Episode 6 - Jude Carroll talks about plagiarism

  • Watch this video concerning plagiarism (mp4 format)

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    Before 1999, which saw the birth of the World Wide Web and search engine technology, plagiarism was a subset of "cheating" ; little talked about in an undergraduate assessment regime where attention was concentrated on examinations. In 2008 plagiarism is now a major topic of concern, with both students and academic staff struggling to define exactly what constitutes plagiarism and how to both explain and identify it in an environment where course work and group work have become a standard method of assessment and "cut and paste" and, "creative re-use" can be encouraged.

    When considering plagiarism Oxford Brookes is at  an advantage in having Jude Carroll as a member of its teaching staff. Jude is an international expert in the field of plagiarism, beginning active research in this area in 2001. With a background in anthropology she has been able to articulate the importance of a clear explanation of what is required being understood by both students and staff involved in any assessment exercise.
    [Source: Guardian, April 29, 2005]


    This download is the audio version of a video podcast recorded by Jude Carroll for the Wheatley Library Podcast in July 2008. You can see the video and find out more about Jude on the podcast website.

    This is a very short film and it addresses the issue of plagiarism. It can't be the only source of information that you have about plagiarism (there's lots of other places within the University where you can get some help) but here I  just want to tell you just three important points: first I want to tell you what plagiarism is - how do you know what it is so you can avoid doing it; then I'm going to tell you a couple of strategies for avoiding plagiarism; and finally I'm going to make some suggestions about how people in the Library can help you in this important task.

    OK, let's start with "what is plagiarism? "The definition of plagiarism is very easy to say: plagiarism is when you submit someone else's work as your own work. Plagiarism happens when you hand in work to a tutor or lecturer and you say "This is my work. Give me some credit for this work." and in fact it's not your work; its somebody else's work.

    Notice that when I am saying plagiarism is about work, I'm not just saying plagiarism is about words. Yes, you can plagiarise by copying somebody else's words, so for example, if you go out on the web and you find a really good source and you "cut and paste" it and you drop it into your work and you say "Here's my work" you've copied somebody else's words, but there are lots of other ways that you can copy work. You can for example take somebody else's bibliography, or somebody else's structure, or take somebody else's ideas, or take somebody else's graphs. If you take anybody's work and you don't give credit to the person who did the work first then that's plagiarism.

    Now that's easy to say but its very hard for students to understand exactly how that works in practice; so I'm going to make a few suggestions about how you can turn an understanding of a definition into something that you do yourself.

    How do you avoid plagiarism? Well the best way to avoid plagiarism is to become an author. That's easy to say and very hard to do. But in order to avoid plagiarism, which is a big skill, you need to use smaller skills. You need, for example, to be able to take notes. That means not just taking a highlighter pen and drawing through the bit of a section of a book that you think will be useful, or not taking your own word processing system and going out on the web and harvesting somebody else's work. It means turning somebody else's words into your own words through making notes. It means making sure that you always keep track of where somebody else's words work or ideas came from so that means keeping track of the source, the original name of the author, the date and so forth. There are lots and lots of packages and systems that help you do that, but whatever system you use - 3 x 5 cards, Endnote, whatever - make sure that you keep the source and the name of the source together for later use. You can also try paraphrasing, which means you make a summary or say in your own words what the original source means; make sure that if you do a paraphrase or a summary you always say where the original ideas came from. So even if you paraphrase it, even if you write it in your own words you still have to say where the source is because the source had the original idea.

    If you're learning how to do any of this business of academic writing and writing from source you also need to learn how referencing systems work. That is you have to learn how to drop the "signal" into your text that says: "Here's where I got an idea from somewhere" and then you need to write a bibliography entry that says in full what that dropped in "signal"(could be a number, could be a name ) put that signal in full in your referencing list.

    If you do these things: if you make notes, if you make notes in your own words, if you make your own meaning, if you make sure you link the source and the reference/citation. If you make sure you signal everything in your text and then record it in your bibliography, you'll probably avoid any sense that your reader might have wondering "Whose work is this?" If, on the other hand, you "cut and paste"; drop large sections of somebody else's words into your text that's not your own work and whoever's marking your work will see that straight away. Its really easy to see where the language changes; where copying starts. Just don't ever let your reader start wondering " Whose work is this?" and you do that by signalling all the time where you got your ideas from.

    The last point I wanted to make is that these kinds of skills: note taking, referencing, citing, dropping things in your text. These are really hard things for students to learn to do. Nobody learns how to do that "lickity-split". Nobody's born knowing how to be an academic writer, and remember too that even very experience professors, even me - I've written books and books. I always have a copy editor who corrects or helps me with my citation and referencing. So nobody expects you to be perfect, but there's lots of sources around where you can get help. The Library is full of guides, there's PLATO, there's lots of guides; there are people to ask - there are people in Upgrade, there are people in your own schools and departments. You can ask your personal tutor. All these people will help you learn these skills.

    A last word. This is actually a podcast about avoiding plagiarism, but that's not the key point. The key point, the really important point, is that when you become a good writer: when you become an author, when you really give credit where credit's due then that's the way you can best show your learning and you can best get the kind of marks you deserve for all the work that you've done.

    Copyright Oxford Brookes University 2008