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Frequently Asked Questions about Plagiarism

Frequently Asked Questions about Plagiarism

Is it okay if I am not submitting verbatim copy, but (1) modify few phrases here and there (2) rewrite some of the sentences (3) modify the solution sentence by sentence (4) copy only a small part (5) for programs, change variable names and function names?

All of the above constitute plagiarism even though you are not really submitting a verbatim copy of someone else’s work. It is clear in all of the above cases that none of the submitted solutions are your own yet by submitting them, you claim them to be your solution - this is obviously plagiarism.

I copied (i.e. verbatim) just the introduction, and also gave reference to the paper from where I copied.

This is not allowed – you can borrow verbatim only one/ two sentences, that too by quoting. Anything more, you have to say in your own words.

By "copy”, do you mean “copy-and-paste” operation?

You got to be kidding! Here “copy” refers to any kind of similar items and copying means anything that creates something which is similar to the original. Copying could be done manually, or using tools, or computer based … if you are in doubt, first clarify with the instructor. Also, remember that physical similarity is NOT the only basis behind a copy, similarity in idea, style … all of these mean a copy.

Is it okay if I submit (1) a modified form of existing solution (2) existing solution which is paraphrased/ quoted properly (3) my own writing based on someone else’s idea (4) someone else’s program with my modifications AND I give proper reference to the source in all the cases.

You may not be charged with plagiarism if you make it clear what is your work. But note that, the instructor may give you zero, if your solution ends up containing only borrowed material.

I mugged up an entire solution from obtained via solution manual, the internet, some friend, some other book and then wrote it down. Is this prohibited?

Yes, this is plagiarism. Mugging up the solution is same as writing it keeping having the source open in front of you. It goes against the spirit of you understanding the solution and be able to express it in your own words - basically, you are copying the solution idea.

Can I copy from lecture notes? From text-books? From papers part of the curriculum of a paper-reading course?

No. Unless explicitly allowed, you can not copy verbatim from textbook or lecture notes or other instruction material. Anyway, it is unlikely in IIIT-Delhi that you will be asked questions in any homework/report whose answers appear verbatim in text. However, you can use the ideas given in such instructional material without any restriction. Some courses may require you to give precise answers (e.g., definitions) as given in the book or lecture notes; please clarify with the instructor if you are allowed to copy in such cases.

Do I have to cite everytime I use “Quicksort” in my homework?

No. You are allowed to freely use/ refer concepts/ ideas covered in the instructional material (the textbook, lecture notes, slides, your notes) - in fact, you are encouraged to do so. But you still may not copy any text/ example/ figure verbatim (unless explicitly allowed to do so).

Are these instances of plagiarism?

Scenario: I used a theorem given in the textbook in my homework solution. This is NOT plagiarism because you can freely use ideas/ results in instruction material without restriction.

Scenario: I used a theorem which I found on a website in my proof, which I did not cite. This is plagiarism if you didn’t cite the source. Without citation, and since the theorem is not in the book, it will appear as if you should be given credit for the theorem.

Scenario: I used a theorem which I found on a website in my proof, and I also cited the website. If the course allowed referring to the internet, then this is not plagiarism.

Scenario: The question in the homework is similar a solved question given in the book. So I copied (verbatim) most of its solution from the book. You are not allowed to verbatim copy from the textbook. This IS plagiarism since you are claiming credit for the solution which was in fact given by the authors of the book.

Is it plagiarism to take external help to do homework, e.g., can I discuss with my classmates, can I search on the internet? Can I do XYZ?

There could be course specific policies prohibiting any of these, but as such external help taken to increase understanding of the homework/ paper/ project does not constitute plagiarism. However, borrowing solution idea from the internet, or from a classmate, is plagiarism unless explicitly allowed.

Generally, in most courses in IIIT-Delhi, discussion with fellow students in the same course is allowed (unless explicitly disallowed), but copying from someone else’s assignment is never allowed. Similarly, you may be allowed to look on the internet, or consult a reference book, to understand relevant topics required to do the homework/ report/ project, but using text/ code/ idea from these sources is not allowed. Since specific instructors might prohibit specific actions as per course policy - if you have doubt always ask the instructor.

I discussed my homework with my senior, or with some other person not in my class, or on some online forum.

This is usually not allowed in IIIT-Delhi and may be counted as plagiarism. Other than the instructor and the TAs, usually you can only discuss with your classmates. Also, if you discuss with your classmates, you have to specify their names as collaborators.

