Everyone has a view on plagiarism, and it’s often a strong one, as seen by the frank and free commentary on cases which attract public attention. For example, after the revelation that a prominent German politician had plagiarised in his doctoral thesis, the theses of other politicians in Germany and elsewhere have been subjected to scrutiny. This has led, in a number of cases, to further accusations of plagiarism, sharp criticism of the politicians involved and to responses ranging from embarrassed apology to resignations. These high-profile cases have received significant attention in the news, in blogs like Shake, Copy and Paste, and in staff-room discussions.
Plagiarism is also the object of academic research within a number of disciplines which have taken rather divergent approaches. Within fields such as ethics, higher education theory and policy, pedagogy and bibliometry, the tendency has been to approach plagiarism as a transgressive phenomenon within a regulatory framework. However, in first- and (especially) second-language writing, attention has been paid to plagiarism as a feature of textual production.
In our state-of-the-art article ‘Plagiarism in second-language writing’ we trace the development of plagiarism as a research topic in L2 writing, discussing the received view of plagiarism as a transgressive act and alternative understandings which have been presented in the L1 and L2 writing literature.
The article then surveys the rapidly growing body of work relating to plagiarism, primarily from an L2
writing/applied linguistic perspective, identifying salient themes. One of these is the role of intention. Significant evidence exists to support the idea, familiar to many writing teachers, that plagiarism sometimes has causes other than a desire to cheat in order to receive unearned academic credit.
This realisation has lead some scholars to believe that ‘plagiarism’, with its strong connotations of malfeasance, can be an unhelpful term to use in some contexts, and so we review alternative terminology, such as patchwriting, textual plagiarism, prototypical plagiarism, and transgressive versus non-transgressive intertextuality.
The use of alternative terminology suggests potentially differing understandings, and that is very much the case for plagiarism. Just like that other thing, we all think we can recognise it when we see it. However, as research traced in this article shows, we recognise different things.
Other themes identified include the role of textual plagiarism in language learning and a writer’s development; the role of the electronic media, investigations of cultural differences, and pedagogical approaches to guiding students away from plagiarism. Methodological issues in researching plagiarism are surveyed, and the article concludes by suggesting directions for future research.