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What is Plagiarism in Terms of Academic Writing?

To answer that question quite briefly, plagiarism, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is stealing and passing off the ideas or words of another as one's own, or presenting as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.

Of course, the intricacies of the term, its exact boundaries and how it affects someone in an academic sense is far more detailed. Academic plagiarism is something which every institution has guidelines about and indeed there have been dozens of papers and studies into the topic, such that it can be very confusing in itself when people talk of “academic plagiarism”.

Some brief points to keep in mind. Plagiarism is:

  • When you quote or paraphrase a paper without properly acknowledging it
  • Copy something from a source like Wikipedia without clear citation
  • Submit data garnered from other research without saying so
  • Create an impression that an idea or argument is yours when it isn’t
  • Work together with other students and submit work without stating the assistance received
  • Inaccurately or falsely attributing sources and citations

Why is plagiarism such a big issue?

There are many reasons why it is seen as such an offence to plagiarize work and pass things of as your own which aren’t.

  • 1. Credit: Academics or other authors work hard on their research and their publications. When someone copies that work without citing it or acknowledging it properly, they are being denied the credit they deserve for their work and ideas. Think of it like giving an amazing gift to someone for Christmas but someone else takes the tag off and puts on a new one with their own name, thus getting all the praise that would have been yours.
  • 2. Academic achievement: The reason why students are assigned work in the first place is to measure their progress and level of understanding of their subject. When you commit academic plagiarism it means that your tutors or supervisors won’t be able to judge how well you are picking up the required knowledge and what level you are at. This might seem like the obvious reason to plagiarize in the first place but in the end it will mean missing out on the opportunity for getting the help you need to improve yourself academically.
  • 3. Education: Academic plagiarism, in fact, affects the entire community in a way that might not seem obvious at first. Professors, teachers and supervisors all depend on feedback, in the form of assignments, to judge how effective their teaching practices are at imparting understanding to students. If you are not giving your true opinion and showing your actual understanding of the subject, they are led to an imperfect impression of how well they are teaching. Thus, the overall academic community is not able to adapt and improve its level of education.

How to avoid academic plagiarism

There are several ways students can ensure they don’t commit plagiarism and stay on the right side of university guidelines.

  • Always place a proper reference after both direct quotes in quotation marks, as well as after paraphrased sections;
  • Avoid using the same structure of argument as the original author, present your own views on the subject at hand;
  • Use quotation marks around specific phrases or wording that are not your own, such as “rivers of blood” or “opium of the masses” to avoid the impression you created them;
  • Mention either in the bibliography or in the body text if your work owes acknowledgement to fellow students or colleagues;
  • Hopefully, by following these guidelines you will both have a better understanding of academic plagiarism and how to avoid it. Having a text littered with citations and references may seem unkempt at first but it is always best to stay on the right side of the rules and after a while you will realize that this is in fact standard academic practice.