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Literal and Intelligent Plagiarism: Students Beware!

Academic plagiarism has become like a viral fever that Borrowing a few words from others’ sentences to beau‑
can affect even a healthy person if sufficient preventive tify the sentences in your own manuscript by itself cannot
measures are not taken. Untrained research students, be called plagiarism as long as you have not borrowed
who need to write good quality research papers under the ideas. However, students whose native language is
tight time constraints, are usually the victims. It is not not English or those who are not fluent in English are
uncommon for research supervisors to experience a psy‑ tempted to use the easier way of “copying and pasting”
chological burden while approving the student’s paper of entire sentences. This is called literal plagiarism. The
for submission to a journal or a conference. Who knows if introduction of a thesis or a research paper is the one
a sentence copied by the student while writing a research where you will find most cases of literal plagiarism.
paper may be detected years later, subjecting the research Even if cosmetic changes are made in the sentences, it
supervisor to a great embarrassment. When the supervi‑ does not keep you from being called a plagiarist. Let me
sor asks them to be careful about plagiarism, the students illustrate this with an example. The following sentences
may also feel that they are being treated with suspicion. are from my research paper.
Let us look at how incautious writing of a research paper
can lead us to this potential plagiarism risks. Original text: Bipolar transistors exhibit a number of sig‑
nificant advantages such as well‑controllable character‑
You write a research paper when your experiments are istics, high speed, high gain, and low output resistance.
complete and you feel that the results are unique and a These are excellent properties for mixed‑signal circuit
significant advancement in knowledge. Research papers design and analog amplifiers. An emergent trend in
typically contain an abstract, an introduction, experimen‑ modern high‑density Very Large Scale Integrated circuits
tal details, and analysis of results including tables and is the integration of bipolar transistors with complemen‑
figures, conclusions, and a list of references. Preparing tary metal‑oxide‑semiconductor (CMOS) technology on
figures or tables, analyzing the results and making con‑ thin silicon‑on‑insulator (SOI).
clusions are the easier tasks of writing a research paper
since you must have spent a couple of years working Let us say an author copies the above text in his paper
on the problem. However, writing the introduction of with slight modifications (in italics) as given below.
the paper is the most difficult task and is often written
at the end just to make sure that no important points of Copied text with minor modifications: Bipolar transis‑
rationale that support your work are left out. The reader tors show a number of significant advantages such as
should get an overall picture and important highlights of well‑controllable characteristics, high gain, high speed,
your contribution after reading the introduction so that and small output resistance. These are useful characteristics
he is enticed to delve further into your paper. for mixed‑signal circuit design and analog amplifiers.
A modern trend in high‑density VLSI circuits is the inte‑
In the introduction, you briefly survey the field, and gration of bipolar transistors with CMOS technology on
identify the limitations of the known approaches to justify thin silicon‑on‑insulator (SOI).
why you have taken up the current research problem.
You then go on to state the results you have obtained and Carefully check the above two paragraphs. There are
why they are important in the present context. You may only a few changes in the choice of words. The modi‑
also highlight the limitations of your work in the broader fied and copied text will still be considered as literal
context. In my view, writing the introduction part of a plagiarism if the original source is not cited at the end
research paper is not easy because this is where you are of the copied text. I would even suggest that you put
making that emphatic selling point for your research. Stu‑ the modified and copied text in quotes or in italics and
dents are generally clueless on writing the introduction to cite the original reference. This is to make sure that the
the research paper since it requires taking a broader view reader is aware that the material has been taken from
of the research area. This invariably leads them to read a a different source. But this does not mean that you put
variety of published papers to look for leads on how to every sentence in a written paragraph in quotes followed
build their case as the most novel and original idea with by a reference. This indeed has happened with one of
respect to the knowledge already known. my students. He brought a manuscript in which every


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Kumar MJ: Literal and Intelligent Plagiarism – Students Beware!

