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An essential aspect of academic writing is avoiding plagiarism

It is our second course week for MAIS 606 Academic Writing for Graduate Students, and our reading assignments and discussion focus on thoroughly understanding and learning the means to avoid committing plagiarism. This subject is essential for writing and students must clearly understand this topic at the beginning. It is so important that we had to comprehensively discuss it during our first teleconference with our professor, Dr. Michael Volek, and that we had to sign a declaration that we understand Athabasca University’s policy on academic misconduct and that we completed the online exercise on plagiarism. But why is this topic so important? What is plagiarism and is it even possible to plagiarize our own work?

Stealing is unethical and, in any society, it is punishable by law. The principle of protecting and respecting other people’s property, whether it is physical or intellectual, is applicable in all situations including in the practice of writing. In fact, the Copyright Act of Canada (Justice Laws Website) has strict directives to protect the owners’ intellectual property rights. According to an online article entitled Plagiarism in Canada: Laws, Consequences and Solution, “plagiarism affects both the original writer and the content creator” (Copyleaks) because such an immoral act creates injustice to the rightful author and negatively affects the credibility of the perpetrator when the readers discover that they committed plagiarism. Because such an act of stealing is detrimental to one’s reputation and it is also punishable by law, it is essential that we be well-informed of what constitutes an act of plagiarism and how to mitigate both deliberate or unintentional copyright infraction.

Swales and Feak (196) defines plagiarism as “the conscious copying from the work of others.” The deliberate copying occurs when a writer uses the language or ideas from other published without the proper attribution. Hence, it is important that we remain honest with our writing process and practice the appropriate citation method. When borrowing another author’s language verbatim, we need to properly cite the original author. The same is true with paraphrasing the work of others, it crucial that we properly cite the work according the required citation style for an academic assignment. In this case, the Purdue Owl website is a very useful online resource that provides guidance to avoid plagiarism as well as detailed instructions for different citation styles (Purdue Writing Lab).

A very important point highlighted by the textbook Academic Writing for Graduate Students is that “university plagiarism policies are readily available on the internet” and that it is necessary to “read through the plagiarism policy of your institution and become familiar with it” (Swales and Feak, 198). In our case, we have to be familiar with the Athabasca University (AU) page on Academic Misconduct, and I quote the AU policy on plagiarism:

“Plagiarism involves submitting or presenting work in a course as if that work were the student’s own, when, in fact, it was not. Often plagiarism exists when:

1. the work submitted was done in whole or in part, by an individual other than the person submitting the work;

2. the whole or parts of a work are taken from another source without reference to the original author, publication, journal or Internet source;

3. the whole or parts of the coursework submitted lacks citations even though a list of sources is provided;

4. the coursework has been copied in whole or in part from an individual, a textbook, a solution manual, the Internet or any other source; and

5. when paid or professional editors are used inappropriately. Students are encouraged to contact the individual to whom their coursework is being submitted to discuss their plan on the use of an editor prior to submission of their coursework.” (Student Academic Misconduct Policy)

It is clear that copying the language and ideas of others is no doubt an act of plagiarism. The tricky question is that is it even possible to commit self-plagiarism. The simple answer is yes, and it happens if we use our lines or ideas from previous submitted paper or published works without the proper attribution. According to the Scribbr website, “self-plagiarism misleads your readers by presenting old work as completely new and original” (Streefkerk). It is still possible to use data, ideas or language from your previous paper, but what is important is that “you should always inform the reader of this by citing your own work” (Streefkerk).

In order to be certain that I fully understand what is self-plagiarism and what is not, I ensured that I had discussed it with Dr. Volek during with my one-on-one teleconference with him earlier this week. He clarified that self-plagiarism applies to published work, previously submitted papers, and other paid written work. It does not include informal writing exercises during the course, including our blog entries and forum posts. As a matter of fact, our blog and forum posts can be used as a tool to prepare for our major assignments during the course. Morever, Dr. Volek confirmed to me that it is possible to use our forum posts to develop our blog entries about our writing process and vice versa. For me, it makes perfect sense because writing is a process and that we can use our blog and forum entries as drafts that we can use for developing our other written works. The key thing is that we should not be taking elements from our published work, previously submitted papers, and other paid written work without the proper citation and full disclosure to the readers.

In conclusion, I want to highlight Swales’ and Feak’s (208) key points that as an academic writer, we should present an idea in our own words in order to demonstrate that we clearly understood that text, and to properly attribute any borrowed ideas. In an event where it is necessary to quote some lines from another author, we need to ensure that we practice the correct way of quoting another work and applying the appropriate citation style. Finally, borrowed texts or ideas from other works should be used as evidences or supporting arguments to thesis, therefore, it is important that we elaborate, provide examples, and support our claims through the logical citation of factual evidences and logical explanation.

Works Cited

Justice Laws Website. “Consolidated Federal Laws of Canada, Copyright Act.” Copyright Act, 12 Jan. 2021, laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-42/Index.html.

“Plagiarism in Canada: Laws, Consequences, and Solution.” Copyleaks, 20 Oct. 2020, copyleaks.com/blog/plagiarism-in-canada-laws-consequences-solution/#:~:text=Canada%20is%20a%20country%20where,diminishing%20the%20content%20creator's%20credibility.

Purdue Writing Lab. “Guide Overview // Purdue Writing Lab.” Purdue Writing Lab, owl.purdue.edu/owl/avoiding_plagiarism/guide_overview%20.html.

Streefkerk, Raimo. “What Exactly Is Self-Plagiarism and What Are the Consequences?” Scribbr, 20 Nov. 2019, www.scribbr.com/plagiarism/self-plagiarism/#:~:text=Plagiarism%20generally%20involves%20using%20other,or%20submitted%20for%20a%20class.

“Student Academic Misconduct Policy.” 2020 Undergraduate Calendar, Athabasca University, calendar.athabascau.ca/undergrad/current/student-code/academic-misconduct-offences.php#plagiarism.

Swales, John M., and Christine B. Feak. Academic Writing for Graduate Students. 3rd ed., University of Michigan, 2012.

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