The rule is that we don't use other people's ideas or expression without crediting them. In an American or European college one will almost certainly fail a course for violating this rule; if an American or European discovers it in a business letter or report, one will lose respect and may be disciplined by the employer. It is very easy to detect an instance of a non-native speaker using native expression, because part of the writing is non-native and part is native.
Reasons you shouldn't plagiarize
Let's use this rule in our English Language Program:
-What is Plagiarism?
Plagiarism is the improper use, or failure to attribute, another person's writing or ideas (intellectual property). It can be an act as subtle as the inadvertent neglect to include quotes or references when citing another source or as blatantly unethical as knowingly copying an entire paper verbatim and claiming it as your own work.
Ideas, metaphors, conjectures, hypotheses and generalizations
Who owns an idea? Some ideas are patentable and some are patented. This means you can't sell products whose designs follow the idea. But the patent controls the use of an idea, not the idea itself. Philosophically, the idea of "idea" has proven very problematical over the centuries, so it might be hard even to define what we mean by "idea". One definition might be "anything that can be embodied by a set of coherent words." Ignoring what "coherent" means, it seems rather easy to a define a set of written words in a given language, and that is why it is easy to recognize when you need to put quotes around a set of words. Notice we also put quotes around translations of words, even if they are not "exact".
This is a subtle form of plagiarism that is also, I think, very common. It typically arises at the last moment, as the submission deadline looms near. You decide to add an idea to your paper that needs to be cited, but you don't know the proper citation. For example, you know that the original pBR322 plasmid carries a "poison sequence" that inhibits transformation of mammalian cells. You want to state this but you also know this isn't common enough knowledge to be asserted without reference. The careless way to do this is find someone else who asserted this as fact, and use their reference. I assert that this is plagiarism, because you are "passing off" someone else's scholarship as if it were your own. You are obviously also risking the possibility that you are simply propagating a mis-citation.
A similar but more serious form of plagiarism stems from what I will call the "trap of the long reference list". I will illustrate it with a slightly amusing example, but I wish at the same time to emphasize that effective, competent scholarship involves avoiding the temptation to fall into this trap.
Let's say you are writing the introduction to your proposal or paper on cloning marsupial taste receptor genes. You wish to cite a review by A. B. Smythe that states that "Koala bears show a strong preference for the unusual taste of eucalyptus (59-81)".
The reference numbers refer to earlier literature that, according to A. Smythe, should justify her statement. You write Some marsupials prefer eucalyptus (@ref).
What should your reference list be? Obviously, you obtained the idea as well as some of the phrasing from Smythe, so you should cite her. But that is so critical a statement for your composition that you wish to indicate that that is a well-documented fact. In fact, since there were twenty-two articles cited by Smythe, shouldn't you just include those articles in your reference list? NO! Why not?
If you know that all the original papers actually refer to the koala's taste preference you could write Smythe cites over twenty primary papers to the effect that koalas demonstrate a preference for eucalyptus (1).
This indicates that you have read the Smythe review, and that you appreciate the fact that Smythe had reported so many references. You also tell the reader that you are accept Smythe's scholarship in this matter and don't feel the need to pad your reference list. But this is where a little self-awareness should tell you to be carefull! You want to refer to those twenty papers because the point is so important! If it is so important, shouldn't this be an indication that you should do some more legwork?! Imagine that you go the library with Smythe's reference list, track down some more recent references, and conclude the following: Smythe suggested koalas prefer the taste of eucalytus and cited an extensive literature in support of this claim (1). However, a re-review of that literature indicates methodological flaws in some (2-12) but not all (13-17) of the earlier work. Moreover, several carefully conducted studies (18-21)have more recently failed to confirm this observation, raising the possibility that the apparent taste preference is due either to olfactory (19) or visual (20-21) cues. Indeed, C. Robin (22) charged that Smythe's collaborator C.D. Jones was fictitious and that most of the koalas reported in the papers by Smythe & Jones were actually plush children's toys purchased in a small shop on Charing Cross.
Imagine if your embarassment if you had NOT followed up on the original review! Not only would have missed more recent reports pertinent to your project, but you would have revealed yourself as both (1) a careless scholar and (2) to the careful reader, a plagiarizer.
I personally caught a case of extravagant and blatant plagiarism when reviewing a manuscript because I was first suspicious of a long reference list that seemed out of place. Remember, cite only the appropriate references, and do your own library work!
© 1996 by John Rodgers, Ph.D 798-3903 Room M929