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In academia, the expression of ideas is considered intellectual property as long as they
are recorded digitally or in books/journals. When a person presents someone else’s
work as his/her own new idea, s/he commits plagiarism. Instead of the original source,
s/he unjustifiably claims credit for the work. To put it bluntly, plagiarism is an act of fraud
because it is intended to deceive the readers. Sometimes, students misinterpret it as
‘copying’ or ‘borrowing’ someone else’s ideas. However, these are euphemisms for a
much more serious offence.
In this article, we look into what constitutes plagiarism, why it should be avoided in the
first place, and how to do so.

What constitutes plagiarism?

Works that have been published in the past are used constantly in ongoing research.
They are analysed, criticised, praised with supporting arguments or used as supporting
arguments in ongoing works. However, these ideas have to be properly credited to their
authors. Otherwise, it is plagiarism. Some common ways in which students commit
plagiarism, intentionally or unintentionally, are when they –
● Fail to quote the source when copying a quotation from a source
● Inadequately paraphrase, i.e. change a few words but retain the sentence
structure without giving credit to the source
● Fail to make clear distinction between someone else’s idea and your own
● Copy majority of some old paper with few minor inputs, with or without giving
credit
● Inaccurately present a text such that it is taken out of context

How to avoid plagiarism?

Special care must be taken while using other’s ideas.
● The rule of thumb that you must adhere to is citing sources properly. Whenever
an idea is not your own, you should always credit the source whether you have
quoted it or paraphrased it.
● ‘Cite as you write’ because you might forget to do so later and inadvertently pass
off some ideas which are not your own as yours.
● When a sentence or quotation is used verbatim in your work, the text should be
quoted and the source cited right there.

● When your idea draws heavily from an old text, it is easy to lose track of your
own idea and those in your sources. It is better if you keep your own writing and
your sources’ separate.
● You must make clear what what you have borrowed and what is genuinely your
own work by citing the source each time an old text is used.
● Avoid submissions that can be broadly sourced to an old idea and have only few
additional inputs of your own.
● Do not incorporate in your writing, ideas of others that you do not properly
understand. Confer with your instructor about your confusions and then represent
those ideas accurately.
● After submission, if you find that another source presents the same ideas as
yours, do not dismiss it. It will be noticed by someone. Talk to your guide.

There are certain widely known facts and ideas which are considered common
knowledge. Unique facts and ideas that have been formed as a result of an individual’s
work aren’t. So, they have to be cited. However, it is sometimes difficult to recognise
what or what not to cite in academic writing. For example, that the molecular mass of
water is 18 grams is common knowledge. However, the different ways in which this can
be calculated is not commonly known. It is generally safe to cite sources when you are
not sure if something is commonly known.

Why should you care not to commit plagiarism?

When you are assigned any academic work, you are expected to figure out what you
think about something and not copy someone else’s thoughts. You are expected to
analyse old ideas and develop your own. You contribute to an academic discussion only
when you acknowledge what is truly your own work and what is not. When you provide
a citation, you guide the readers of your work to old works that you have built on.

How to check whether a report you have written is plagiarised or not?

There are many softwares that can be used to assess the similarity index of a report (in
% terms). It is upon the discretion of the instructor to assess whether or not something
is plagiarised and to what extent. A commonly used tool is TurnitinOriginalityCheck.
Turnitin compares the contents of a submission against an archive of internet sources,
publications, journals and student papers and provides a provides a similarity report
which is a summary of matching or similar areas of text found. The Similarity Index
generated is a pointer of how original is the submission. This is then used by the
instructor to determine whether the submission is acceptable.

IIT Bombay provides students the facility to use turnitin account to assess the similarity
index in their reports. To create and activate your turnitin account, write an email to
journals@iitb.ac.in requesting the same. The mail should contain your First Name, Last
name, Roll Number and gpo email ID. Within a day or two, the library creates and
activates your account and replies with your turnitin user ID (gpo email ID) and
password. Then you can simply login and access the tool.
We, as students, are a part of a global academic community which thrives on originality
of ideas and the subsequent discussions that follow. Acknowledging others’ work when
we use them maintains the vibrancy of this community and incentivises our colleagues
to reciprocate our faith in intellectual property rights.

This article first appeared in volume 20 issue 1 (Feb’18) of Insight IIT Bombay. You can
find the rest of the articles at https://issuu.com/insightiitbombay/docs/insight-2.2