Wednesday 6 January 2010

Plagiarism: timelines and historical events from text books

Question: "Is it plagiarism to read a section in a book and rewrite it in your own words? It's hard to change the order around because it's in a timeline of events."

Answer:

This is a tough one...

Yes, it is plagiarism if you are copying word for word.

It could also be plagiarism if the timeline was a specific argument (i.e. it could be 'idea' plagiarism), as opposed to a historical report of events.

For example (assuming your own words):

11:05 John went to the pub
11:10 John ordered a pint
11:15 John sat down

would not be (in my opinion) plagiarism as you are reporting a series of events.

But, if Smith, in a paper in 2010, reported:

"1920 X was discovered by Brown in London
1933 Y was discovered by Jones in Paris
1977 Z was discovered by Green in Tokyo

This led to the discovery of A by Morris in 2010"

And you wrote:

"The discovery of X in London by Brown in 1920, and the subsequent discoveries of Y by Jones in 1933 and Z by Green in 1977, led to Morris discovering A in 2010."

Then, although that wouldn't be 'text' plagiarism, it would be 'idea' plagiarism as you are passing off the hard work and reading of Smith as your own. The correct way to report this would be:

"The discovery of X in London by Brown in 1920, and the subsequent discoveries of Y by Jones in 1933 and Z by Green in 1977, led to Morris discovering A in 2010 (Smith, 2010)."

That is, including Smith's reference 'protects' against an accusation of 'idea' plagiarism, and putting the 'findings' in your own words 'protects' against 'text' plagiarism.

Alternatively, if you have made the connection between the events yourself (i.e. you have done all the hard work of finding the original papers and making the connections), then it would not be plagiarism.

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