Correct Citations and Plagiarism
Plagiarism is probably the most severe issue of misconduct that can happen during writing. The consequences of plagiarism are quite severe, and can go beyond the thesis and also affect further studies.
Plagiarism happens whenever you use the words of others without marking them correctly, so that the reader is not aware that they are not your own. With words, we mean complete paragraphs, sentences, but also parts of sentences. Also translations from one language to another are a form of plagiarism.
When your thesis is graded, plagiarism is usually easily detected. Not only by automated tools that compare the document with others. It is usually also simple to spot places in the text that are copied from somewhere else. Without going into details, they just “smell different” when reading.
We can distinguish two forms of plagiarism:
- Intentional: In this case, the writer copies information from somewhere else without credit, and with the intention to present these ideas as their own.
- Unintentional: More often happens a form of plagiarism without bad intentions, but simply because of lack of knowledge, naivety, or bad craftsmanship during writing.
There are also situations in between, where it is not clear if the author attempts to cheat or is just a clumsy writer. Assuming that you have no bad intentions, we will therefore in the following focus on how to avoid unintentional forms of plagiarism.
The key is that you must actively work to avoid ambiguous situations in which it is not clear which parts of a text are citations and which are your own words. Always make it obvious which words are taken from others and cite technically correctly.
As a guideline: It must be possible for the reader to highlight with a marker pen exactly those words that you have taken or adapted from other sources. Double-check if it is possible for a reader to misunderstand. If yes, mark the citations better. If you have doubts, ask your supervisor.
The rule for words also holds for figures, including illustrations, diagrams and photos. It must be clear if you copied a figure, if you made changes to an existing one, or if developed and developed a figure completely on your own. Include the corresponding information in the caption of the figure.
As a guideline:
- If you take a figure from somewhere else, include the sentence “Taken from [X].” in the caption, where X is the proper reference (including, if appropriate, the page number).
- If you take a figure from somewhere else but make modifications to it, include the sentence “Adapted from [Y].”
- If you do not refer to any other source, you implicitly state that you have created the figure on your own. Again, it is your responsibility to avoid any misunderstandings.
Avoid Copy/Paste Accidents. Never even copy and paste text from somewhere else into your work without immediately marking it with a reference. In this way, you never come into a situation where you are unsure if a snippet of text originates from you or somebody else.