Against plagiarism and fabrication

“Every act of plagiarism betrays the public’s trust, violates the creator of the original material and diminishes the offender, our craft and our industry,” states Telling the Truth and Nothing But, a digital newsbook created in 2013 by the National Summit to Fight Plagiarism and Fabrication.*

“The impetus for this project was a column that appeared on the Poynter Institute’s website in September 2012,” says the newsbook (all quotations here are from Telling the Truth and Nothing But). “In it, Craig Silverman deplored a ‘cavalcade of plagiarism, fabrication and unethical recycling.’”

The newsbook defined the two big offenses:

  1. “Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s language or work as your own.”
  2. “Fabrication is making up material and publishing it in the guise of truth.”

One difficulty “is the ease with which work can be copied and distributed” when it is published online.

One precaution I take when electronically copying material for quotation is to type the quotation marks first and then paste the words between them. Any condensation or deletion comes later, with the editing done within the quotation marks. If the quotation is long, then I can later use block indention to set it off.

The cure to both plagiarism and fabrication, according to the summit, is attribution: “Questions of copyright and fair use aside, it is always good practice to identify the work’s creator in the clearest possible manner.”

Attribution, too, I take care of when copying material. For one thing, it may not be available later. As an editor, countless times I’ve seen bibliographic entries that were nothing more than hyperlinks—and dead ones, at that. It’s best to collect all the information at once.

To prevent plagiarism and fabrication, said the summit, requires more than just a rule against it and a requirement to properly attribute quotations. It requires a company policy, and “here are the characteristics of a strong policy”:

  • “There’s no room for confusion.”
  • “It’s widely available.”
  • “It involves random checks.”
  • “It addresses attribution and linking.”
  • “It’s clear about discipline.”
  • “It treats everyone equally.”

In other words, it’s a system, essentially a part of quality control.

* The American Copy Editors Society (I’m a member) was one of the participating organizations.


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