each expert then using a method of comparison and contrast offer the reader conclusions about the relative merits of each opinions. The conclusions offered would be the writer’s own views of the merits of each expert opinion and so the essay would be constructed around the writer’s perceptions, supported by expert evidence from other sources, critics, other experts, of the relative merits of each opinion. The Australian student would try to persuade the reader that the opinions offered about each expert view were correct. The essay would reflect the voice of the writer and the logic of the arguments. Therefore, in an essay constructed in this style, it is of the greatest importance that the reader be able to tell which are the writer’s opinions and which are the opinions of the experts and authorities quoted by the writer to support the arguments in the text.

Unlike the Japanese student referred to above, who did not offer and opinion of his own the Australian student’s essay is focussed on the writer’s responses. However because it is not enough to simply offer opinions the Australian student must include expert evidence to show that the opinion set out are well researched, based on logical argument and relevant to the concerns in the topic. Therefore there must be a clear distinction between the writer’s voice in the text and the voices of the experts that uphold the writer’s own point of view.

Plagiarism

Plagiarism occurs when the boundary between the writer’s own voice and the supporting voices in the text cannot be seen.

The problem for the student writer in western academic essays is to be able to present existing ideas and information provided by books and articles and incorporate this information into the construction of the argument while still maintaining a distinctive writer’s voice.

It is because the western tradition of scholarship is based on the questioning and testing knowledge by the individual, that the identification of the person responsible for a particular point of view is very important. It is accepted that the particular point of view being offered is the result of a great deal of study and research and has been presented through a unique individual perspective. It is the intellectual property of the person who formulated it and if it is to be used as part of someone else’s argument then its authorship must be acknowledged.

Failure to acknowledge the writing and ideas of others is plagiarism. Students, particularly multilingual students who might not be familiar with the concept of plagiarism, will not be excused from its consequences should they happen, even inadvertently, to practice it.

If you present the same ideas, the same words or phraseology of another writer as if they were your own words you are practicing plagiarism. It is considered a serious form of academic misconduct. Professors have lost their positions after being found guilty of it and students have been stood down as a consequence of plagiarizing.

Plagiarizing takes a variety of forms. In some cases it can be quite deliberate. It can mean that you have copied a friend’s essay or had someone write an essay for you. It can also mean that you have bought an essay on the internet or that you have simply copied out large sections from a book or article without showing that the words are not yours.

However there are relatively few students who set out to deliberately steal the work of others. Most plagiarism is committed accidentally. It may mean that you are from an academic culture where ideas and information are treated differently. It could be that you have been with a group of friends who are studying the same topic together and end up writing a group response to an essay or it might mean that you have not kept a careful record of the quotes and ideas you have researched for your essay so your words and ideas have become blended with the authorities you have been reading.

How can plagiarism be avoided?

The first thing to do is to develop a routine of citing and acknowledging the authors you have considered while researching your topic. As most students use computers to record information as well as to create texts it is quite easy to keep source material including quotes in separate files to your draft essay. When you do incorporate a quote from a source text the Harvard method of in-text referencing makes it easy to keep your references clearly marked and also make sure that the references are recorded in your bibliography. (This method of referencing is demonstrated in the example that follows.)

The second and by far the most important way in which you can be sure to avoid plagiarism is to develop your own critical voice. This is accomplished by approaching each work you read with the ultimate intention of making a critical judgment as to its worth in providing you with information that will heighten your perspective of the topic. Thinking critically about information, rather than simply repeating the details helps overcome the practice of repeating ideas as if they were your own. It is important to remember that the proper acknowledgment of those works you have read is an essential part of the intellectual process.

An example of plagiarism:

The following example is one of the most common examples of unintentional plagiarism.

A student has been researching information for an essay on “Women’s work and women’s equality”.

As part of the research the student has found the following article by Peter Adamson in The Journal of the World Health Organization, 1985 “Women Work Twice as Hard as Men: the Developing World.”

The student has kept the following quote from the article as it offers an interesting point about women’s work and equality.

From the article:

For millions of women in Africa, Asia and Latin America the working day commonly begins at 4:30 or 5:00 am and ends sixteen hours later, as they struggle to meet the most basic needs of their families – for food, water, firewood, clothes, health care and a home.

The reason for this “hundred hour week” is that most women do two jobs – in the home and in agriculture.

In writing the essay the student has included the quote as it offers a good example of the issues in the topic. However instead of showing that these are Peter Adamson’s words being used as information to support the writer’s point, the quote has been “grafted” on to the writer’s own voice.

It often seems that western women forget their more hard-working sisters in the struggle for equality. After all, how can there be equality for women when there is no equality for anyone in some countries. If a farmer must work from dawn to dusk without the benefit of modern equipment and soil management his wife and daughter must also work alongside him if they are all to survive. Long days, back-breaking labor and the responsibility for the domestic needs of the family are the lot of many women around the world. For millions of women in Africa, Asia and Latin America the working day commonly begins at 4:30 or 5:00 am and ends sixteen hours later, as they struggle to meet the most basic needs of their families – for food, water, firewood, clothes, health care and a home.

How might the text be used and avoid plagiarism?

The easiest way is to use it as a quote inserted into the text as in the following example:

It often seems that western women forget their more hard-working sisters in the struggle for equality. After all, how can there be equality for women when there is no equality for anyone in some countries. If a farmer must work from dawn to dusk without the benefit of modern equipment and soil management his wife and daughter must also work alongside him if they are all to survive. Long days, back-breaking labor and the responsibility for the domestic needs of the family are the lot of many women around the world. For example, Adamson (1985, p.4) states “For millions of women in Africa, Asia and Latin America the working day commonly begins at 4:30 or 5:00 am and ends sixteen hours later, as they struggle to meet the most basic needs of their families – for food, water, firewood, clothes, health care and a home”.

(Longer quotes need to be indented rather than incorporated into the text.)

The Harvard system, demonstrated above, clearly indicates the quote by giving the name of the writer and the date of the publication and also the page number. This is easily matched to the complete reference in the bibliography.

However if you do not wish to include the complete quote then using either a paraphrase or a summary of the information are possible alternatives that clearly avoid plagiarism. Note that in both examples the name of the writer is clearly shown, even though his exact words are not quoted. Plagiarism relates to the individual ideas of the writer just as it refers to the words of the text. Also note that the “for example” in the text clearly distinguishes the supporting text that is being used to sustain the point being made by the writer as part of the argument.

An example of the same quote but used as a paraphrase:

It often seems that western women forget their more hard-working sisters in the struggle for equality. After all, how can there be equality for women when there is no equality for anyone in some countries. If a farmer must work from dawn to dusk without the benefit of modern equipment and soil management his wife and daughter must also work alongside him if they are all to survive. Long days, back-breaking labor and the responsibility for the domestic needs of the family are the lot of many women around the world. For example, a great number of women in third world countries begin their daily work very early in the morning around 5.00am. They must strive through a sixteen hour day simply to provide the basic necessities of food, clothing and comfort for their families.(Adamson, 1985).

An example of the same text being used as a summary:

It often seems that western women forget their more hard-working sisters in the struggle for equality. After all, how can there be equality for women when there is no equality for anyone in some countries. If a farmer must work from dawn to dusk without the benefit of modern equipment and soil management his wife and daughter must also work alongside him if they are all to survive. Long days, back-breaking labor and the responsibility for the domestic needs of the family are the lot of many women around the world. For example, women in third-world countries begin their sixteen-hour working day early in order to provide the most basic needs of their families. (Adamson, 1985)

More News