alternate sentence is in quotes followed by a reference While there is no literal plagiarism in the above para‑
number. Such a collection of quotes does not lead to any graph, the view‑point expressed in the last sentence
original intellectual contribution and looks awkward. needs a citation of the original source although the
view‑point is re‑written. However nicely you may sum‑
If you examine the original text given above, it has three marize an idea of another author, you must remember
sentences. The first/second sentence is a general ­statement that the idea is not yours and must, therefore, acknowl‑
about bipolar transistors and therefore is standard stuff. edge the original source. Failure to do so can land you
However, the third sentence conveys an idea or a thought in intelligent plagiarism which is even more malicious
attributable to the original author. Only an expert working compared to literal plagiarism.
in the field could say it authoritatively. When the student
copies a statement or thought from another paper because Students beware! When you indulge either in literal
that sentence perfectly conveys what the student wanted plagiarism or intelligent plagiarism either knowingly
to say, there is another danger. You might have copied or unknowingly, you are putting all the authors in the
an idea too along with the language of the sentence. You manuscript at risk. Detection of plagiarism after publish‑
might not have used this idea in your paper. However, you ing the paper can result in serious consequences to the
have failed to acknowledge that the original author is the
organization where you work, and can severely damage
one who has presented that point of view. This is called
your reputation and that of the co‑authors.
idea adoption. If the plagiarist tries to hide the original
source to represent the idea as his own during the idea
Academic institutes should evolve an enforceable policy
adoption, it leads to intelligent plagiarism.
defining the boundaries between fair use and plagiarism
and make this policy widely available to their commu‑
What we tend to forget is that it is not possible for two
different human beings to exactly write the same set of nities via their websites. This plagiarism policy should
sentences on a given idea. If you have watched a nice help the academic communities in improving their
movie and wanted to convey the story to your friend, I am self‑awareness about (i) what constitutes plagiarism
sure you would tell it in your own words. We can similarly and (ii) the consequences of plagiarism. Providing easy
summarize a written text without the need to copy from access to plagiarism detection tools through campus
the original source. Let me re‑write my original text given wide licensing will make it easier both for the students
above to illustrate how you can avoid literal plagiarism. and the faculty to keep out of situations that can be clas‑
sified as plagiarism.
Modified text: The significant advantages of bipolar tran‑
sistors are (i) well‑controllable characteristics, (ii) high We need to recognize that while plagiarism is bad, we
speed, (iii) high gain, and (iv) low output resistance. can definitely prevent it from happening through good
These benefits make them highly useful in mixed‑signal practices.
and analog amplifier circuit design. Integration of bipolar
transistors with complementary metal‑oxide‑semicon‑ M. Jagadesh Kumar
ductor (CMOS) technology on thin silicon‑on‑insulator NXP (Philips) Chair Professor,
(SOI) is an emerging trend in modern high‑density VLSI Department of Electrical Engineering,
integrated circuits. Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi, India


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Kumar MJ: Literal and Intelligent Plagiarism – Students Beware!

AUTHOR EDS Publications Committee and the EDS Educational Activities Committee.
M. Jagadesh Kumar was born in Mamidala, Andhra Associate Editor of IEEE Technology News. He was the lead Guest Editor
Pradesh, India. He received the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees for the following: 1) the joint special issue of the IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON
in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of ELECTRON DEVICES and the IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON NANOTECHNOLOGY
Technology (IIT), Madras, India. (November 2008 issue) on Nanowire Transistors: Modeling, Device Design,
From 1991 to 1994, he performed postdoctoral and Technology and 2) the special issue of the IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON
research on the modeling and processing of high‑speed ELECTRON DEVICES on Light Emitting Diodes (January 2010 issue). He is the
bipolar transistors at the Department of Electrical and Editor‑in‑Chief of the IETE Technical Review and an Associate Editor of the
Computer Engineering, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada. While Journal of Computational Electronics. He is on the editorial board of Recent
with the University of Waterloo, he also did research on amorphous‑silicon Patents on Nanotechnology, Recent Patents on Electrical Engineering, Journal
thin‑film transistors. From July 1994 to December 1995, he was initially with of Low Power Electronics, and Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology.
the Department of Electronics and Electrical Communication Engineering, He has reviewed extensively for different international journals.
IIT, Kharagpur, India, and then, he was with the Department of Electrical He was a recipient of the 29th IETE Ram LalWadhwa Gold Medal for his
Engineering, IIT, New Delhi, India, where he became an Associate Professor distinguished contribution in the field of semiconductor device design
in July 1997 and has been a Full Professor in January 2005. He is currently the and modeling. He was also the first recipient of the India Semiconductor
Chair Professor of the NXP (Philips) (currently, NXP Semiconductors India Pvt. Association–VLSI Society of India TechnoMentor Award given by the
Ltd.) established at IIT Delhi by Philips Semiconductors, The Netherlands. He India Semiconductor Association to recognize a distinguished Indian
is the Coordinator of the Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) Design, Tools, academician for playing a significant role as a Mentor and Researcher. He
and Technology interdisciplinary program at IIT Delhi. He is also a Principal is also a recipient of the 2008 IBM Faculty Award. He was the Chairman
Investigator of the Nano‑scale Research Facility at IIT Delhi. of the Fellowship Committee of The Sixteenth International Conference
His research interests include nanoelectronic devices, device modeling, on VLSI Design (January 4–8, 2003, New Delhi, India), the Chairman of
and simulation for nanoscale applications, integrated‑circuit technology, the Technical Committee for High Frequency Devices of the International
and power semiconductor devices. He has published extensively in these Workshop on the Physics of Semiconductor Devices (December 13–17,
areas of research with three book chapters and more than 150 publications 2005, New Delhi), the Student Track Chairman of the 22nd International
in refereed journals and conferences. His teaching has often been rated as Conference on VLSI Design (January 5–9, 2009, New Delhi), and the
outstanding by the Faculty Appraisal Committee, IIT Delhi. Program Committee Chairman of the Second International Workshop
on Electron Devices and Semiconductor Technology (June 1–2, 2009,
Dr. Kumar is a fellow of the Indian National Academy of Engineering, The Mumbai, India).
National Academy of Sciences, India, and the Institution of Electronics and
Telecommunication Engineers (IETE), India. He is recognized as a Distinguished For more details, please visit http://web.iitd.ac.in/~mamidala
Lecturer of the IEEE Electron Devices Society (EDS). He is a member of the E-mail: mamidala@ee.iitd.ac.in

DOI: 10.4103/0256-4602.98858; Paper No. TR 282_12; Copyright © 2012 by the IETE