So What is Plagiarism?

It’s a great question, that, like so many things, deserves a good answer and acknowledgement that the answer will be complicated. We too often treat plagiarism like many labels, red neck, communist, democrat, republican – black or white, right or wrong.  Gray areas complicate teaching, doesn’t it. But life happens in gray areas as do the ways that we use information.

  • American Copy Editors Society
  • Associated Press Media Editors
  • Society of Professional Journalists
  • Online News Association
  • American Society of News Editors
  • Canadian Association of Journalists
  • Radio-Television Digital News Association
  • Local Independent Online News Publishers

A cluster of media organizations (see right) are organizing the National Summit on Plagiarism and Fabrication, which will begin April 5.  The participants, invited by the American Copy Editors Society, will be conducting research aimed at producing a practical set of recommendations for combating and dealing with plagiarism and fabrication.  Their conclusions will be presented at the ACES conference in St. Louis that begins on April 4.

It is hard to predict what will come out of the summit, but the conversations have already begun, much of it aimed at bringing some sanity to how we treat the practice. Roy Peter Clark tried to describe the difference between plagiarism and carelessness in a Poynter blog post,

A classic case of overcharging occurred in 2007 when journalism teachers at the University of Missouri condemned a colleague of plagiarism after he used quotes from a student newspaper in an opinion piece without attribution. I argued then that while the practice may have been sloppy, to call it plagiarism was like “shooting a fly with a bazooka.”

Clark goes on to suggest four books on the subject:

4 thoughts on “So What is Plagiarism?”

  1. The major point that most people miss about plagiarism is that it is about ideas, not words. It really doesn’t matter whether or not you are quoting someone directly. What matters is if you are portraying someone else’s ideas as if they are your own.

  2. It’s very interesting that I read about this, because one of my roommates recently received a failing grade on a paper for ‘plagiarism’. Whether it was or wasn’t, he says he ‘missed a quotation mark’, I think that it will be interesting to learn new ways to deal with plagiarism from the summit! Especially from a collegiate perspective, as I hear about issues on campus constantly.

  3. Hello David,
    I think that is fantastic! All through high school, my teachers would try and mostly fail at trying to explain plagiarism. It is such a difficult question to answer. One of my teachers even made an extremely detailed PowerPoint and took up 3 days of our class time to explain plagiarism. At the end of our second paper he said he wanted to pull his hair out because many students still didn’t get it and had basically just copied almost the entire paper. I think an official decision needs to be made with legitimate suggestions and ways to explain it.

    Thank you for your post. It would be great to have an update on what comes out of the summit.

    You can find me on twitter @KatelynLFleming and on my class blog

    Katelyn Fleming

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