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Plagiarism: When to Quote? Paraphrase?

March 22, 2023

see the pdf here (link below also)

There it was, on the front page of the Saturday March 18, 2023 edition of the LA Times– a problem with plagiarism in a respected author’s best selling books: “Over 120 passages in David Agus’ first three works found to closely mirror other’s writing,” says the sub-headline in the article by Corinne Purtill.

Dr. David Agus’ next book is already a best seller — even though it hasn’t yet been published. But sales have been suspended as he revises at least 95 plagiarized passages. His publisher says he will rewrite other problem passages in previous books for upcoming editions. 

Turns out the doctor has a co-writer: “All four of Agus’ books were produced in collaboration with Los Angeles writer Kristin Loberg. She acknowledged the “allegations of plagiarism” and said Agus was not to blame,” according to the article in the LA Times. 

“If your name is on the cover, you take full responsibility for what is on the inside,” said Debora Weber-Wulff, a professor of media and computer science at HTW Berlin’s University of Applied Sciences in Germany who specializes in detecting plagiarism, as cited by the LA Times article.

“If a student submitted academic work like this, it may be considered unduly derivative or referred for an investigation into academic misconduct,” said Thomas Lancaster, a computer scientist at Imperial College London who researches academic integrity and plagiarism, in the LA Times article. Read the full article here.

Knowing when, what, and how much to cite can challenge all writers, but even more so for writers of academic research papers. Dr Bron Taylor, an environmental studies professor in Florida who is also a Ventura College alumni, shared the following about when to quote and when to paraphrase– advice that he offered to a Pulitzer Prize winning friend. He says “no one ever taught me this but this is what I arrived at over the years,” continuing that his friend “thought it was spot on and that he should also share it with his students.” Dr Taylor decided “this might also be useful to some of my teacher/writer pals.”

So here is Dr Bron Taylor’s advice on when to quote, and when to paraphrase:

* Inexperienced writers often use far more quotations than they should. Quotations can be a crutch, used to avoid the harder work of carefully understanding and synthesizing knowledge.

* In most cases you should paraphrase (not directly quote) an author or interviewee whom you are drawing on. Of course, even if you do not directly quote someone you should also credit them with the facts or insights gained from them.

* My rules of thumb for when to quote an author or interviewee, instead of summarizing or paraphrasing what you learned from them, are when . . .
· you cannot say in fewer words, or more eloquently, what the author or interviewee communicated.
· the quotation gives the reader an important visceral impression for the individual and their affect, personality, or intellect.
· you need the quotation(s) as evidence. Sometimes to build a case one needs to provide many similar quotations, which risks being tedious to read, but depending on the situation and how controversial is your argument, you may need them.

“It is important to remember that you are the writer and this is your research,” says Dr Taylor. “Consequently, the overwhelming majority of what you present should be in your words, not in the words of your interlocutors. “

In closing, Dr. Taylor reminds us to “Remember also that any direct quote requires the source and page, and paraphrases must also make clear the source. It is important to avoid inadvertent plagiarism, which can occur when one cuts and pastes quotes and fails to have such passages in quotation marks and properly cited if drawn upon.”

Check out this plagiarism infographic pdf.

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