As a preface - it is a recurring topic, fragments of the relevant discussion can be seen here on Meta. Even in my relatively short time here, I have seen a few persistent strains of "is X plagiarism", with the most common confusion seemingly coming from the stance on paraphrasing. A few academic integrity resources such as this MIT one shed some light on the issue, as they dive straight into "borrowing exact words without attribution is plagiarism", which - in my opinion - fails to establish a solid foundation and convey underlying concerns.

Should we have a canonical question covering all (well, to the extent it could be done) things plagiarism?

Usually, I find myself conflicted because of not having a good duplicate target for VTC and end up writing an answer. And then try to make it not just a collection of links - that almost screams "canonical question".

EDIT: (apologies for being late) As cag51 points out, the overall issue about plagiarism and authorship is broad, and the corresponding tag has plenty of questions along the lines of "someone stole my work or is suggesting that I steal others' work, what do I do?". While the linked question covers many of the bases for "is X plagiarism?", I still feel it is not quite there as a duplicate target. Mostly because it assumes a bit different perspective from what askers typically have in mind. I believe that a more FAQ-like answer or a collection thereof could be helpful, but our regular format does not allow that; questions either end up being too broad or violate one question per post rule.

There is also an argument to be had that providing these detailed answers is outside of SE's scope, as they are covered elsewhere on the Internet, but people keep asking them here. And we keep answering them here; they are still legitimate. But it seems - at least, to me - the redundancy is becoming quite high.

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    Plagiarism is a big topic (an entire tag, in fact). What exactly would the canonical question be? If it’s just about “is X plagiarism?”, then this question might be a good starting place.
    – cag51 Mod
    Dec 13, 2022 at 16:07
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    Perhaps something to dispel the confusion (often seen) between plagiarism and copyright violation.
    – Buffy
    Dec 13, 2022 at 16:27
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    yes, I think some kind of definition of what plagiarism, self plagiarism, copyright but also proper citations entail would be very usefull.
    – Sursula
    Dec 15, 2022 at 6:41
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    I'll note that plagiarism and paraphrasing are completely orthogonal notions. One can have either without the other. One can have both, or neither.
    – Buffy
    Dec 19, 2022 at 17:45
  • See this question and the answers over at Law: law.stackexchange.com/q/87396/35500
    – Buffy
    Dec 20, 2022 at 22:42
  • I have the feeling that since this has been brought up, the number of plagiarism related questions has increased even further. I think it would really be great to have a well written canonical question that people can refer to.
    – Sursula
    Jan 5, 2023 at 8:29
  • @Sursula Yep, getting that feeling as well as of late. Been busy as it gets and, admittedly, procrastinating a bit, hopefully will finally get to write it in a day or two.
    – Lodinn
    Jan 8, 2023 at 14:52

1 Answer 1


Let me write up what I understand of the proposal / discussion in comments, so that people can upvote if they think this is a good canonical question, and downvote if not. Edits / comments suggesting edits are also welcome.

I think the proposal is for a canonical question called "What is Plagiarism?" The canonical answer would have several bolded questions that we go through one by one, perhaps with links to related questions:

  • What is plagiarism?
  • Can I paraphrase? Is it plagiarism if I change a lot of the words?
  • Is it still plagiarism if I have a citation?
  • Where does copyright come into this?
  • What is self-plagiarism?

We should also have some explanation that we don't judge individual cases, so as to minimize the frustration when someone asks us for a verdict and their question gets closed as a "duplicate" of this.

  • Also, we should be clear on who would write this, if it gets approved. I don't think I will volunteer for this one; not sure if Lodinn was volunteering or not. Others?
    – cag51 Mod
    Dec 15, 2022 at 8:20
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    If I can make one, somewhat opinionated, suggestion - move out the question of "What is self-plagiarism?" into a separate question and topic. Self-plagiarism is a completely different phenomenon that has, aside from the stupid naming, nothing in common with actual plagiarism. We should not add to thee conflation by dealing with them in a single canonical question.
    – xLeitix
    Dec 15, 2022 at 13:50
  • I am torn. On one hand, I agree; if you don't know what plagiarism is, then a lengthy discussion about self-plagiarism will likely be irrelevant and confusing. On the other hand, precisely because the names are so similar, there is some confusion; and many of the existing answers about S-P do discuss regular plagiarism, copyright, citations, etc. So, having a brief but clear definition of S-P and how it relates to the other items may be valuable.
    – cag51 Mod
    Dec 15, 2022 at 14:18
  • I agree with xLeitix; separate out SP (easy enough to put a link "Worried you're self-plagiarizing? Click here!" Dec 15, 2022 at 15:16
  • Fair enough, updated.
    – cag51 Mod
    Dec 15, 2022 at 15:54
  • academia.stackexchange.com/questions/191668/… This fits right into the discussion here.
    – Sursula
    Dec 16, 2022 at 7:39
  • I could draft it, sure - after all, being "just the ideas man" has never been well-received on internet forums, much less so academically connected ;) However, it is abundantly clear I am not exactly the best communicator around, so I would also very much count on the community input for revisions and clarity.
    – Lodinn
    Dec 19, 2022 at 22:49
  • Sounds like a plan, I for one am happy to help with editing. There seems to be a consensus here, so I think this canonical Q is approved. And as you say, these questions have been answered many times already on this site, so you should be able to pull bits and pieces from existing, well written answers (with citations, naturally), rather than having to draft the whole thing from scratch.
    – cag51 Mod
    Dec 20, 2022 at 0:02
  • Actually, @xLeitix, self plagiarism does have something in common with ordinary plagiarism. One of the major reasons we cite in the first place is to continue a chain of science/scholarship from its origins to the current paper. Self plagiarism breaks that chain denying the reader the complete context of the work, just as plagiarism does. That "complete record" includes all citations and bibliographic entires as well as arguments in the original paper. Separating self plagiarism out is fine, but there are important (vital) overlaps.
    – Buffy
    Dec 20, 2022 at 22:45

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