Research writing: How to avoid plagiarism and authorship issues

S Shyam Prasad PhD

Introduction

One of the major activities in a business school is writing research reports and articles. For an article to excel, it needs to have good and attractive content. Besides the content being good, it also needs to avoid certain other aspects to be publishable in a reputed journal. One such aspect is plagiarism. An article by Aarti Garg, Sunanda Das, and  Hemant Jain (2015) found that “The most frequent reasons for rejection were commonality (44.6%), non-compliance by authors (17.8%), methodological issues (17.3%), plagiarism (11.1%), received the same topic and published (7.66%), poor draft (6.70%), data inconsistency (5.77%), mismanagement (1.72%), blacklisted author (1.14%), ethical and out of scope were 0.57% each. It is very sad to note that India figures as one of the countries where widespread plagiarism is found (Neelakantan, 2009). Somehow it shows that the ethical standard followed in India is weak or we are more tolerant towards plagiarism. Both are unacceptable by international standards. Another reason for the article to be delayed at the publishing point is the issues related to authorship. Though this is not as severe as plagiarism, it is prudent for the writer to know about authorship. Hence, this article is intended to create awareness about plagiarism and authorship issues.

 Plagiarism


Authors dread and loathe rejection. It is very painful and sad to receive it if one had spent a lot of time and effort in writing it. As seen earlier, articles get rejected for many reasons and one of the major reasons is plagiarism. So what is plagiarism? Plagiarism is often considered as an act of dishonesty and misconduct on the part of the author. As per the Federal Office of Science and Technology Policy, 1999, “Plagiarism is the appropriation of another person’s ideas, processes, results, or words without giving appropriate credit, including those obtained through confidential review of others’ research proposals and manuscripts”. According to Professor Bruce Railsback, Department of Geology, University of Georgia, “Presenting the data or interpretations of others without crediting them, and thereby gaining for yourself the rewards earned by others, is theft, and it eliminates the motivation of working scientists to generate new data and interpretations.” 


What can be plagiarised?

1.     Words

2.     Ideas

3.     Findings

4.     Writings

5.     Graphic representations

6.     Computer programmes

7.   Diagrams

8.   Graphs

9.   Illustrations

10. Information

11. Lectures

12. Printed material

13. Electronic material

14. Any other original work

There are 10 types of Plagiarism according to Turnitin.com. (Source: https://infogram.com/plagiarism-statistics-and-facts-1g6qo2qnvgyy278)

1) Clone: Submitting another’s work, word-for-word, as one’s own.

2) CTRl-C: Contains keywords and phrases but retaining the essential content of the source.
3) Find-Replace: Changing keywords and phrases but retaining the essential content of the source.
4) Remix: Paraphrases from multiple sources, made to fit together.

5) Recycle: Borrows generously from the writer’s previous work without citation.

6) Hybrid: Combines perfectly cited sources with copied passages without citation.

7) Mashup: Mixes copied material from multiple sources.

8) 404 Error: Includes citations to non-existent or inaccurate information about sources.

9) Aggregator: Includes proper citation to sources but the paper contains almost no original work.
10) Re-Tweet: Includes proper citation, but relies too closely on the text’s original wording and/or structure.

Misconceptions about plagiarism

1.     If less than 5 or 7 words are similar, it does not amount to plagiarism.

Truth: There is no such rule. Even using a single word (see the list above) can  
             be considered to be plagiarised.

2.     Paraphrasing is acceptable.

Truth: Paraphrasing is acceptable but only if due credit is given to the original author i.e. the original author is cited. Without such citation, paraphrasing is a form of plagiarism.

3.     One is a modest person and doesn’t want to cite his/her work.

Truth: Self-plagiarism is not acceptable. Proper citation is required to avoid Recycling or Re-tweeting.

4.     One has done a major study – say by taking a few industries and collected data. Breaking up or segmenting data from that single study and creating different manuscripts for publication is a smart thing.

Truth: This is known as salami slicing. This is unethical. The argument is that it distorts the literature.

