Plagiarism in Academic writing: How to Identify and Avoid It

Plagiarism is well-known as a breach of publishing ethics which is despised in the academic circle. However, while in some cases the authors engage in deliberate plagiarism, more often than not authors end up being guilty of plagiarism unknowingly. This is because plagiarism, although a very commonly used term, is a vaguely defined concept.

Plagiarism technically means using someone else’s ideas/ intellectual property as one’s own without giving proper credit to the original creator. While the first part (as one’s own) is well understood as improper appropriation, it is often the second part (giving proper credit) where author’s unintentionally falter. 

Some of the most common forms of plagiarism are:

Patchwork: patchwork refers to direct lifting or verbatim representation of another’s work without using quotations or referencing. This is the most blatant form of plagiarism.

Plagiarised ideas: This is when you pass-off someone else’s ideas as your own, even if in your own words or articulation.

Loose paraphrasing: This is the most common form of unintentional plagiarism. Authors, while discussing literature reviews, often write the content of other authors without proper attribution, which technically makes it plagiarism.

Self-plagiarism: This is the most difficult to understand the form of plagiarism. This refers to recycling of one’s own work in multiple publications. While it is difficult to comprehend how one can ‘steal’ from oneself, reproduction of the same work in multiple journal publications or presenting the same content multiple times to bolster the number of one’s publications is a problem in academics that has led to this publishing ethics.

How to avoid unintentional plagiarism:

Proper referencing: while doing your background research, keep meticulous notes of which ideas/sections are from which article. While writing, maintain side notes for proper referencing later while finalizing the article.

Quotes and paraphrasing: authors often tangle themselves up in this issue! For citing what some other author has said, it is advisable to use quotations to drive home a critical or technical detail. While discussing a concept and how others have addressed it, it is better to paraphrase it in one’s own words.

While paraphrasing, one must be careful not to reproduce the same content by just replacing certain words here and there. A proper paraphrasing would be a complete re-articulation of the source material. Proper paraphrasing is rewriting other’s content from one’s own perspective.

In both cases, proper citation or reference is mandatory.

Follow citation rules: every journal has well-defined citation and referencing norms and one must follow them judiciously. Journals nowadays prefer in-text referencing, especially for paraphrasing and quotations and it is a good habit to develop one’s writing style with in-text referencing.

Rewrite your own words: while referring to your own previous works, we often tend to copy-paste paragraphs as one likes one’s own articulation best. However, in order to avoid self-plagiarism, rewrite the content every time for a new article in the context of the new article, and you will see your language will change.