WriteCheck Blog

Does Copying Only 10 Words Constitute Plagiarism?

The New York Times recently published an article in it’s Arts Beat section that gave a perspective on dissertation plagiarism from Dora D. Clarke-Pine, a professor of psychology from La Sierra University. Professor Clarke-Pine conducted a study to examine dissertation plagiarism by evaluating a sample of papers from psychology students at universities across the country. She also made a clear distinction between religious and non-religious universities to see if ‘moral values’ played into the incidence of plagiarism.

Her findings were pretty much what we’ve come to expect as far as high percentages of copied materials. From the NY Times:

“Four of every five dissertations examined contained examples of word-for-word plagiarism. Ms. Clarke-Pine found no difference between religious and secular schools.”

The study yielded the interesting notation that there wasn’t any distinction in plagiarism between religious and non-religious schools. Ms. Clark-Pine originally thought there might be a lower incidence of plagiarism in religious schools because of stricter moral codes that would deter students from cheating. The lack of differential could be taken as an indicator that students across the board were accidentally plagiarizing, or didn’t know exactly how to define plagiarism.

One part of the study that took heat was Ms. Clark-Pine’s methods for determining what constitutes plagiarism. In her study, she considered plagiarism as ‘copying 10 or more words without proper attribution.’ Many opponents of the study voiced their opinion that copying 10 or more words could be entirely accidental due to the limited constraints that certain phrases can be structured.

One article comment poster, “norman,” wrote:

“I'd like to see Clarke-Pine's paper. Defining plagiarism as copying 10 or more words sounds awfully slippery. If I write a sentence of 10 words on a common theme that can be found somewhere with a Google search or somewhere in a term-paper database, is that copying or coincidence?”

Although it is true that cases of accidental plagiarism can potentially occur, that doesn’t mean that many of the word-for-word matches in the study weren’t intentional cases of plagiarism. There is only a finite number of ways to structure a particular phrase or sentence, but that’s exactly what makes the content unique.

Some of the greatest words and phrases in written history have been ten words and under:

“Words may show a man's wit but actions his meaning.” - Ben Franklin “An unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates “Poetry is what is lost in translation.” - Robert Frost

Though some cases of plagiarism may be accidental, that doesn’t mean papers shouldn’t be checked. Even if one single case of intentional plagiarism is discovered by checking hundreds of papers – it’s worth it.

Citations Cohen, Patricia. “Thinking Cap: The Seemingly Persistent Rise of Plagiarism.” The New York Times. August 23rd 2011. http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/08/23/thinking-cap-the-seemingly-persistent-rise-of-plagiarism/

Proverbia.net Quotes http://en.proverbia.net/citastemas.asp

Social Networking dissertation plagiarism, research plagiarism, student plagiarism, what is plagiarism

Published on by davidr.