Reidar Conradi, IDI, NTNU (Ed.): Some rules and literature on plagiarism (20. Aug. 2008)

Basic definition, alternative 1. "Plagiarism is the unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another author and the representation of them as one's own original work[.]
Within academia, plagiarism by students, professors, or researchers is considered academic dishonesty or academic fraud and offenders are subject to academic censure. In journalism, plagiarism is considered a breach of journalistic ethics, ...
" [, lines 4-7, read 15. July 2008].

Basic definition, alternative 2. "To plagiarize is to borrow someone else's words or ideas without mentioning his/her name and/or without using quotation marks" [Univ.Ottawa 2007, p.1].

This note will give advice on technical aspects of correct citations of published work by others, not the ideologic or ethical aspects of "stealing" ideas from others; see [Univ.Melbourne 2005].

It is a paradox, that proper citing serves as a blessing for the original writer, since scoring high on official citation indexes (e.g. ISI published by Thompson Group) is taken as an "objective" and machine-computable measure of your scientific clout. On the other hand, for the careless writer in dire need of a citable reference, it can imply harsh countermeasures. This is because any assumed attempt of plagiarism may be held against you -- "Unintentional plagiarism is still plagiarism" [Adams 2006, slide 4]! For instance, you may have "read" or "heard" a sentence from somebody else and forgotten most about it. Some time later, you happen to reuse verbatim such a sentence, without citation or without sufficient details. This even applies for quoting yourself!!

Plagiarism can therefore ruin your academic career -- either as a student or a researcher -- even if your "crime" was a mere formality. That is, you did not 100% obey, or have not even learned about, the following three rules [Adams 2006, slides 7-16] [Univ.Ottawa 2007, pp.2-4] [Sindre 2008, slides 2-3]:

  1. If citing more than 3-4 consecutive words verbatim from somebody else's work: use embedding quotation marks (") and perhaps Italics font to explicitly mark the quoted phrase in our text, e.g. "this is clearly a quote" [Olsen 1999, pp.4-5]. Note, that a detailed page reference [pp.4-5] is also needed, beyond the normal literature reference being just [Olsen 1999]. If you want to add a word or to delete some parts in a quoted text, use "[]"-parentheses, e.g. as in "We can expect a lot from him [(Caesar)] after he [...] conquered Gallia" [Brutus 44BC, p. 999].

    However, pure factual statements, like "President John F. Kennedy was shot dead on Friday, November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas" need no citations, whether taken from an existing source or written entirely by yourself.

  2. If the quotation includes more than 40 words or 4 lines, make a block quote: use no quotation marks, possibly apply Italics font, insert double spacing, indent 5 spaces from both margins, and put a blank line before and after:
         This is a long quote,
         i.e. more than 40 words.
  3. An alternative to the first rule is paraphrasing, where you personally rewrite and thus summarize ("paraphrase") the original text, in order to avoid a verbatim quotation.
    For instance, we can paraphrase "Many girls model themselves after their mother" into "Many girls use their mothers as models" (both sentences taken from [Walters 1997, p.2]). However, this may end up in trivial substitution of core terms or mechanical sentence transformations.
Hint 1: Use anti-plagiarism tools to inspect your writings for unintentional plagiarism. Such diagnostics tools are instrumented web-search engines, e.g. (via,,
(the first three are open source software), and and (the two latter are commercial, and ephorus claims to be market leader in Europe and used by Univ. in Oslo).

Hint 2: Be especially aware, when you are a marginal co-author of a paper, but where you still can be "drawn into the mud". This may be caused by careless writing by principal co-authors, which often are close colleagues, see the [Vancouver Convention 2000, in general] on guidelines for co-authorships. So trust nobody, not even yourself, when it comes to plagiarism!

A digression independent of plagiarism: Citation formats and guidelines for referencing scientific literature and other public information is for long standardized, see e.g. [Allen 2000]. However, it is often illegal to read, reproduce (copy) and sometimes to cite confidential or copyrighted material, such as books first printed less than 100 years ago, patents, descriptions of commerciable innovations, and similar. Inversely, there are the Open Source Code and the more general Creative Commons initiatives, where all Intellectual Property from the participants is made known and exploitable by everybody from the start.

Short reference list

NB: To ease readability, we have added full first names, not only initials. We have also switched the sequence of first and last names, i.e. Reidar Conradi instead of just Conradi, R..

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Last modified: Thu Sep 24 14:28:11 MEST 2009