- "Definition of Plagiarism"
By Harold C. Martin
The academic counterpart of the bank embezzler and of the manufacturer who mislabels his products is the plagiarist: the student or scholar who leads his reader to believe that what he is reading is the original work of the writer when it is not. If it could be assumed that the distinction between plagiarism and honest use of sources is perfectly clear in everyone’s mind, there would be no need for the explanation that follows; merely the warning with which this definition concludes would be enough. But it is apparent that sometimes men of good will draw the suspicion of guilt upon themselves (and, indeed, are guilty) simply because they are not aware of the illegitimacy of certain kinds of "borrowing" and of the procedures for correct identification of materials other than those gained through independent research and reflection.
The spectrum is a wide one. At one end there is a word-for-word copying of another’s writing without enclosing the copied passage in quotation marks and identifying it in a footnote, both of which are necessary. (This includes, of course, the copying of all or any part of another student’s paper.) It hardly seems possible that anyone of college age or more could do that without clear intent to deceive. At the other end there is the almost casual slipping in of a particularly apt term, which one has come across in reading and which so admirably expresses one’s opinion that one is tempted to make it personal property. Between these poles there are degrees and degrees, but they may be roughly placed in two groups. Close to outright and blatant deceit—but more the result perhaps, of laziness than of bad intent—is the patching together of random jottings made in the course of reading, generally without careful identification of their source, and then woven into the text, so that the result is a mosaic of other people’s ideas and words, the writer’s sole contribution being the cement to hold the pieces together. Indicative of more effort and, for that reason, somewhat closer to honesty, though still dishonest, is the paraphrase, an abbreviated (and often skillfully prepared) restatement of someone else’s analysis or conclusion, without acknowledgment that another person’s text has been the basis for the recapitulation. The examples given below should make clear the dishonest and the proper use of source material. If instances occur which these examples do not seem to cover, conscience will in all likelihood be prepared to supply advice.
1 From Harold C. Martin, Richard M. Ohman, and James Wheatly, The Logic and Rhetoric of Expansion, 3rd ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969. University Standards and Regulation
- The Source
The importance of the Second Treatise of Government printed in this volume is such that without it we should miss some of the familiar features of our own government. It is safe to assert that the much criticized branch known as the Supreme Court obtained its being as a result of Locke’s insistence upon the separation of powers; and that the combination of many powers in the hands of the executive under the New Deal has still to encounter opposition because it is contrary to the principles enunciated therein, the effect of which is not spent, though the relationship may not be consciously traced. Again we see the crystallizing force of Locke’s writing. It renders explicit and adapts to the British politics of his day the trend and aim of writers from Languet and Bodin through Hooker and Grotius, to say nothing of the distant ancients, Aristotle and the Stoic school of natural law. It sums up magisterially the arguments used through the ages to attack authority vested in a single individual, but it does so from the particular point of view engendered by the Revolution of 1688 and is in harmony with the British scene and mental climate of the growing bourgeoisie of that age. Montesquieu and Rousseau, the framers of our own Declaration of Independence, and the statesmen (or should we say merchants and spectators?) who drew up the Constitution have re-echoed its claims for human liberty, for the separation of powers, for the sanctity of private property. In the hands of these it has been the quarry of liberal doctrines; and that it has served the Socialist theory of property based on labor is its final proof of breadth of view.2
2 Charles L. Sherman, ed., Introduction to John Locke: "Treatise on Civil Government" and a "Letter Concerning Toleration." New York: Appleton-Century Crofts, 1937.
- Word-for-word Plagiarizing
It is not hard to see the importance of the Second Treatise of Government to our own democracy. Without it we should miss some of the most familiar features of our own government. It is safe to assert that the much criticized branch known as the Supreme Court obtained its being as a result of Locke’s insistence upon the separation of powers; and that the combination of many powers in the hands of the executive under the New Deal has still to encounter opposition because it is contrary to the principles enunciated therein, the effect of which is not spent, though the relationship may not be consciously traced. The framers of our own Declaration of Independence and the statesmen who drew up the Constitution have re-echoed its claims for human liberty, for the separation of powers, for the sanctity of private property. All these are marks of the influence of Locke’s Second Treatise on our own way of life.
In this example, after composing half of a first sentence, the writer copies exactly what is in the original text, leaving out the center section of the paragraph and omitting the names of Montesquieu and Rousseau where he takes up the text again. The last sentence is also the writer’s own.
If the writer had enclosed all the copied text in quotation marks and had identified the source in a footnote, he would not have been liable to the charge of plagiarism; a reader might justifiably have felt, however, that the writer’s personal contribution to the discussion was not very significant.
- The Mosaic
The crystallizing force of Locke’s writing may be seen in the effect his Second Treatise of Government had in shaping some of the familiar features of our own government. That much criticized branch known as the Supreme Court and the combination of many powers in the hands of the executive under the New Deal are modern examples. But even the foundations of our state—the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—have re-echoed its claims for human liberty, for the separation of powers, for the sanctity of private property. True, the influence of others is also marked in our Constitution—from the trend and aim of writers like Languet and Bodin, Hooker and Grotius, to say nothing of Aristotle and the Stoic school of natural law; but the fundamental influence is Locke’s Treatise, the very quarry of liberal doctrines.
