PG Writing Group 25/06/12 Social Science South Rm 2204 Monday 12-1pm
There are infamous plagiarists – – Marks Chabedi, Stephen Ambrose, Dănuţ Marcu – and even some famous infamous plagiarists – TS Eliot, Martin Luther King, and HG Wells. All have been accused at some point of “unattributed use of someone else’s words, creations, ideas and arguments” – UWA’s definition of plagiarism.
Each of these cases appear to be clear breaches of ethical conduct – but sometimes the distinction between misconduct and everyday academic writing practice is not so easy to judge. As postgraduate researchers you are probably aware of what constitutes gross plagiarism, but what about the subtleties of patchwork plagiarism and self-plagiarism and unacceptable language re-use? The next three sessions for the Postgraduate Writer’s Group will discuss how to avoid these inadvertent breaches of ethical conduct in academic writing.
Patchwork plagiarism is when parts of the original author’s words are used and connected together in a different way. How does this differ from paraphrasing and exactly how much of your text be should differ from the original? Three things should help you here – and neither of them involve comparing and counting words. Firstly, copying common academic phrases is not only OK it is to be encouraged. Academic writing has a number of stock phrases and terms that should be used. Many of these are listed in The Academic Phrasebank – so make yourself familiar with this resource. Repeating these phrases in your text is fine – they are free of content and are sentence fragments. If in doubt, find the phrase in the Academic Phrasebank and substitute it for another one under the same phrasebank heading. Secondly, write about the content in the original in relation to your study. The content you are summarising or paraphrasing from the original source is in some way connected to your work. Thinking about the original work in this context will help you write your text in a way that reduces the need to copy text. And remember to NEVER copy and paste paragraphs, note even for note-taking purposes, unless you plan to use the paragraph as a direct quote. Thirdly, know the referencing rules and apply them. If in doubt about whether to reference a source or not, stay safe and reference it.
Self-plagiarism is more complicated as it is reuse of your own text. Increasing publication output by republishing data in a new paper is one of the clearer breaches of self-plagiarism but what about recycling your methods section or reusing the first paragraph of your previous paper’s introduction? While some journals appear to be tolerant of a certain level of self-plagiarism, others feel breaches in this area are sufficient to justify retraction of a paper. To avoid the risk of self-plagiarism, treat your text as you would any others and summarise, paraphrase and reference.
Unacceptable language reuse is another complicated area. Many students refine their academic writing by mimicking the style and structure of more proficient writers – but when does this mimicry fall into the category of plagiarism of style? In this sciences, there appears to be a clear divide between the ‘content’ of a paper and the language use. Use of sentence and paragraph templates taken from a paper and stripped of noun phrases and then refilled with the author’s own content can be a very efficient way of writing the first draft of a scientific paper and is often used as a way to teach academic writing to students whose first language is not English. By the time you have reached your 10th draft and have had feedback from your co-authors and/or supervisors, the odds are your text won’t resemble the original in many ways. In the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, however, this can be more problematic as there is not always such a clear divide between language use and content. In these disciplines, language may form the argument and therefore be intimately tied to the content of the writing. In these cases, strategic language reuse should be avoided.
- For UWA’s plagiarism policy see Teaching and Learning: Plagiarism
- For details of plagiarism cases see Wikipedia’s List of Plagiarism Incidents in Academia, and Jonathan Bailey’s Famous Plagiarists: Could it Happen Today?
- Examples of patchwork plagiarism can be found at Using English for Academic Purposes’ A Guide for Students in Higher Education Avoiding Plagiarism and The University of Wisconsin’s Writing Centre Quoting and Paraphrasing
- Discussion of the ethics of self-plagiarism can be found in iThenticate’s What is Self-Plagiarism and How to Avoid It and Jeff Akst’s newsletter in The Scientist When is Self-Plagiarism OK?
- Details of strategic language reuse can be found in Cargill and O’Conner. 2009. Writing Scientific Research Articles: Strategy and Steps. Section 4 – Developing Your Publication Skills. P105-106 Wiley-Blackwell, West Sussex,UK. Available to read online from the UWA library.
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