When studying at A-level, undergraduate level, or postgraduate level, it is important to understand the various types of plagiarism and what they entail, so that you can ensure that no course rules or regulations are broken – which could lead to you failing your assignment, or even being expelled from your course, college, or university! Therefore, it is important to fully grasp these varying nuances of plagiarism so that you can effectively avoid it.
At its most fundamental level, plagiarism refers to the act of using somebody else’s work and/or ideas and using them in a way that suggests it is your own work. Here is a more thorough definition of plagiarism. However, as noted, there are various ways in which this can be done, ranging from the very overt and obvious to the very subtle. Thus, in a worst-case scenario, a plagiarist will simply copy somebody else’s work, word for word, and will use it without any reference or quotation marks. This can be done either by copying from a physical text, or by cutting and pasting from a digital text: either way, it is a perfect copy. Moreover, this will be done on purpose, and consciously. As such, the first type of plagiarism to be aware of is:
1. The direct use of somebody else’s work, word for word, by copying the text and not providing any references or quotation marks.
However, plagiarism does not have to be so overt and intentional in order for a student to get into trouble, and it can be accidental. For example, if you correctly reference a quotation, but fail to copy the quotation accurately, then this would be a case of accidental plagiarism. Or, if you were to paraphrase an author, but do not accurately represent their original ideas, then this too would be a good example of accidental plagiarism. Furthermore, in any case where a student fails to cite a source –whether this is for a direct quotation, an idea, or the paraphrasing or summarising of a text – then this too can be considered to be plagiarism. So, the second type of plagiarism to be aware of is:
2. The accidental use of another person’s words or ideas, without properly citing the source of these words or ideas.
In addition, although it might seem counter-intuitive, it is also possible to actually plagiarise your own work! But wait – isn’t plagiarism the act of using somebody else’s work or ideas without properly citing the material? Well yes, but that ‘somebody else’ can also, ironically, be yourself. In essence, if you were to use work that you have done in a previous assignment, by copying and pasting the work, manually copying it, or simply by using some of your previous ideas or even the structure of a piece of work, then this too would be considered to be plagiarism. Nevertheless, this, of course, could either be done intentionally or accidentally, and so it is important to scrutinise your work if it is written on a topic that you have written about before. In the digital age, many academic institutions might keep digital copies of your work, and so such plagiarism can now be more easily detected via in-house plagiarism software, like Viper. Therefore, what you can do to guard against this type of plagiarism, is to: (1) always make sure that you write a piece of work from scratch, and don’t get tempted to rehash previous ideas, (2) don’t refer to your previous work, (3) don’t rewrite ideas or sections from previous essays, and (4) if you feel like you have written something before, then try to locate the source in your previous work. Therefore, the third type of plagiarism to be aware of is:
3. Re-using your own ideas from previous works, or copying and pasting sections of your past essays.
Another form of plagiarism to be aware of is that of using other students’ work or ideas, and passing it off as your own. Thus, it is important to be aware of any ideas that you have got from other students either by reading their work or by simply talking to them. Furthermore, if a friend or peer has given you one of their essays as a sample paper, although this is permitted, it is important not to paraphrase any of this work, the ideas contained within the paper, or to directly quote any of the material. As such, although looking at other student past papers can be useful as a learning tool one has to be careful when doing this, so that no acts of plagiarism are committed. So, the fourth type of plagiarism to be wary of is:
4. Using work from other students’ papers and passing it off as your own work or ideas.
One less common form of plagiarism is to use a text that is written in a foreign language, and translating the text, either manually, or via specialist translation software, and then passing this work off as your own. Although this kind of plagiarism might be more difficult to detect, it is not impossible, and you run the risk of failing or expulsion from your school, college, or university if you do this. Therefore, although there might be temptations, it is always better to do your own work, and to not steal from the work of others. As such, if you are bilingual or multilingual, it would be unwise to use such skills to gain access to texts in a foreign language that can be used for your essay. Therefore, even if the text that you are referring to is written in a foreign language, you must still provide a full citation and reference for this. As such, the fifth type of plagiarism to be aware of is:
