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Plagiarism

Guidance on Plagiarism¹

Plagiarism is the unacknowledged use of the work of others in examination scripts or assessed assignments as if it were original work. In the context of an examination, this will mean using the work of others as a candidate’s own to gain unfair advantage. The University’s guidelines state that Plagiarism is defined as submitting as one's own work, irrespective of intent to deceive, that which derives in part or in its entirety from the work of others without due acknowledgement. 

Note that when detected, plagiarism incurs serious penalties, which may extend to a failure to obtain a degree.  In line with University policy (above), the History Faculty also penalizes work which, without constituting plagiarism, still shows poor scholarly practices in failing to acknowledge with adequate clarity the contributions of others.  Such practices include acknowledging the work of historians only partially or citing primary source material you have not actually consulted; there is a full discussion of such practices below.  To avoid such penalties, candidates must leave examiners in no doubt as to which parts of any submission are original, which derivative.

Plagiarism can utilise many sources and media (books, journals, newspapers, websites, unpublished material, illustrations, data, and the work of other students).  It can be distinguished in the following ways:

  • quoting directly another person’s language, data or illustrations and suggesting, directly or indirectly, that it is original work by the author
  • paraphrasing sentences, paragraphs or complete arguments of others and presenting it as original work
  • using ideas taken from someone else without attribution
  • cutting and pasting from the Internet to make a collage
  • obtaining concealed, systematic and substantial support from another, including another candidate (other than as might be permitted for joint project work)

Self-evidently, historical research and writing are, in varying ways, collaborative.  All historians use original sources, habitually refer to the work of other historians, converse and debate, and hence, in order to demarcate what is original from what is derivative, conventions have developed.  These include:

  • citing sources, whether original or secondary, so that a reader can verify any such sources – for published works, this means giving an author’s name, the title of the work, the place and date of publication, and the page reference – for unpublished sources, it means citing the original document, its date (if known) and its present location (in an archive or elsewhere, including the writer’s personal possession)
  • placing words in inverted commas and providing a citation, if a text is quoted verbatim
  • giving a source, if an illustration or statistical data in a graphic form is used, and acknowledging any help from a collaborator or advisor
  • providing URLs for any material obtained from the internet and citing sources for other forms of electronic media (CD-Roms etc)
  • making clear when you are paraphrasing someone else’s argument, ensuring that this person is identified and that a reader knows where the source ends and you as the author resumes

Plagiarism and poor scholarly practice frequently arise from inadvertence.  In the course of your undergraduate career, you will make many notes on lectures, on various printed texts, even on conversations in supervisions and classes.  In such notes, it is important to distinguish between the ideas and language of others, and your own thoughts and language, or else it can be easy – after the lapse of months or even years – to forget who said what, and to imagine that what is borrowed from others is your own.

Traditionally, supervision essays were unannotated, as, by necessity, are all scripts in three-hour unseen examinations, but word-processing makes it easier for you to acquire the scholarly habits of furnishing footnotes and bibliographies in weekly essays.   In all circumstances it is imperative to place inverted commas around quotations and to attribute ideas to their original authors in your written text.

The Faculty style guide, which explains how to do footnotes and bibliographies in essays and dissertations, can be found here.

The following examples, drawn from Dr. Horrox’s handout, will help to show how these conventions work in practice.

A passage in Rosemary Horrox, “Service”, in Horrox, ed., Fifteenth-Century Attitudes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 61, reads:

Service has some claim to be considered the dominant ethic of the middle ages.  This essay is mainly concerned with the social and political manifestations of service, but it is important to recognize that these rested upon attitudes which were very deeply rooted in medieval society.  That society, to a degree which modern readers sometimes find disconcerting, was based on hierarchy.  Human society, mirroring the whole created universe, was arranged in order of importance.  There is no doubt that this orderliness was found satisfying in itself.  Medieval writing bears witness to a passion for arranging things in order and for resolving all the possible ambiguities and contradictions which might arise.  The minutely detailed lists of precedence to be found in late medieval courtesy books reflect not only a sense that it was socially important to seat people in the right order at the dinner table, but a sheer pleasure in working out the minutiae of relative status

