Plagiarism 3

Version 1.2, drawing on comments below. I think that this will be a way to engage students with the ideas, to get them to decide that it’s wrong and work out why, and leave room for instructors to get across their own feelings on the subject. Probably more effective for that. Apologies for writing out links, but this will also be a paper coursepack and so they need to be usable in both forms. Now that I’ve drawn on other folks’ ideas, how should I credit them? My thought is to give a footnoted link in the coursepack to the discussion we’ve had here (not least as a further demonstration of writing, drafting and process).

Plagiarism means:
o Repeating someone’s words without attributing them or putting them in quotation marks. Making a few superficial changes to a text is still plagiarism.
o Repeating someone’s argument without referring to the source.
Typical examples of plagiarism include copying direct from a book or another student’s work, and cutting and pasting from internet sites.

Plagiarism is not just an assessment issue, but a moral and ethical one, because it involves the theft of someone else’s ideas and research. The university takes a firm line on it: students found guilty of a first offence receive a mark of 0 for that piece of work, and repeat offenders will receive 0 for the entire course and may be deregistered.

Some commentators have suggested that an increasing reliance on coursework as a means of assessment and the rise of the internet has increased the incidence of plagiarism. Certainly these factors can be seen to have made it easier – but it is notable that this is not just a student problem. In recent highly publicised cases, bureaucrats and historians have also been accused of plagiarism. In 2002, for example, the late Stephen Ambrose, an extremely successful American popular historian, was criticised for repeatedly using other people’s words without quotation marks (a summary of the ‘case for the prosecution’ can be found here: In 2003, material produced by the British government to support its case for going to war against Iraq was revealed to have been copied from, amongst other places, a thirteen year-old PhD thesis (a story outlined here:,,973116,00.html).

Most historians find plagiarism deeply upsetting, so it is worth spending some time discussing how it occurs and how it can be avoided.

In groups, discuss answers to the following:

1. Why do historians – students or otherwise – plagiarise? Is there such a thing as ‘inadvertent plagiarism’? How can you tell the difference between accidental and deliberate plagiarism? Should the two be treated differently?

2. What are the consequences of plagiarism – detected and undetected, punished or otherwise – for the individuals involved (plagiariser and plagiarised), for the profession as a whole, and for society more widely?

3. Does it matter? Why does finding plagiarism cause such distress to staff? Should we (staff and students) be bothered about it, if this is something that occurs elsewhere without apparent penalty?

3. How is plagiarism detected? How do we spot it – in books, essays or elsewhere?

4. How can we deter plagiarism? How can you avoid having your own work plagiarised by others, and how should lecturers try to ensure that it doesn’t happen on their courses?


2 Responses to Plagiarism 3

  1. Jack says:

    I’d spotted this and think that making them discuss and debate is an excellent, constructive idea and a very shrewd move.

  2. Alan Allport says:

    I think this is much better than the original draft and a lot more effective.

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