On this page, we define plagiarism and discuss why plagiarism is wrong. To find out more about different forms of plagiarism in writing and some advice on how to avoid the risk of plagiarising, see
What is plagiarism?
Lexical definition of plagiarism
The word plagiarism is usually defined as the unacknowledged use of someone else's text or idea. If you look up the word in a dictionary, you will find that it is defined as “when someone uses another person’s words, ideas, or work and pretends they are their own” (Longman) or as “The action or practice of taking someone else's work, idea, etc., and passing it off as one's own; literary theft” (Oxford English Dictionary [requires LU login]).
Note that plagiarism does not only refer to the inappropriate use of written text, but of all "thoughts, writings or inventions of another person" (Oxford English Dictionary). This means that the notion of plagiarism also includes, for instance,
- computer code
- organising principles (this refers to original structures, such as diagrams and lists)
LU definition of plagiarism
Lund University defines plagiarism in the following way:
Plagiarism is a lack of independence in the design and/or wording of academic work presented by a student compared to the level of independence required by the educational context.
Deceitful plagiarism is a lack of independence combined with an intent on the part of the student to present the work of others as his or her own.
Guidelines and regulations on plagiarism and deceitful plagiarism in first-, second- and third-cycle education at Lund University
As you can see, the focus is on lack of independence. In order to demonstrate the required independence, you need to show that you make a clear distinction between your own ideas and material, and when you refer to the work of others. This is one of the challenges non-native writers, as well as writers who are new to their field face. Read more here:
Intentional or unintentional plagiarism
Some forms of plagiarism occur due to lack of knowledge rather than the writer's intention to deceive. The term plagiarism can thus mean both intentional and unintentional plagiarism. Intentional plagiarism could be, for instance, the deliberate copying of someone else's work, whereas unintentional plagiarism often happens due to reckless misrepresentation or the writer's lack of knowledge about rules of writing.
Although unintentional plagiarism may be explained by the writer's lack of knowledge of how to write or of how to give proper credit to sources, this is no excuse. Lund University has strict rules regarding plagiarism andit is always the responsibility of the writer to adhere to the rules and policies specified by the university as well as the department. If you are a student, make sure you know what applies in your course and at your department.
Read more about the risk of unintentional plagiarism, and how to avoid it, here:
Why is plagiarism wrong?
There are several reasons why plagiarism is wrong, and they concern communicative aspects of writing, as well as moral and legal aspects of writing, examination, and publication:
Writers need to help their readers
In order to help the reader find more information on the subject that is discussed, you need to give clear references to sources that have been used, unless the facts stated can be regarded as common knowledge. It must at all times be clear to the reader what is your contribution and what comes from someone else's work. Read more on related issues here:
- The Function of References
- How to Give References
Plagiarism is cheating
A person who plagiarises may get undeserved advantages over their peers. Student plagiarism is, therefore, unfair towards teachers and fellow students, as well as towards the reputation of Lund University as a whole. Plagiarism among researchers is likewise detrimental, both on an individual level and on a more general level. Related information can be found here:
Plagiarism is theft
The Oxford English Dictionary defines plagiarism as "literary theft". In line with the concept of ideas as individual property, writers need to be honest about the origin of stated facts, terms, ideas, etc., and must show what parts of their text are original and what parts come from other people's texts or other kinds of material.