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Understanding Plagiarism

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Faculty Resources > Understanding Plagiarism



Understanding Plagiarism


GW is an academic community that respects the work and ideas of others.  In the academic world, words and ideas are protected by rules and regulations that an institution adopts.  At GW, these rules are presented in the GW Code of Academic Integrity  which defines plagiarism as:


Intentionally representing the words, ideas, or sequence of ideas of another as one's own in any academic exercise; failure to attribute any of the following: quotations, paraphrases, or borrowed information.


 This is the scope of responsible writing and research that the GW academic community adopted in AY 96-97.  Though the definition does not provide a laundry list of modes of communication such as audio, video, images, etc.,  the use of the word “ideas” functions as an umbrella term for today's multi-modal communication platforms.


Even though plagiarism is not a law--more of an academic construction of appropriate professional behavior--much of the ideas adopted in academia about plagiarism derive from the constitutial statute of copyright.  Moreover, the concepts that formulate plagiarism and copyright law itself come out of Western cultural concepts of intellectual property.  Consequently, nonwestern scholars often do not understand plagiarism as the foundation of intellectual property rights is not part of their culture.  For more on English as a Second Language issues concerning plagiarism, see Cultural Issues and Plagiarism



Types of Plagiarism:  Intentional and Accidental Plagiarism


Plagiarism is can be divided into two types: intentional and accidental.   


Intentional plagiarism is when a person knowingly and willfully presents someone else’s work as his/her own.  Robert Harris, in his article “Anti-Plagiarism Strategies for Research Papers” identifies seven types of intentional plagiarism:


  1. Downloading a free paper from the Internet and turning the paper in as one’s own work
  2. Purchasing a paper from a commercial paper mill and turning the paper in as one’s own work
  3. Copying an article from the web and turning the entire article in as one’s own work
  4. Using a paper written by another student and turning it in as one’s own work
  5. Cutting and pasting content in a paper and presenting the content as one’s own
  6. Misrepresenting direct quotations
  7. Faking a citation


Intentional plagiarism is often detected when an instructor notices an inconsistency in the writing such as a change in style, content, or vocabulary.  Other times an instructor might suspect plagiarism because something about the content seems familiar to the instructor producing a feeling of “I’ve read that before.”


Accidental plagiarism, on the other hand, is when a person does not understand how to properly quote, paraphrase, summarize, or cite resulting in the content being unintentionally attributed to the compiler and not the original author. The Council of Writing Program Administrator’s (WPA) in “Defining and Avoiding Plagiarism: The WPA statement on Best Practices”  identifies reasons for this unintentional form of plagiarism:


  • Not knowing how to take careful notes

  • Not knowing how to integrate sources

  • Not knowing how to compile a bibliography

  • Confusion due to inconsistent definitions of plagiarism by faculty

  • Confusion due to a foreign student’s unfamiliarity with American conventions of academic attribution.

  • Contextual confusion caused by switching from a business or organizational environment where it is acceptable to use other’s words and the academic environment where it is not without proper attribution. (2-3)






Understanding Plagiarism


Top Choices

Written to prepare faculty to face issues of plagiarism with paper assignments, the article provides insight and advice from three perspectives:  1)  why and how students plagiarize, 2) strategies to prevent plagiarism from explaining plagiarism to redesigning assignments, and 3) tools and techniques for detecting plagiarism.  Harris expanded this article into the 2001 book The Plagiarism Handbook (ISBN: 1884585353).


This document explores how and why students plagiarize and then offers a series of teaching strategies faculty can adopt to prevent plagiarism.  These include educating students about academic plagiarism and its consequences, how to design and sequence plagiarism-proof assignments, teach proper citation, and take disciplinary action when necessary.


An all inclusive guide for faculty on how to detect and prevent plagiarism. The bulk of the guide is divided into two strategies for preventing plagiarism.  The first strategy involves educating students about plagiarism through in-class discussions about plagiarism, its causes, forms and consequences as well as teaching proper conventions of academic attribution.  The second strategy is by addressing how to make “plagiarism-proof” assignments both in writing and presenting the assignment. Colorado State University’s Online Writing Studio is a leader in online writing centers and its content is always well developed and designed.


More Resources

This pdf downloadable guidebook examines the challenge of plagiarism today and presents best practices for deterring plagiarism through assignment design, plagiarism education, assessment tools, and electronic detection tools. 


  • Combating Plagiarism [REPORT]

    CQResearcher (September 19, 2003)CQResearcher Online.

    (Available through ALADIN via CQ Library Database)

This report addresses one of the key questions about plagiarism today: Is the Internet causing more students to copy?  To address this question, this report gives an overview of the impact of digital technology on presenting and gathering information as well as a history of copyright law and academic plagiarism issues.  It then moves on to discuss the current situation and why the Internet is being blamed for increasing plagiarism among students and journalists.  It also provides a pro/con look at the issue of educational use of commercial plagiarism detection services.





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The site describes itself as offering “general copyright information for educators, students, websurfers and confused citizens.”  Divided into five sections, the site addresses the major domains of copyright.  The Info section gives an overview of copyright issues including fair use and public domain, as well as giving an overall  history of copyright law.  For teaching purposes, the site includes PowerPoint presentations on copyright issues. The Movies section looks at the scope of copyright in the visual domain of movies, television shows, photographs and artwork.  The Music section focuses on the audio domain and deals with all aspects of music composition and delivery.  The Web section examines copyright in the digital domain concerning software and the web.  The final section is an online wizard that aids in copyright registration.


This brochure was developed to by the Association of Research Libraries to provide faculty with a quick resource on copyright law and practice. The brochure is downloadable in several formats and emphasizes linking instead of copying, a strategy in line with a Web 2.0 perspective.


This is the web site of the U.S. Copyright Office. The site has an excellent Copyright Basics  section that defines copyright, describes what it covers, explains who can apply, and even discusses international concerns.


More Resources

Real audio and html pages from a workshop given to Dalhousie University faculty in Fall and Winter 2001-2002 on plagiarism.  The workshop includes demonstrations of how easily students can purchase papers from paper mills, a look at the inner workings of paper mills, an overview of plagiarism detection services, and what to do if you suspect a student has plagiarized.



Annotated Bibliographies of Online Resources


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  • Plagiarism: An Annotated Bibliography

    Sharon Stoerger (2007) Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign



More Resources 


Plagiarism Examples


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The Wikipedia entry on plagiarism primarily concists of examples of plagiarism in academic, journalism, politics, music, literature and more.


Attorney Standler discusses the relationship of plagiarism to copyright and trademark law and then presents case examples of instances of plagiarism.  Those origially written in 2000, Standler updates the links regularly.



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