Understanding and avoiding the pitfalls of plagiarism: A handy guide from Charlesworth Knowledge
It’s a question so many academics have to ask themselves at some point in their career: Why did my paper get rejected? Data we’ve collected from major publishing companies reveal that one of the major reasons why papers received from English as a second language (ESL) authors receive rejections is plagiarism. This is because, very often, authors don’t realise they are using text from other papers without correct attribution; you know yourself how easy it is to read something in a second language, think ‘that’s relevant to my paper’ and you then use it in your own work without thinking. This can be an issue because it’s usually standard practice for journals to run papers they receive through plagiarism-checking software before sending them out for review.
That’s why it’s so important to make sure you don’t get caught in the plagiarism trap! Charlesworth pre-peer review and manuscript checking services can identify any issues in your papers before you submit them to your target journal.
Firstly, it’s very important to be clear: what is plagiarism? A lot of people just don’t know, so let’s define plagiarism in full.
Plagiarism simply means the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit. In academic writing, this means citation. If you’re unsure, be sure to cite. Appropriation means using or taking something that is not yours; thus, plagiarism is using another person’s words or ideas, which is considered academically dishonest because students, scholars, and faculty members are expected to carry out their own work. Plagiarism is therefore an issue in the academic environment and beyond; the use of information without crediting a source can harm your credibility as a researcher. Additionally, if a journal identifies plagiarised text in your submission they are likely to reject outright and potentially even add your name to a ‘blacklist’ of authors, preventing further submission to that publisher.
The rule of thumb here is that it’s important to cite if you make use of the works of others to gather information, make use of the works of others to support your argument, or examine the works of others in order to shape an argument.
Seems clear enough? Why then, is there so much confusion about this issue? Let’s consider a few specific examples of commonly encountered forms of plagiarism:
(1) You are a member of the audience during a presentation where research results are presented. You then use ideas described by one of the speakers in the design of your next research project. Citing material presented at conferences is often difficult, but this is nevertheless a form of plagiarism. The best thing to do here is to get in touch with the speaker and ask them if their idea has been published or if they were presenting it for the first time at the meeting. It’s always possible to include a so-called ‘personal communication’ citation in your article if you want to refer to the presented idea.
(2) You are reading a journal article, chapter, or book. You paraphrase passages of text from the material you have been reading within the literature review of a manuscript you are writing. You must cite. This is an easy one to watch out for and avoid.
(3) You are peer-reviewing a submitted manuscript. You decide to use novel research methods described in that manuscript to enhance your own research. This is a complete no-no. One of your responsibilities as a peer reviewer is to maintain confidentiality; under no circumstances should you ever use material you see during this process in your own work. You must wait for the paper to be published and then you can cite it in the normal way.
(4) You are carrying out research online. You choose to use ideas from a website in the design of your next research project, and also include several quotes from the website within your literature review. You just have to cite the source in this case: commonly, people write both the URL and the date on which it was accessed when citing online materials in their papers. Many journals discourage this however, preferring the use (and citation) of peer-reviewed materials. It’s possible to do the former, but check the author guidelines of your target journal or, if in doubt, contact the journal’s editor.
(5) You are writing a paper in English, and your native language is Chinese. When writing a review of literature, you use another author’s exact words because you are not confident about paraphrasing or synthesising the ideas into your own words in English. This form of plagiarism is very common but can be easily avoided by citation.
(6) You are writing a manuscript for publication that is based upon your own previous research. You decide to include some exact text from one of your earlier manuscripts in the new paper. This is called self-plagiarism, a topic we’ve covered in more detail before; it is actually possible to steal from yourself but, again, this is easily mitigated by citation.
Charlesworth Author Services offer a plagiarism checking service, enabling you to ensure your paper is as clean as a whistle before submission; get in touch with one of our team for further information!