QUIZ: Is it Plagiarism? – Not So Fast!

Approximate Reading Time: 2 minutes

I cam across this quiz from the EasyBib Blog today.

I have some problems with it.

Think you can identify plagiarism like a pro? See if you can beat this quiz by our citation expert and prove that you’re as plagiarism savvy as you say.

Source: QUIZ: Is it Plagiarism? – EasyBib Blog

Here are the quiz questions:

  1. Taking information from an outside source and presenting it as your own.
  2. Examining the works of others to gather information for your research.
  3. Making use of the works of others to support your own ideas.
  4. Using the same essay you wrote for one assignment and handing it in for another assignment.
  5. Taking text from a source, changing one or two words, and putting it in your paper with a citation.
  6. Copying a diagram from a website and including it in your paper with a citation underneath.
  7. Using the work of another student to create your own paper.
  8. Having someone look over your paper and discussing how to improve it.
  9. Using data an author presents from a different author, but not citing the original work.
  10. Including information from a personal communication, like an email, without providing a citation.

I’m FINE with most of them, but there are two that I strenuously disagree with.

One, I disagree with ENTIRELY. That’s #4

The “correct” answer is that handing in the same essay for two assignments is self plagiarism.
Forgive me, but WTF?!

This article has a more nuanced discussion of the issue.

If you are submitting a paper for publication, and it is one you have previously published, then sure, that’s a problem. BUT, if you are a student and you wrote an essay for another course (possibly even in another year) that happens to meet the criteria for the current assignment, then WHY NOT?

In this particular situation, you should really be asking yourself, “What is the objective for this assignment?” Unless it includes something specific about creating a NEW work, then put down your red pen and focus on the objectives YOU HAVE NAMED.

If the goal of the assignment is for the student to be ale to demonstrate that they know how to do this thing you have asked them to do, then,
Why should you care if they did it this week or last year?
Why should you care if they used it in another course?


Think about that.

What purpose does it serve to make students REPEAT things they have already demonstrated they can do?

The other question I have some issues with is #8: Using the work of another student to create your own paper.

This one is far more complicated than the article would have you believe.
What about group-work? What about collaboration? What about students helping each other? Those are all things that are useful, good, and very important to learning.

If you use that student’s work without their knowledge or permission, that’s a problem.

If you have their permission, less of a problem provided the instructor is OK with collaboration, and provided you acknowledge the other student’s help. (i.e. Cite them. Explain how they helped you. That sort of thing.)


Both of these questions encourage instructors to isolate their students from each other and to pit them against each other, neither of which are conducive to learning, OR to the creating of a feeling of community.

What do YOU think?

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QUIZ: Is it Plagiarism? – Not So Fast! — 2 Comments

  1. I agree with you that “self-plagiarism” is a made-up offense. Many courses do call for new material to be written, which is a fine requirement for a writing-intensive course, but breaking such a requirement is not plagiarism. Not all forms of unacceptable student work are plagiarism. It may be the biggest academic sin, but it is not the only one.

    I disagree with them about the figures—citation is not adequate: explicit acknowledgement of copying in the caption of the figure is required. Citation merely indicates where the information came from, not that the figure was copied. It is precisely the same offense as copying text without indicating quotation—a citation is not sufficient indication that something is directly copied. (And figures that are modified need to have explicit “adapted from” mention in the caption—just as paraphrases need to be explicitly called out.)

    As for using other students’ work—my rule on that is that explicitly acknowledged collaboration or borrowing is not plagiarism. It may violate other rules if individual work was specifically requested on an assignment, but properly acknowledged assistance is not plagiarism.

    • I’ve had occasion recently to rethink my views on some of this – especially the submission of work for an assignment that’s already been submitted as an assignment in another course. My intro to computing class had an assignment that required them to create a portfolio website. I had some students who had already created them for other courses – we have a degree in interior design and all of those students have to create portfolio sites. I figure if they want to submit those sites in my class, why should I have a problem? I grade them according to my criteria; they did the work. Why should I care that they didn’t need me to “teach them how”? Why should I care that they didn’t do it just for me? Students have enough on their plates (for the most part) – finding out you already have an assignment done has gotta feel kind of nice!

      As for collaboration, I have been finding that the more I back off from playing plagiarism police, the better my students become at fessing up to just how much help they are getting.
      I think most of us who have been teaching for a while can figure out in a very short conversation whether or not the student understands the assignment they did. In most cases, if they can demonstrate to me that they understand or can do the things I need them to understand and do, then I no longer care if they learned that from my classes, a willing classmate (or someone who took the course before), or even by copying an answer and then figuring out how that’s the answer.
      What I do tell them is that if I ever find out they’ve lied to me about how the work got done or who did it (and that includes proper accreditation of sources, etc.), THEN I will go after them with everything I have.

      That said, I also have a big enough variety of things they can do for marks such that no single item can ever cost them the grade they are trying to earn.
      That hugely reduces the risk factor, which in turn has a profound impact on their willingness to tell me the truth.

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