What is (and isn’t) Plagiarism?

The process of engaging and incorporating the ideas and words of others is far from simple. For this reason, standard definitions of plagiarism are of little use to teachers. They give us a basic understanding of the legal meaning of the term so that we can develop penalties for the kinds of dishonesty that are easy to identify, but if we limit our understanding to legalistic definitions, we are forced to ignore the more nuanced–and much more frequent–misuse of sources that may be the product of ignorance, carelessness, or a misunderstanding of the source.

For this reason, teachers and scholars of writing have developed a best practices document that goes beyond plagiarism and is not tied to questions of intentionality. Researchers involved in the Citation Project have also developed a definition of “patchwriting” (restating a phrase, clause, or one or more sentences while staying close to the language or syntax of the source”) that draws on Howard’s 1993 definition but goes beyond it to reflect what happens in one of the most common source-use errors. Patchwriting is not “theft” and therefore not plagiarism. When we separate acts of plagiarism from misuse of sources such as patchwriting, we can develop appropriate sanctions for the former and teach students to avoid the latter. A thorough understanding of the ways writers misuse sources allows teachers to help students navigate the complex academic conversations they enter when they write information-rich papers. Such an understanding will allow scholars to develop newer, more nuanced definitions of misuse of sources that exist side-by-side with but separate from definitions of plagiarism.

Recent publications:

Howard, Rebecca Moore. “Plagiarism in Higher Education: An Academic Literacies Issue? – Introduction” in The Handbook of Academic Integrity, edited by Tracey Bretag. Singapore: Springer, 2016. 499-501. DOI: 10.1007/978-981-287-079-7_68-1

Howard, Rebecca Moore & Sandra Jamieson. “Researched Writing,”  in A Guide to Composition Pedagogies (2nd Edition). Eds. Gary Tate, Amy Rupiper-Taggart, Brooke Hessler, & Kurt Schick Oxford University Press, 2013.  231-247.

Jamieson, Sandra. “Shouldn’t our expectations of students’ and academics’ intertextuality practices differ?”  in Student Plagiarism in Higher Education. Eds Diane Pecorari and Philip Shaw. Taylor & Francis/Routledge Research in Higher Education Series (co-published with the Society for Research into Higher Education), Abingdon, UK. 2018.

Jamieson, Sandra. “Is it Plagiarism or Patchwriting? Toward a nuanced definition” in The Handbook of Academic Integrity, edited by Tracey Bretag. Singapore: Springer, 2016. 503-518. DOI: 10.1007/978-981-287-079-7_68-1 [abstract] [PDF]

Serviss, Tricia.  “Creating Faculty Development Programming to Prevent Plagiarism: Three Approaches” in The Handbook of Academic Integrity, edited by Tracey Bretag. Singapore: Springer, 2016. 551-567. DOI: 10.1007/978-981-287-079-7_68-1