Hi Lisa & Elizabeth,

I find this to be an extremely revealing topic with lots of 
complexities. I also think that the moral stance many take toward it 
is not very helpful, it often hinders a genuine exploration of 
plagiarism from social, cultural and linguistic points of view. And, 
I think Lisa's question calls  for just such a multifaceted analysis 
since her concern has to do with an international, non-native English 
speaking group of students.

What counts as plagiarism in practice, no matter what definition you 
use, is never clear cut even in American academia. (For evidence, see 
many recent "scandals" of  various kinds including this fascinating 
one . Note in 
particular the justifications given by the "culprits"; for people who 
should presumably know better, they are remarkably similar to those 
of students.) Even the exhaustive definition below is inadequate. FOr 
instance, does "4. Borrowing facts, statistics, or illustrative 
material " mean that one must provide a citation for the "fact" that 
Columbus sailed the Atlantic in 1492? After reading a definition much 
like this, a student of mine said yes. When I objected on the basis 
of the "common knowledge" principle, she was not persuaded. 
Irrespective of which of was right, this and other less detailed 
definitions leave much room for interpretation.

  Outside of academe, there are still other definitions and 
conventions that govern citation and what is considered to be 
plagiarism. Journalists, fiction writers, television commentators, 
musical and other artists work under a different set of conventions. 
Plagiarism varies by medium, context and genre, at the very  least. 
It's worth noting, I think, that these latter are much more familiar 
to our students than the sometimes arcane conventions of academic 

Now, when you bring a cultural dimension to bear on the question of 
plagiarism, things get even more complex. Why should "Western" norms 
prevail? And, more importantly, if we argue that they should prevail, 
how do we teach all the nuances and variation to students who are not 
immersed in and familiar with American culture and the beliefs and 
laws within which our notions of plagiarism rules make sense?

And, lastly, why should students care very much? It's easy to see why 
faculty should care about this; getting credit for one's work is 
integral to earning a livelihood in academe. The stakes and 
significance for students are much lower. And when the stakes are 
lower and the rules don't seem to make sense or really even apply in 
their INTENT, then people are not likely to follow them. So, while I 
adhere to the rules of citation to avoid plagiarism assiduously, I 
jaywalk whenever it is in my interests to do so. The law just isn't 
that significant to me, so I don't follow it. And what are the 
consequences of not doing so? Am I threatening civil society in some 
way by crossing the street in this way? Are students truly 
threatening academe by inappropriately using the ideas/words of 
others? Are they, in their minds, really going to impact the field of 
sociology or whatever with their term paper? Do they even feel 
ownership of what they write to feel like they have "taken" someone 
else's work?

And, by the way, imitation is fundamental to all learning, especially 
language learning. Children say the darndest things, right; they use 
language they hear, often ver batim. So, when we are dealing with 
plagiarism rules in academia, we may be working against one of the 
most natural and powerful of learning methods that humans possess: 
"copying". At the very least, then, giving students a definition of 
plagiarism is not likely to be sufficient for truly educating them 
about the relevant issues. And, it just occured to me, many of the 
ideas I've used in this analysis are not originally mine. Should I 
have cited them?

If you've read to the bitter end, I'd be curious  to read what you 
have to say. But be sure to cite the relevant sources ;-).

>I personally feel that the definition that Indiana University uses is an
>excellent one and covers all bases, so I have copied it below from their
>website at
>You will notice that there is no distinction made between plagiarizing
>from a printed paper or from the internet.  Whatever form the original
>work is in, if a student takes credit for work that someone else did, or
>takes ideas from work done by another without acknowledging the source
>of the ideas, from my point of view, this is plagiarism.
>3. Plagiarism.
>Plagiarism is defined as presenting someone else's work, including the
>work of other students, as one's own. Any ideas or materials taken from
>another source for either written or oral use must be fully
>acknowledged, unless the information is common knowledge. What is
>considered "common knowledge" may differ from course to course.
>a. A student must not adopt or reproduce ideas, opinions, theories,
>formulas, graphics, or pictures of another person without
>b. A student must give credit to the originality of others and
>acknowledge an indebtedness whenever:
>1. Directly quoting another person's actual words, whether oral or
>2. Using another person's ideas, opinions, or theories;
>3. Paraphrasing the words, ideas, opinions, or theories of others,
>whether oral or written;
>4. Borrowing facts, statistics, or illustrative material; or
>5. Offering materials assembled or collected by others in the form of
>projects or collections without acknowledgment.
>You might want to visit the following IU websites for more about
>This email message dictated to a Dragon in training
>I am training Dragon NaturallySpeaking.  Please forgive minor, odd
>errors and anomalies.
>Elizabeth Worden, Director
>Academic Support Center
>Eastern Maine Community College
>354 Hogan Road
>Bangor, ME  04401
>phone:  207 974 4658
>fax:  207 974 4888
>-----Original Message-----
>From: Open Forum for Learning Assistance Professionals
>[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Lisa Burns
>Sent: Thursday, October 26, 2006 8:44 AM
>To: [log in to unmask]
>Subject: avoiding plaigarism
>Dear Colleagues,
>I am currently looking for ideas and activities to help introduce the
>concept of citation and avoiding plagarism for our growing exchange
>with China.  It has been brought to my attention that the idea of
>intellectual property is a Western notion and that plagarism is not
>taboo in
>China as it is in the States.
>Does anyone have any suggestions or current practices/activites that
>have found helpful when working with ESL students?  Your suggestions
>be greatly appreciated.  Thank you.
>Lisa Burns, x2393
>Tutor Coordinator
>155 Greenwood Library
>Longwood University
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the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry men pursue in 
the world, with the world, and with each other. --Paolo Freire

Dominic (Nic) J. Voge
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University of California, Berkeley
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