Note On Plagiarism

Authors: Prabhu Ramachandran and P. M. Mujumdar
What is plagiarism?
The WordNet dictionary [1] defines plagiarism as:
    1: a piece of writing that has been copied from someone else and is
        presented as being your own work.
    2: the act of plagiarizing; taking someone's words or ideas as if they
        were your own.

There are two key issues here. The first is copying material from elsewhere and the second is presenting someone else's work/ideas/words as being your own. One may certainly quote others but judiciously and with due attribution, following norms and procedures established for the same.
We will get to more specific instances of what constitutes plagiarism subsequently.

Why should you never plagiarize?
       1. It is dishonest.
       2. It is theft.
       3. It is highly unethical and unprofessional.

By not citing the original author you are denying the original author their due credit. This is independent of whether you do it knowingly or unwittingly.
In academia, the consequences of plagiarism can be extreme. Plagiarism is considered to be a very significant breach of professional ethics. Plagiarism can ruin entire careers and can land you in legal trouble as well.

Degrees of plagiarism

The IEEE IPR Office tutorial [2] classifies plagiarism into 5 different "levels" each with different levels of corrective action.

At the highest level is where an author copies verbatim more than 50% of an article without citation. Level 2 and 3 are similar but involve smaller amounts. The action taken against level 1 offenders is severe and completely career destroying and extremely shameful.

At the lowest level is level 5 where there is significant verbatim copying with proper attribution but without proper indication of the same via either quotation marks or indentation. A level 5 plagiarism is still plagiarism and unacceptable.

This makes it very clear that the best recourse is to write everything in your own words and give proper credit for the original information.

The definition of plagiarism affects all publicly available material. This includes, articles, books, journals, presentations, web pages, art (music, video, photographs), data (or interpretation thereof) and any electronic media. It even includes unpublished material, which one may have obtained say from one's peers through personal communication.

Compulsory reading
You are instructed to read and understand the following articles.
This is a presentation [1] from IEEE and must be read in its entirety:

The section on "Ethical obligations of Authors" in the following web page [3] must be read and understood:

General reading
Plenty of information is available here in a rather easy to read manner:

The wikipedia page on plagiarism is also worth reading:

This FAQ is also a useful resource.

Q&A (for Seminar Students)

  • Why can't I take material from somewhere for my seminar? After all, I don't know anything in the field and I am supposed to use existing material, so why can't I just take material from elsewhere, cite the sources and collect it all together?


  • Ans. You may certainly collect material and cite the sources as one would do in a good review article, but it is unacceptable to use the same language. In other words, you cannot reproduce the text verbatim or even with only minor changes. If you are merely copying text from some source and putting it together, we don't need you, we have Google that does a far better job of finding and collecting material.
    Ideally, you cite the reference of a particular idea and explain those in your own words. Obviously, you cannot change certain keywords but you should definitely write the explanation and sentence it in your own words. This is very important.


  • What about figures? Can't they be copied verbatim?


  • Ans. In journals, you cannot reproduce a figure, even with due citation! The reason is that the manuscript from where you copied the figure is copyrighted by the publisher or author (or both). You must explicitly request for permission to reproduce. If you look at papers in good journals that reproduce figures, they will actually say "reproduced from ABC with permission from XYZ" where XYZ is a copyright holder and ABC is the reference. Often this depends on the nature of the copyright. If the data is public domain then it may be used (again with due citation).
    You may typically reuse published data by resorting to extracting the data from the figure/table. What is unacceptable is verbatim reproduction.
    In the case of seminars (or any unpublished report/presentation), if you must include figures from elsewhere you may do the following:

    1. If it is an easy to draw picture, draw it yourself as your own interpretation. For example, this is easily possible in case of block diagrams

    2. In case of graphs, if exact quantitative information is not being used in your discussion of the figure, the graph can be drawn by you to show the trends.

    3. If the picture is not easy to draw (like a photo), or quantitative information needs to be shown, you may copy paste it but only by explicitly mentioning in the caption the following text: "Figure reproduced from ABC[ref]".

    4. Try to title the figures on your own depending upon the context in which you are using these figures in your text

Quiz question

  • Is it correct to take a cartoon (say Calvin and Hobbes) and publish it in the institute Insight magazine?


Our thanks to Prof. S. P. Bhat for the links to the IEEE related documents on this subject. Thanks also to Prof. B. Roy for similar links to ASME and AIAA.
[1](1, 2) George A. Miller et al. WordNet r 2.1 (2005),