Note how the following phrases have been lifted out of the original text and moved into new patterns:
- crystallizing force of Locke’s writing
- some of the familiar features of our own government
- much criticized branch known as the Supreme Court
- combination of many powers in the hands of the executive under the New Deal
- have re-echoed its claims for human liberty . . . property
- from the trend and aim . . . Grotius
- to say nothing of Aristotle and . . . natural law
- quarry of liberal doctrines
As in the first example, there is really no way of legitimizing such a procedure. To put every stolen phrase within quotation marks would produce an almost unreadable, and quite worthless, text.
- The Paraphrase
Paraphrase: Many fundamental aspects of our own government are
Original: Many familiar features of our own government are
P: apparent in the Second Treatise of Government. One can safely
O: apparent in the Second Treatise of Government. It is safe to
P: say that the oft-censured Supreme Court really owes its existence
O: assert that the much criticized . . . court obtained its being as
P: once to the Lockeian demand that powers in government be kept
O: a result of Locke’s insistence upon the separation of powers;
P: separate; equally one can say that the allocation of varied
O: and that the combination of many powers
P: and widespread authority to the president during the era of
O: in the hands of the executive under the
P: the New Deal has still to encounter opposition because it is
O: New Deal has still to encounter opposition because it is
P: contrary to the principles enunciated therein . . . Once more it
O: contrary to the principles enunciated therein . . . Again we see
P: is possible to note the way in which Locke’s writing clarified existing opinion
O: the crystallizing force of Locke’s writing.
The foregoing interlinear presentation shows clearly how the writer has simply traveled along with the original text, substituting approximately equivalent terms except where his understanding fails him, as it does with "crystallizing," or where the ambiguity of the original is too great a tax on his ingenuity for him to proceed, as it is with "to encounter opposition... consciously traced" in the original.
Such a procedure as the one shown in this example has its uses; for one thing, it is valuable for the student’s own understanding of the passage; and it may be valuable for the reader as well. How, then, may it be properly used? The procedure is simple. The writer might begin the second sentence with: "As Sherman notes in the introduction to his edition of the Treatise, one can safely say . . ." and conclude the paraphrased passage with a footnote giving the additional identification necessary. Or he might indicate directly the exact nature of what he is doing, in this fashion: "To paraphrase Sherman’s comment . . ." and conclude that also with a footnote indicator.
In point of fact this source does not particularly lend itself to honest paraphrase, with the exception of that one sentence which the paraphraser above copied without change except for abridgement. The purpose of paraphrase should be to simplify or to throw a new and significant light on a text; it requires much skill if it is to be honestly used and should rarely be resorted to by the student except for the purpose, as was suggested above, of his personal enlightenment.
- The "Apt" Term
The Second Treatise of Government is a veritable quarry of liberal doctrines. In it the crystallizing force of Locke’s writing is markedly apparent. The cause of human liberty, the principle of separation of powers, and the inviolability of private property—all three, major dogmas of American constitutionalism—owe their presence in our Constitution in large part to the remarkable Treatise, which first appeared around 1685 and was destined to spark, within three years, a revolution in the land of its author’s birth and, ninety years later, another revolution against that land.
Here the writer has not been able to resist the appropriation of two striking terms—"quarry of liberal doctrines" and "crystallizing force"; a perfectly proper use of the terms would have required only the addition of a phrase; The Second Treatise of Government is, to use Sherman’s suggestive expression, a "quarry of liberal doctrines." In it the "crystallizing force"—the term again is Sherman’s—of Locke’s writing is markedly apparent. Other phrases in the text above—"the cause of human liberty," "the principle of the separation of powers," "the inviolability of private property"—are clearly drawn directly from the original source but are so much matters in the public domain, so to speak, that no one could reasonably object to their re-use in this fashion.
Since one of the principal aims of a college education is the development of intellectual honesty, it is obvious that plagiarism is a particularly serious offense, and the punishment for it is commensurately severe. What a penalized student suffers can never really be known by anyone but himself; what the student who plagiarizes and "gets away with it" suffers is less public and probably less acute, but the corruptness of his act, the disloyalty and baseness it entails, must inevitably leave a mark on him as well as on the institution of which he is a member.
Mr. Martin’s remarks cover the use of written sources. A number of problems also arise that have to do with use of ideas picked up in the classroom or in conversations. In general, it is not necessary to give credit to Professor A for his ideas in a paper submitted to him; but a paper submitted to Professor B should acknowledge Professor A’s influence. Discussion with other students will produce understanding of a general sort that need not be traced to its origin, but whenever discussion contributes something specific to the writing of a paper, that contribution should be noted. In ambiguous cases it is best to err on the side of being overscrupulous. Finally, it is legitimate to have a friend read a draft of a paper and comment on its clarity, logic, or accuracy. Such assistance should be acknowledged; and in no case should the assistance extend to rewriting.
It is impossible, in a brief treatment of this sort, to anticipate every problem that can arise in the use of sources. But the principle is clear: Always give credit for ideas and phrasings that do not originate with you, except when they are commonplace or when they are so familiar in the context of a given course that the instructor could not mistake your intention. This is a rigorous principle, rigorously applied at Wesleyan. It is also an honorable one, and adherence to it is one of the satisfactions of a mature student who is getting an honest education.