Using Someone Else’s Ideas and Thoughts Without Citation…Isn’t Right

Currently, one of the hot topics on our campus is Academic Integrity.  If you look at the Office of Undergraduate Studies website you will find many resources telling students what constitutes Academic Integrity, and what the consequences are when students cross the line.  51% of the issues reported last year appear to be about a specific form of academic dishonestly known as plagiarism.

On our campus, plagiarism is defined by the UM Collected Rules and Regulations (200.010 – as “The term plagiarism includes, but is not limited to: (i) use by paraphrase or direct quotation of the published or unpublished work of another person without fully and properly crediting the author with footnotes, citations or bibliographical reference; (ii) unacknowledged use of materials prepared by another person or agency engaged in the selling of term papers or other academic materials; or (iii) unacknowledged use of original work/material that has been produced through collaboration with others without release in writing from collaborators.”

Missouri S&T is very strict with our students, and the university has set up sanctions for these actions depending on their severity. But what about when plagiarism happens in “real life?” Are there consequences? In short, yes—and they’re often far more serious and long-lasting than a simple failing grade. In “real life”, plagiarism can result in a loss of trust and professional status, which can have a very real impact on one’s livelihood. Even in cases of unintentional plagiarism the process to correct a non-citation can be long and painful. I recently talked with an instructor on our campus who had just gone through an experience where her work had been co-opted by another author.

Dr. Kate Sheppard is an instructor on our campus for the History and Political Science department.  She works hard as an instructor and a researcher.  She is always working to know about her area of specialization and interest so that she can continue to publish papers, give talks and write her next book.  She was excited when she found what she thought was a new article on Margaret Murray.  She was shocked when she realized that there was nothing new in this article but that the author had taken Dr. Sheppard’s own book and other papers and put them in a condensed form in this article.  It’s not word- for-word copying but if you look at our definition of plagiarism, isn’t that what this author did?

Technology makes our lives easier every day and it is incredibly easy to find the authors of papers and books today, many of whom are very happy to collaborate with you and help further the academic pursuit of a topic that they may be very passionate about.  Instead, Dr. Sheppard spent many hours trying to clear this issue up.  All she wanted was credit for her thoughts and ideas.  Here is a link to her original blog post about what happened to her.

Dr. Sheppard was able to work with the publisher to get the issue resolved. The publisher edited the online article to give credit to Dr. Sheppard where it was due. That’s what Dr. Sheppard had asked for along.  Here is Dr. Sheppard’s update on this issue.

When we are working with students and colleagues we need to let them know that plagiarism—even unintentional plagiarism—is wrong. Unless otherwise stated, thoughts, ideas, conclusions based on research belong to the person who did the work and we should honor that with the correct citations.  Give credit where it is due.

Written in collaboration with Raz Kerwin.