Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Separating Boilerplate from Plagiarism
For example, many of my labs have dissection instructions in them which I'm sure sound 90-95% identical to the instructions used by almost every anatomy & physiology professor in the country. However, I don't put my name on them and make them sound like my own original thoughts. They aren't my own thoughts, and rewriting them to reflect my own thoughts isn't worth my time, because I don't really have any original thoughts on how to cut open a cat. (They also aren't even the original thoughts of the authors who earn kingly sums for publishing them in lab manuals.) There's just a finite number of words that can be used to communicate the same idea. When I define the term "cell" in class, I don't cite the textbook author; she holds no monopoly on that definition. That belongs to everybody.
Someone's point of view, someone's analysis, someone's experience -- those aren't community property, and those need to be cited. Appropriating them as your own is plagiarism.
Ha! (Insert self-plagiarized comment number 17.)
My problem with his speech is that he used Powerpoint(R) and probably didn't distribute the slides in advance so the audience could read ahead and then grade papers until he finished talking.
Otherwise, I agree with your observations and share those of /my$0.02 above. (Lab instructions have many contributors, including students who sometimes give them the ultimate close reading.) However, I almost LOL'd when you wrote that it's not unusual for parts of a syllabus to repeat from year to year. I usually manage to get the new dates correct and do tweak many things, but rarely anything that is in the syllabus itself. However, that is not because I didn't read it; I did read it and decided that it is still just what I want to say.
I would hope that such plagiarism doesn't happen (and I don't think it has in the plan for my own department). I view self-plagiarism of the prior strategic plan as being fine. In fact, I think that could be a sign of a good strategy in that it survived for 3 to 5 years and still made sense. (Self plagiarism is a feature in that case.)
What about in academic papers? An author who writes frequently on a particular topic may start his/her papers similarly, e.g. by providing a brief summary of previous research with citations. Should this material be rewritten every time or is it allowable to copy it from paper to paper (with minor tweaks) since the background material doesn't change often and isn't part of the "meat" of the paper?
Reusing an article would not be okay in my branch of engineering. That would be in direct conflict with the terms and conditions that are required when submitting to a journal, i.e. the work has not been published before and is not under consideration elsewhere.
The literature review section in an introduction does run a self-plagiarism risk. I have seen cases of paragraphs in a row being the same, and that is going too far. Here's an example that was recognized by the community and editorial staff as being across the line.