I was accused of plagiarism in my programming assignment/ project. But I had changed all variable names, all function names and cleaned up the solution. Is this still plagiarism? What if I started by copying a sample program, and then added “all” the required functionality to create my final project?

The first case is clearly plagiarism. The program you submitted is essentially someone else’s work. Claiming it to be yours is plagiarism. In the second case, if you added “all” the functionality required by the homework, then it may not be a case of plagiarism - however, to be on the safe side, you should not attempt this without explicit consent of your instructor.

In our schools/ colleges we are often encouraged to write answers as close as possible to what is given in the book. Why is it not allowed here?

In most of our assignments, you are unlikely to find questions of the type “describe xxx” which can be found in the textbook. But if you do, as described above, it is better for you to write in your own words to avoid the risk of getting zero.

This is quite different from the school system where you were encouraged to report verbatim what was taught in the class or given in the book. In the school system, homework are meant to be preparation for board-level exams, in which exact answers are preferred to maintain consistency and to evaluate knowledge. This is very different from the scenario at IIIT-Delhi - here homeworks are often evaluated for understanding.

I did not intend to cheat. I had no idea is not cheating. I have a doubt if is cheating.

You are responsible for writing your own solution. It is your responsibility to ensure that your action is not breaking any rule, no matter what your actual intentions are. If in doubt, always clarify with the respective instructor/ official. If there is lack of time or scope in getting in touch with them, take the safest path.

I cheated in two different homework. The two homework had been evaluated together - does this count as one cheating or as repeated cheating?

It is a repeated cheating since when you submitted the second homework you knew that you had already cheated once.

Even though I have copied someone else’s solution, I actually understand the solution.

It does not matter - you are still guilty of plagiarism - the solution you are claiming credit for was prepared by someone other than you. In fact, in such case you should have written the solution in your own words. If you submitted a copied version, the instructor has no way to know if you actually understood the solution.

Do the same rules apply to an instructor of a course for the material he/ she uses in the course?

No. The instructor of a course is assumed and expected to use existing material. By rule, teaching does not require inventing new material, and almost always involves existing material - in terms of ideas/ content/ explanation. A teacher is never assumed, explicitly or implicitly, to use anything of his own. On the other hand, when a teacher "submits" a proposal/ paper, writes a book, gives a talk, the exact same rules of homework submission also applies to him/ her. For example, when a faculty member makes a presentation in a conference - there it is assumed that the material/ slides are his/ her own - in these presentations, presenters will generally cite the source, if they take some slide from somewhere.

I copied without citing and when caught, I accepted my “mistake”. What will happen?

Once found guilty of plagiarism, institute policies will be applicable even if you accept it later.

Is copying from Wikipedia allowed?

Not without citation, and that also only when referring to internet/Wikipedia is allowed in your course. Please refer to the Wikipedia copyright policy.

I am facing a new situation. How do I know if would be plagiarism?

The rule of thumb is: if there is anything in the submission which you borrowed from somewhere else, then you should make it explicit what is borrowed and from where.

However, for specific cases, you should always clarify with the instructor.

Do I have to cite all sources of an idea/ text/ proof?

No - you only need to cite one source for each part of borrowed material.

Why is the punishment so harsh for plagiarism compared to other simple mistakes? Why isn’t it sufficient to award a zero in the corresponding HW?

Plagiarism is a serious offence, much more than a simple mistake. Plagiarism - taking false credit - is an issue of ethics and is actually a serious offence in academics - similar to copyright violation in civil laws. That’s why the punishment goes beyond giving zero in the respective HW. On the other hand, a student my quote/ cite as per rule all throughout and be not guilty of plagiarism. But he may still get zero since his whole answer or just contains citation/ paraphrasing and he showed no understanding which was required. or maybe because he borrowed the main idea of the proof (even though be cited).

If I am only copying part of the solution, I am making an honest effort to solve it and I also understand the solution. Since I am learning in the end, why is this not allowed? Why is the institute trying to constrain our sources of studying?

The objective of these rules is not to ensure whether students are learning or by how much - learning is evaluated by the instructor using separate means. Plagiarism - taking false credit - is an issue of ethics and is actually a serious offence in academics - similar to copyright violation in civil laws. Academic plagiarism is a big problem worldwide, and is rising in India due to lack of proper awareness. We want to maintain the integrity of the academic environment of the institute, and would like to see our students follow the same standard of academic integrity as followed by us and by others in the rest of the world. Just to increase awareness, some recent cases of academic plagiarism are listed in the following two links. Check these links for numerous instances of plagiarism found among scientists, professors, and scholars.

Last updated: 14-09-2021