5. Not providing a standard citation or reference when using texts written in a foreign language.
In addition, another, perhaps less well-understood, type of plagiarism is that of what is known as ‘patch writing’. What this involves is the use of a multitude of quotations without these quotations really being relevant or being seamlessly linked to your own writing. Therefore, just like a patchwork quilt, patch writing utilises multiple sources, and effectively stitches them all together to create a rather disjointed whole that is easy to spot. This represents a lazy way of constructing an essay, and it is unlikely to get a good mark even if it is not identified and considered to be plagiarism. The key point, in this kind of plagiarism, is that no original ideas are used, and other work is not critiqued or discussed at any great length – which is why such work can be regarded as being plagiarism. This is a mistake that unseasoned essay writers often make, so you should try to limit the number of quotations used in a piece of work, and you should certainly not have more than 20% of an essay made up of direct quotations. Thus, by sticking to this rule you can ensure that you will have an adequate amount of original ideas and critical analysis within your piece. So, the sixth type of plagiarism that you should be thinking about is:
6. An overreliance on direct quotations, and using these quotations in a patchwork style without really analysing such quotations and linking them together properly.
Also, there is often an issue with students failing to provide a source for work that is referred to, but is not used as a direct quotation. This then, is something of a grey area, and is an issue that many students do not understand, or which they are not aware of. However, this does not mean that such unintentional plagiarism will not be punished, so it is important to be fully aware of this kind of plagiarism. For example, if you read a text, and then start to discuss some of the ideas in it without properly citing and referencing the work, then this can be viewed as plagiarism. Although we have already touched on this in the second type of plagiarism (accidental plagiarism), it is important to go over this specific type of accidental plagiarism in a little more depth, as it is such a common mistake to make. The key thing to remember here then is, if in doubt, add a reference! Thus, you are unlikely to be disciplined for adding too many references, or for adding a reference when one is not necessary, so if you are not sure, then it is best just to include it. However, (and this is where it gets complicated) if you do this, then you must also be careful that you are accurately representing the ideas of the author of the work you are referring to, as this too, as noted, could also be considered to be plagiarism. As such, there is a delicate balance to achieve here, which is to make sure that every idea that you use is fully referenced, but not to reference if the idea is not taken from a particular source, or if you have extended or spun the idea in some way, to make it an original thought. Often then, you will have to provide a citation mid-sentence, to correctly cite a copied idea, before moving on to an original thought. As such, the seventh type of plagiarism in our list is:
7. The use of ideas from other sources without adequately citing and referencing this work, or providing a reference for an idea that is an original thought.
In addition, there are several other types of plagiarism that also warrant a mention, such as that of citing a source that doesn’t exist, incorrectly citing a text, or copying and pasting sections of numerous different texts and putting them together to create a new text without citing the works. Therefore, not all plagiarism is done on a level footing, with some being accidental, and some being more insidious and overt. However, no matter what type of plagiarism is carried out, the punishment is likely to be the same – in the failure of an assignment, or expulsion from a course or even as a student. Therefore, be careful what you are writing, and how you cite it, or else you may find yourself in trouble.
Therefore, to summarise, there are a number of different types of plagiarism that one must be aware of when constructing an essay, report, or academic paper, and these include:
- The direct use of somebody else’s work, word for word, by copying the text and not providing any references or quotation marks.
- The accidental use of another person’s words or ideas, without properly citing the source of these words or ideas.
- Re-using your own ideas from previous works, or copy and pasting sections of your past essays.
- Using work from other students’ papers and passing it off as your own work or ideas.
- Not providing a standard citation or reference when using texts written in a foreign language.
- An overreliance on direct quotations, and using these quotations in a patchwork style without really analysing such quotations and linking them together properly.
- The use of ideas from other sources without adequately citing and referencing this work, or providing a reference for an idea that is an original thought.
If you’re not sure, keep a list of these different types of plagiarism, and keep the list on your desk as you work. Then, if you’re not sure about anything, simply check the list, and make sure that you’re not breaking any rules. That way, when you hand in your assignment, you can be sure that you have not broken any of your academic institution’s rules and regulations on plagiarism, and you can rest in the knowledge that you have done your best to correctly cite your work. Where plagiarism is concerned, knowing the rules is half the battle, and if you can become familiar with these types of plagiarism, then this will help you in your future academic work, and perhaps even in your career.