At a really simple level plagiarism can be defined as copying, that is, you take the work of another person and pass it off as your own.
Plagiarism can be split into four main types:
- ‘Text’ - copying text from a book, paper, document etc.
- ‘Diagrams’ - copying a diagram
- ‘Idea’ - passing off another person's idea as your own
- ‘Auto’ - copying from yourself!
Text Plagiarism: This is the easiest to understand and the most common form of plagiarism. Basically, it is the copying of text from some source (a paper, textbook, fellow student, internet) into your own work, and then passing it off as your own. It should be noted that adding a reference (i.e. stating from where you copied the text) is no 'protection' and doesn't mean you can copy. If you find yourself reaching for the copy and paste keys on the computer then there is a good chance it will be plagiarism.
Diagram Plagiarism: This is where you copy a diagram or figure from a textbook or paper and pass it off as your own (this can also be viewed as 'idea' plagiarism as someone has thought long and hard about constructing (and drawing) the figure). You can 'protect' against diagram plagiarism by simply stating from where you got the figure (see later post for more details).
Idea Plagiarism: This, in my opinion, is the worst form of plagiarism as you would be attempting to pass off the hard work, and intellectual property, of a fellow scientist as your own. You can write about the ideas and thoughts of other scientists, but YOU MUST STATE FROM WHERE YOU GOT THE IDEA. Basically, this is one of the reasons why we reference sources of information, you are stating who had the original idea, and how they came by it. Effectively by referencing you are acknowledging the hard work of the other scientists.
Auto-Plagiarism: This form of plagiarism is the one most people have difficulty understanding. After all, how can you plagiarise yourself? You 'own' the work and the intellectual property! Well, basically auto-plagiarism would occur if you handed in the same piece of work for two different assignments and got two lots of marks for it. Or put another way, it is like making one burger in McDonald's and selling it twice.