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Created:July 4, 2002
Latest Update: July 4, 2002

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Plagiarism in the Real World

Teaching Essay Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individaul Authors, July 2002.
"Fair use" encouraged.

This essay was prompted by a Los Angeles Times article: As History Repeats Itself, the Scholar Becomes the Story By Peter H. King.. "Doris Kearns Goodwin's highly public life has taken many turns. Questions of plagiarism--and how it is defined--are just one chapter." Los Angeles Times. P. A 1. August 4, 2002. Backup

Doris Kearns Goodwin has won a pulitzer prize for one of her history books. She was educated at and taught at Harvard. And now finds herself in the heart of this scandal because of plagiarism. What is it? Why does it matter? And how does it apply to plagiarism as it is so vigorously denounced in today's colleges?

Take a brief look at these excerpts:

  • To what extent does individual competitiveness and jealousy play a role?
    "In early January, an anonymous letter arrived at the Washington, D.C., office of the Weekly Standard. . . . [It said in part] 'I've long been concerned by several instances of plagiarism I noted long ago in Doris Kearns Goodwin's 'The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys.' I believe she ought to be called to account, just as Professor Ambrose has.' "
  • How does the problem of taking notes enter this quandary?

    Consider the pressures of the fast track and today's lack of discretionary time. Does that encourage neatness and care taken with notes, or are you likely to scribble and have a hard time reading your notes later? Consider that most of the celebrity writers who have been accused of plagiarism have research assistants who check their notes and footnotes? How does that difference in the structural context of their world and our world alter the balance of responsibility?

  • What precisely is plagiarism?

    "There is, as it turns out, less than perfect agreement in the writerly ranks about what constitutes plagiarism." Scroll down the file to about an inch from the end.

    " As for the business of footnotes and quotation marks--that's a whole subset of debate points. In this regard, the anonymous letter to the Weekly Standard included a rather helpful guide to the rules of the road, quoting from the Harbrace College Handbook's eighth edition:

    "Plagiarism is literary theft. When you copy the words of another, be sure to put those words inside quotation marks and to acknowledge the source with a footnote. When you paraphrase the words of another, use your own words and your own sentence structure, and be sure to give a footnote citing the source of the idea. A plagiarist often merely changes a few words or rearranges the words in the source. As you take notes and as you write your paper, be especially careful to avoid plagiarism. Unless you are quoting directly, avoid entirely the sentence patterns of the source."

    The bold-faced points of emphasis, it should be noted, all were added by the letter's author, whoever that is.