Mark Goodacre leveled a charge of plagiarism against John Drane this morning and accused Drane of paraphrasing large sections of his website without citing it his popular Introducing the New Testament. I think most instances of plagiarism (at least amongst professional scholars…for students may be another case…) are inadvertent. Books are written over long time frames and they may be started, stopped, and restarted and things, like proper citations, can sometimes fall through the cracks. Furthermore, some scholars use research assistants which further complicates things (but does not let authors off the hook since their name is on the cover).
So, here are some tips to help you avoid plagiarism:
- To explore what plagiarism really is see the tutorials from Duke University on this subject. They provide a definition and some tips of their own on how to properly cite sources and avoid plagiarism.
- Take very good meticulous notes–if you write down an idea or a quote *immediately* write the source as well. Do not rely on your memory no how good it is.
- If you paraphrase something, even if you change it a bit and make it your own, it is still a good idea to document this. Whenever I do this I put a footnote that reads: “Adapted from…” just to cover the bases and give proper credit to people who have helped me form my ideas.
- If in doubt, cite. There is absolutely no reason not to. If there is any question in your mind just pop in a footnote. Sometimes publishers put pressure on authors to keep citations to a minimum in books intended for a general audience. If this is the case then *at least* have a section at the end of the chapter or the book in which you list important sources which impacted your thinking. Yet, even in these kinds of books I think it is worth it to hold your ground and have a specific footnote if you borrow an entire rubric, in other words, if you borrow a scholar’s five point list but paraphrase each five points you’ve still used the rubric and you need to specifically reference this.
(James Crossley rightly pointed out to me that Mark deliberately did not use the word plagiarism in his post and yet, according to the definition that he referenced–that used by Duke–what he described Drane as doing certainly fits this.)