What Is Unethical Plagiarism? & How to Avoid It

Everyone knows that theft is unethical under most circumstances. Is the theft of ideas unethical too? How can one even prove that an idea has been stolen? If research always refers back to the work that others have done first, how can you perform research without stealing ideas? In fact, there is a very clear distinction between the theft of ideas and proper academic research.

What is unethical plagiarism?

Unethical plagiarism is the use of, or theft, of someone else’s ideas, writing, or academic work without proper attribution. Simply put, unethical plagiarism can be avoided by clearly stating what work is your own and what work has been done by others. But sometimes it can be difficult to really know what counts as unethical plagiarism and what does not, and whether it is really a big deal. So in this article we are going to talk about what plagiarism is exactly and why it is unethical and should be avoided at all costs.

What Is Plagiarism?

Before we can talk about why plagiarism is unethical, we must first examine what exactly is considered plagiarism. Plagiarism can be defined as “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.” When most people hear the word plagiarism, they imagine copying someone else’s work word-for-word, stealing it exactly. This is known as direct plagiarism. However, it is not the only type of unethical plagiarism. Other types of plagiarism include  paraphrasing, mosaic plagiarism, and accidental plagiarism, just to name a few. Unethical plagiarism isn’t just limited to stealing the work of others, however. It can also include using parts of writing or work without crediting the original source or author. This means that you can even plagiarize yourself if you quote your previously published work as if it is new and fresh.

The main issue that determines whether or not something is unethical plagiarism is whether it is the work of someone else, either their ideas or their writing, that has not been properly credited. If you fail to credit your own previous work when quoting yourself, that falls within the same scope. Whether or not you meant to commit plagiarism does not define whether or not you do commit plagiarism. Both intentional and unintentional plagiarism are possible, and that is why it is critical to know how to avoid committing plagiarism. Even if you are caught committing unintentional plagiarism, the consequences can still be very harsh.

What’s So Unethical About Plagiarism?

What’s so unethical about plagiarism anyway? If you copy someone’s ideas in your research paper and submit it for a class, does anyone really get hurt? Will anyone know? The answers to those questions are yes and yes. Plagiarism is, simply put, theft. The same ethics that apply to stealing a car or a handbag apply to stealing someone else’s ideas or words. Any student or researcher knows that research and writing are very hard work, and to have someone else take credit for that work is quite painful. As you advance in your career, someone else stealing your ideas can have serious consequences for your ability to publish and progress.

Plagiarism is also unethical because it involves fraud and deception. You are not only stealing, you are pretending that you performed work that you did not. You are attempting to take credit for someone else’s hard work and deceive others into believing that you did that work. This disrespects your peers and colleagues as well. Plagiarizing someone else’s work shows a great disregard for the consequences that person might suffer from having their work stolen. In addition, it makes you into a thief, no different from someone who has stolen a car, a handbag, or some other physical item. While you may be thinking that self-plagiarism is not unethical because you cannot steal from yourself, in fact self-plagiarism is unethical because you are engaging in fraud and deception by pretending that previous work you already did is new. If you published that work, depending on who owns the copyright, it is possible to argue that you are also committing theft even if it is your own writing and ideas.

How Can I Avoid Committing Unethical Plagiarism?

Ever commit unethical plagiarism. Great! Avoiding unethical plagiarism is a must for any student, researcher, academic, or writer. Fortunately, while it is getting easier to detect plagiarism, the same tools can help you avoid committing plagiarism too. The most obvious tool to avoid committing unethical plagiarism is a plagiarism checker. Tools like the Enago Plagiarism Checker review millions of published articles, books, journals, and other writing in online databases and compare your paper against them to highlight any portions that are similar. By using a tool like this prior to submission, you will be able to identify any places where you may have unintentionally committed unethical plagiarism and fix it.

Reference managers are also an essential tool in any writer’s toolbox to ensure that they avoid plagiarism. If you manage your sources and notes, you won’t forget to attribute ideas or quotes to their original author. This is the best way to avoid committing unethical plagiarism in the first place. Understanding how to properly adhere to citation formatting will help as well. Now that you know the dangers of committing plagiarism and why plagiarism is unethical, make sure you use a plagiarism checker and reference manager on your next writing project!