Note: There are instances where data from large clinical trials and epidemiological studies cannot be published simultaneously, or are such that they address different and distinct questions with multiple and unrelated endpoints. In these cases, it is legitimate to describe important outcomes of the studies separately. However, each paper should clearly define its hypothesis and be presented as one section of a much larger study (Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), 2005).

5.     A researcher, say A, used the same/similar materials and methods as another researcher, say B in his/her study. It agreeable for researcher A to copy that text of researcher B into his paper without quotes or attribution. 

Truth: Copying text may be a less serious form of plagiarism, but still it is unacceptable.

Consequences of plagiarism

According to ehow.com 5 consequences of plagiarism are:

1)     Destroyed Author Reputation

2)     Destroyed Professional Reputation

3)     Destroyed Academic Reputation

4)     Legal Repercussions

5)     Monetary Repercussions

 

Plagiarism and copyright infringement

They both apply to the same unethical act but they are different. Copyright infringement is a legal violation of the rights of a copyright holder and the opposite party can be sued in the court of law. Plagiarism, on the other hand, is the false claim of authorship of a material irrespective of copyright protection for obtaining academic credit (Wikipedia).

 Author

Authorship issues must be resolved by authors themselves and editors do not adjudicate in this matter. Decisions about the authorship are best decided before the work starts. However, authorship disputes can delay publication. It is, therefore, necessary to understand the authorship.

 Principles of authorship

1.     First Author: He is the person who supervises the entire process and puts the paper together and submits it to the journal.

2.     Co-Author(s): They make intellectual contributions. They review each draft and can present the paper and defend its results.

3.     Gift Author/s: Author who did not contribute significantly is a gift author. This should not be done.

4.     Ghost Author/s: Not including an author who should have been included. This too should be avoided.

As per ‘The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors’ declaration, an author should

1.     Substantially contribute to conception and design, acquisition of data or analysis and interpretation of data.

2.      Draft the article or revise it critically for important intellectual content

3.     Give their approval on the final version to be published

To be an author, one should fulfil all these three conditions. The policies, however, may vary across disciplines, cultures, and journals.

 

Let us look at a case where a researcher completes her paper. Along the way, she consulted her advisor for guidance on the experiment, the data analysis and writing and revising the final article. A professor in India assisted her in analysing the data only. A lab assistant helped her in preparing the experimental design and maintaining and operating the equipment. Two fellow grad students read her paper and edited it, though they had no hand in the experiment. Who should be listed as an author on the paper? Who should be the first author?  The answer is given at the end after bibliography.

 (Source: researcher academy.elsevier.com/interactive-course)

 

Conclusion

Undoubtedly, plagiarism is bad, but it is sometimes difficult to unambiguously state whether one has intentionally copied or unintentionally missed citing references. Still, it is an embarrassment and it is simple to avoid it. The best way is not to cut and paste. Another rule is to cite when in doubt.  In case one is not sure, it is advisable to consult the seniors in that domain. In the present era of technology, one should remember that plagiarism will be caught and it is in one’s own interest to avoid plagiarism. Eradicate plagiarism from all spheres of one’s life.

 

Bibliography

1.     Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). (2005). Cases: Salami publication. publicationethics.org/case/case-salami-slicing.

2.     Garg, A., Das, S., & Jain, H. (2015, October). Why We Say No! A Look Through the Editor’s Eye. Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, 9(10), JB01 – JB05.

3.     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plagiarism

4.     https://infogram.com/plagiarism-statistics-and-facts-1g6qo2qnvgyy278

5.     https://researcheracademy.elsevier.com/interactive-course/display/827/369

6.     Neelakantan, S. (2009, October 18). In India, plagiarism is on the rise – publish, perish, or pilfer? Global Post. 2009. Oct 18, Accessed at www.globalpost.com/print/3695607.

7.     www.heacademy.ac.uk

 (Answer: First author: Researcher. Author: Advisor. All others are acknowledged individuals.)

 Disclaimer: The views, opinions, and content in this blog are solely those of the authors. ISME does not take responsibility for the content which are plagiarized or not quoted.

 

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