Academic journal article Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods

Originality and Plagiarism in Scientific Documentation and Academic Writing

Academic journal article Modern Journal of Language Teaching Methods

Originality and Plagiarism in Scientific Documentation and Academic Writing

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

1.1. Background

Plagiarism is a contextually contingent concept. Different academic cultures around the world, especially as different as that of Asian countries in the east and that of Europe and North America in the west, show different attitude and understanding of writing from others' sources. It also differs from discipline to discipline (Bloch, 2012; Hyland, 1999). Plagiarism covers a range of inferences from western rules of ownership and authorship to memory work and textual borrowing in the academia of the east (Chandrasoma, Thompson, & Pennycook, 2004). In an attempt to deal with some complexities of the concepts of text, ownership, and plagiarism, Pennycook (1996, p. 201) argues that "the way ownership and creativity are understood within European and U.S. contexts needs to be seen as a very particular cultural and historical development". He reviews the history of authorship and challenges of this notion in the west from Plato to the present era to ask how we consider the notion of textual borrowing or plagiarism when 'meanings are in a sense in circulation", and "when language is constantly cycled and recycled" (Pennycook, 1996, p. 211). In other words, while academics in the east, especially in China, borrow texts to construct personal academic identity (Abasi, Akbari, & Graves, 2006) through relying heavily on memory work and textual borrowing (Bloch, 2012; Chandrasoma et al., 2004), or copying, memorization and reproduction (Howard, 1995), western academia emphasize rules of ownership and authorship (Chandrasoma et al., 2004), and encourage using multiple sources of information (Lillis & Turner, 2001) in academic writing.

1.2. Review of Literature

A phenomenon like plagiarism has so far been studied and interpreted through the eyes of lecturers, supervisors and other education officials to introduce students as "key offenders" of originality in expression (Li, 2013 b; Zafarghandi, Khoshroo, & Barkat, 2012), regardless of students' attitude towards textual borrowing. This top to bottom method of treating plagiarism has neither been enough nor effective so far due to the contingent nature of plagiarism. The results of these studies have just been many regulations and laws of deterrence and punishment with no impact on the issue. This paper is an attempt to discover the patterns of the academic writing culture among Iranian ESL graduate students of science and engineering in Malaysia.

A survey of students' comments and a review of the literature related to plagiarism show that the root of most textual borrowing in thesis writing among ESL students is to improve the writing quality (Howard, 1992; Leary, 2010). These students borrow from other resources to facilitate the writing process or improve their writing skill as well as the quality of their product, but through this practice, a disapproving image of the author as plagiarizer is conveyed. This condition, which can be true for experienced ESL writers in the field, is a result of ambiguity in definitions of plagiarism and originality. Despite years of debate about plagiarism and fair use, there is still no clear-cut definition for the concept (Maurer, Kappe, & Zaka, 2006; Sharkey, 1992), and this has resulted in a plurality in understanding and using the rules.

The borderline between plagiarism and originality is yet murkier in other disciplines like science and engineering. ESL researchers in these fields find the real value of a contribution in the product developed through the research, and seek originality in the reported science rather than language used to report it (Maurer et al., 2006; Yilmaz, 2007). They also think that in science and medicine the writer "might insert phrases and even sentences from a previously published article simply because he or she is disinclined to sacrifice quality and accuracy for want of linguistic Expertise" (Vessal & Habibzadeh, 2007, p. 641).

As Flowerdew and Li (2007) report, ESL students copy useful expressions and passages from the sources they read, and paste them into their draft in order to make up for their shortcomings in fluency in English, especially in academic writing. …

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