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Academic Integrity at TCTC

A Flip-Guide to Ethical Academic Behavior

Plagiarism can take many formsMost students readily understand the notion of “direct plagiarism,” using a word-for-word transcription from another work without quotation marks or any other form of attribution.  In this instance, the text is misrepresented as the student’s original work, without any attempt to acknowledge the source.

Less familiar to most students is the notion of “mosaic plagiarism” or what is sometimes called “patch writing.”  In this case, the perpetrator might re-arrange the central phrases and dependent clauses from the original, like re-ordering the railroad cars in a train.  The words and ideas still spring directly from the original source, and no attempt is made to quote or otherwise cite the source.   “Mosaic plagiarism” can sometimes be particularly difficult for inexperienced students to grasp.  It’s helpful and instructive for students to practice and model the style of scholarly writing – the kinds of words and vocabulary used, the way the sentences are formed, the complexity of those sentences.  But in their attempt to model scholarly writing students sometimes go too far, producing something that is essentially copied from the original with just a few adjustments. 

Anytime more than a few words from an original source are used together to convey the same idea as the original text, those phrases will require quotation marks and clear citations. 

Instructors will often encourage students to paraphrase.  Broadly, paraphrase means to restate something – a phrase, a passage, a concept, an argument – in one’s own words, that is, to restate the meaning in another form.  This can be a helpful technique for both learning and internalizing a set of ideas and for learning and internalizing a particular way of writing. Paraphrasing, however, does not relieve the student from the obligation to cite those ideas.  In other words, if one is not quoting directly from the text, one does not need quotation marks, but a paraphrase of an argument, concept, or other idea attributable to someone else still requires a citation.

"Accidental plagiarism" frequently occurs because one has paraphrased an original source, but unintentionally failed to cite it.  Accidental plagiarism is one of the most common forms of unintentional plagiarism – a rushed or panicked student forgets to include a citation or forgets where the information was originally found and is unable to cite it properly.  Accidental plagiarism usually results from a procedural failure, rather than an ethical lapse.

"Self-plagiarism," while sometimes unwitting, is another form of panic-driven plagiarism.  For students, self-plagiarism typically occurs when a student recycles work, submitting the same paper for two different classes without full disclosure and without full permission from both instructors.  While it may theoretically be possible to submit similar work for two separate classes, it would require permissions from both instructors who would likely want to know that the learning necessary to successfully complete the course had been accomplished.

By all accounts, author Jonah Lehrer is one very smart cookie; the former Rhodes Scholar trained in neuroscience at Columbia University has penned three popular and noteworthy books, examining literary and artistic creativity through the lens of neuroscience.  He also appears to be a serial plagiarizer.  According to Slate, PT, the Daily Beast, and the Guardian, along with a host of other publications, Lehrer's plagiaristic adventures are said to include the appropriation of other's work, misrepresentation of scientific findings, the fabrication of quotes from known figures, and the rampant repackaging and republication of his own work in a variety of self-plagiarized blogs, articles, and book passages (Seife, 2012; Bailey, 2012; Silverman, 2012; Poole, 2016).