Patterns in plagiarism and patchwriting in science and engineering graduate students' research proposals

Michelle Vieyra, Denise Strickland, Briana Timmerman


As part of a larger study, written research proposals were collected from 115 science and engineering master’s and doctoral students and reviewed by SafeAssign™ with approximately one-third of them containing sentences that were plagiarised as previously reported in Gilmore, Strickland, Timmerman, Maher and Feldon (2010). (We use the term plagiarism, but do not imply any intentional deceit by the students.) Here we report on the patterns of plagiarised material in the hope that it will contribute to the growing awareness of the problem of plagiarism in graduate schools as well as provide insight into the causes of plagiarism. Instances of plagiarism were coded as to 1) the type of source material (primary, secondary, technical, or popular literature), 2) the nature of the inappropriate use (directly copied, a few words changed, minor grammar alterations, or attempted but insufficient paraphrasing), 3) where in the proposal (introduction, methods, results, or discussion) the plagiarism appeared, and 4) whether or not the plagiarised information was cited and if it was, whether or not the citation was accurate. Plagiarised text was found in 28% of the proposals. Clustering of certain patterns of behaviour, such as directly copying material from popular literature while paraphrasing information from primary scientific literature, were examined in an attempt to gain insight into the cause of the plagiarism. It is our interpretation that the source of the plagiarism was a lack of familiarity with scientific writing as a genre and lack of awareness of its norms and conventions.

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