If, in the following manner, you used this passage without attribution and quotation marks, even if the wording is slightly varied, you would be a plagiarist:

Service has some claim to be considered the dominant ethic of the middle ages.  It rested upon attitudes which were very deeply rooted in medieval society.  Society was based on hierarchy and arranged in order of importance.  The lists of precedence to be found in late medieval courtesy books reflect not only a sense that it was socially important to seat people in the right order at the dinner table, but pleasure in working out relative status.

Acknowledging the source in the narrative, but implying that your narrative is independent of the source and, by omitting annotation, making it difficult for your larceny to be detected, is no less plagiarism.  The following example constitutes an abuse because it implies that only the idea expressed in the first sentence is owed to Dr Horrox’s article and that what follows is the candidate’s own train of thought:

Horrox has made the point that service has some claim to be considered the dominant ethic of the middle ages.  We can see that it rested upon attitudes which were very deeply rooted in medieval society.  Society was based on hierarchy and arranged in order of importance.  The lists of precedence to be found in late medieval courtesy books reflect not only a sense that it was socially important to seat people in the right order at the dinner table, but pleasure in working out relative status.

This is an especially noteworthy example because it illustrates a common failing in undergraduate work, a failure which is often the result of careless rather than intentionally evasive writing. By contrast, compare the following paragraph which avoids plagiarism because it quotes Horrox directly and provides annotation: 

As Horrox has said, “Service has some claim to be considered the dominant ethic of the middle ages.”  This is because “society, to a degree which modern readers sometimes find disconcerting, was based on hierarchy.  Human society, mirroring the whole created universe, was arranged in order of importance”.  She further suggests that “this orderliness was found satisfying in itself” and uses the example of late medieval courtesy books to demonstrate this “sheer pleasure in working out the minutiae of relative status”.2

This is far from model academic prose, however. By carefully dismembering Dr Horrox’s sentences and attributing each component to her our hypothetical author is safe from the charge of plagiarism. But this formulation still implies a selectivity which is in fact illusory because nothing of any substance has been omitted from the original. It would be better, because more succinct and considered, to write:

Horrox has argued that “service has some claim to be considered the dominant ethic of the middle ages”.  She links this to the contemporary emphasis on hierarchy, as reflected in the courtesy books.3

Still better, because it shows understanding of the source and takes a critical position, would be:

Horrox has argued that “service has some claim to be considered the dominant ethic of the middle ages”, but the discussion which follows is concerned only with male manifestations of service. 4 If we consider the role of women . . .

Another unacceptable and fairly common habit is derivative citation without clear acknowledgement. This is poor scholarly practice for two reasons. First, it implies that you have read material which you have not. Secondly, it tends to downplay the role of the modern historian whose work contains the references. You commit this error if your footnote reads:

Stains, Lucubrations on the State of the Nation, Boston 1860 

instead of giving the extra information required:   

    Obadiah Stains, Lucubrations on the State of the Nation, Boston 1860, as cited by Nemo Niemand in his article mentioned above, note 7.

The same standard of transparency applies to modern secondary literature: if you haven’t read it but are citing it at one remove via another piece of academic work, you MUST cite it as known to you BY THAT ROUTE, as in the following example:

       E. Cortese, La norma giuridica, vol. 1, pp. 166-8, as cited by Nemo Niemand in his article ‘Law     

       and Politics’, p. 7


[1] This document draws upon the University-wide statement on plagiarism, and Dr Rosemary Horrox’s handout, given to first-year undergraduates in a Study Skills session, provided by the Faculty of History.

[2] Rosemary Horrox, “Service”, in Horrox, ed., Fifteenth-Century Attitudes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 61.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

 

The Faculty of History uses Turnitin UK software to detect plagiarism in assessed work. More information is available here.