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Six common types of plagiarism in academic research

In recent years the importance of integrity in research has been under a spotlight, with increasing numbers of research institutions placing emphasis on their researchers undertaking training on the matter. However, the issue of plagiarism in academic research has not disappeared, and some recent stats and events clearly highlight this. 

In the world of computer science, a series of so-called “tortured phrases” helped a team of researchers uncover a new type of fabricated research paper. Across India, there has been increased focus on the issue of hijacked journals, with fraudsters fooling many early career researchers. It was recently reported that across Australia more than 1 in 10 university students submit assignments written by someone else, with new research suggesting that 95% of students who cheat this way are not caught. On this note, Copyleaks undertook a study earlier this year to examine the impacts of COVID-19 on global academic integrity. Their findings include some concerning statistics, including that globally, the similarity score for academic submissions rose from an average of 35.1% to an average of 49.6% across the two measured time periods. This includes a 31% rise in paraphrased content and a 39% rise in identically matched content. These figures also show that plagiarism is not happening in just one part of the research world, but is affecting experienced and early career researchers, as well as students themselves. 

Despite all of this, there are plenty of ways that the research community can encourage and support a culture of positive research integrity at all levels. By knowing some of the common signs of plagiarism and other unethical practices, institutions can help reduce the number of plagiarised or fabricated research papers. 

So, what are some of the most common types of plagiarism?

1. Paraphrasing

This is the most common type of plagiarism and is the act of the researcher or student rephrasing a text in their own words, without citing their sources. Paraphrasing with properly cited sources is not plagiarism. But when someone reads and uses different sources, pulls out key points and ideas, and rewrites these as if they were their own, this is paraphrasing plagiarism. 

2. Patchwork or mosaic

Patchwork plagiarism is similar to paraphrasing—it is when the researcher or student copy and pastes together pieces of different text to create a new text. This includes rewording pieces of sourced material while keeping the structure of the original texts. 

3. Verbatim

Verbatim plagiarism is when someone directly copies text from a source and pastes it into their own research without properly citing the information. Even if they delete a couple of odd words, if the majority of the text is the same, it is still verbatim plagiarism. This can be avoided by quoting the original source with quotation marks and using an in-text citation. 

4. Source-based plagiarism

This type of plagiarism can happen in several ways. Incorrect citing is key here; citing your sources is usually the first step in avoiding plagiarism. A citation is not enough by itself; the researcher or student needs to ensure that all sources are correctly cited. Most areas of research or departments will have their own citation style, so make sure everyone is following the guidelines of the departmental citation style. Making up a source or including inaccurate information about a source are also both forms of plagiarism. If this is done, it could mislead readers of the paper by pretending that a reputable source supports the idea.

5. Global plagiarism

This is when the researcher uses someone else’s work while passing it off as their own—this can include having a friend or family member write their work for them, or paying for someone else to write their work for them

6. Self-plagiarism

This one is tricky and is frequently unintentional. The most serious type of self-plagiarism is turning in a paper that has already been submitted elsewhere—in this case it is no longer new or original work. Self-plagiarism can also occur when the researcher or student uses ideas or phrases from previous papers or assignments—this does not necessarily count as plagiarism, but a student would need to consult with their professors as to whether using ideas from previous work falls within their institution’s policies and does not count as self-plagiarism. 

How can you support your students and researchers in avoiding plagiarism?

You can support your students, staff, and researchers in avoiding plagiarism and other poor practices in a number of ways. At Epigeum we offer a number of programmes on these subjects that provide comprehensive training and can form part of a wider approach to research or academic integrity.

Our Research Integrity programmes provide comprehensive, institution-wide research integrity training. The course identifies the principles and responsibilities required of every researcher throughout the research process, from planning through to publication, providing practical advice on dealing with complex issues. The UK edition incorporates the values of obligations of the Concordat to Support Research Integrity, while the Australian edition incorporates the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research. This programme can be tailored to support researchers working at all levels, with an approach designed to be accessible to postgraduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and early-career researchers.

Our Academic Integrity programme supports institutions in implementing a consistent and unified approach to integrity training. The programme has five staff-facing modules and five student-facing modules. You can ensure that every member of your university community is on the same page about best academic practice in their role. 

Specifically for students, Avoiding Plagiarism is designed to ensure they follow best practice in referencing, paraphrasing, and using citations. Students will gain a better understanding of what constitutes plagiarism and will receive clear guidance on appropriate referencing, citation and paraphrasing of other people’s work.

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