Wednesday, April 24, 2013

On Plagiarism

I recently ran a plagiarism check for a law school faculty where the student author had repeatedly lifted information from unattributed resources, as well as misused information with improper attribution. 

In Scholarly Writing, I define plagiarism as lifting information from unattributed resources, but I also consider the misuse of information as plagiarism.  An example of the misuse of information would be if a student author uses a direct quote without quotation marks and puts a see signal at the beginning of the footnote as if it were an inference to the source rather than a direct quote from the source.

My Scholarly Writing class is heavily focused on proper citation.  The students spend countless hours learning about the citation method (Bluebook) and how to properly attribute resources.  I also explain that one of the defining features of a law review article is the extensive use of footnotes, which means that the students should never feel the need to leave an idea unattributed.  I am not sure, however, that this was the case with the class and student paper in question.  

This paper was for a class that focused on the content of a particular area of law rather than on the ins and outs of writing a scholarly article. Although I was not present for every class, I am almost certain that there was not a large discussion of proper citation and plagiarism.  

Does this mean that plagiarism depends on the class and what is taught?  Or is plagiarism expected to be universally known and avoided?  These are things to be balanced and weighed when dealing with something as serious as plagiarism as an honor code violation in law school.

The William Mitchell Law Review has a great overview of its plagiarism policy here.  Many of the things presented in this policy coincide with what I teach in Scholarly Writing.  

For future reference, there is also a great guide from the University of Michigan Library on detecting plagiarism here

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