Thursday, March 16, 2006


Plagiarism has been on my mind lately.

I think that many people, especially young people, are not sure what plagiarism is. The old saw is that if you copy from many authors, it's research; if you copy from just one author, it's plagiarism. That is actually an important distinction, and there are people who don't understand it.

* I was reading the slush pile at Pageant magazine in the 1960s, and I lit upon an article with lots of very interesting information. Well researched but execrably written. All it needs is a rewrite, I wrote in my evaluation. An editor read the article--and informed me that the author had simply rewritten (badly) an article that had just appeared in Parade magazine. The aauthor apparently didn't know that that was plagiarism.

* I onc read a real-estate book published by Wiley--and it was mostly material from articles I had written for the Bergen Record! The book's notes section cited article after article that I had written. I never complained. I figured that Wiley was embarrassed enough to have purchased the book. The author didn't seem to realize that taking all that information from just one source isn't acceptable.

* I entered a real-estate writing contest -- and lost. I was disappointed. The winning entry, from a very obscure publication, was a piece about blighted houses--haunted houses, houses whre crimes had been committed. I never checked, but I suspect that that article had been cribbed from a similar article I had written a while ago for Sylvia Porter's Magazine.

* A former teacher of mine, very elderly, showed me an essay she had written. Quotation after quotation --unattributed! In quotes, all right, but no author. Unpublishable. How could she have done that?

Anyway, I'm thinking about plagiarism because recently there have been instances of this happening--and I suspect that the perpetrators were simply ignorant of the rules.