Plagiarism is generally considered to be the wrongful appropriation of another author's intellectual property that is represented as one’s own original work. While it is true that scientists rarely work completely alone and research findings are often built on previous work, clear rules and methods apply to using other authors’ work. Breaking these rules is called plagiarism.
Scientific discourse and the exchange of ideas and findings depend on all participants adhering to certain academic standards. One of the most important of these standards is the correct citation of the ideas your own work is based on. Correct citation is not only intended to give credit to the original author, it also provides readers with important information about additional sources on the topic.
Using these rules correctly is also in your own best interest, because in doing so, you demonstrate your own grasp of the topic. Plagiarists often do themselves more harm than good: By taking a “short cut,” they fail to learn the research, writing, and analytical thinking skills they would have mastered by doing the work themselves.
What’s more, plagiarism doesn’t just go against academic standards. In many cases plagiarism is also a copyright violation, which is a crime and punishable by law.
What constitutes plagiarism?
- Passing off other people’s work as one’s own (ghostwriting)
- Downloading texts (or parts of texts) from the internet and passing them off as one’s own
- Using translations of works (or parts of works) written in another language in one’s own text without referencing the sources
- Quoting passages from other works without referencing the sources
- Handing in the same text (or parts of the same text) more than once in different seminars
Identification and consequences
Teachers can often easily pinpoint plagiarism with a simple online search or by using plagiarism detection software. At WU, all students are required to upload their bachelor’s theses to Learn@WU so their supervisor can subject the theses to plagiarism testing before they are accepted for grading.
WU’s position on plagiarism is clear: Plagiarism is a serious violation of academic integrity and is punished accordingly. This means that plagiarism will have extremely serious consequences. Further information on the consequences of confirmed cases of plagiarism are available here for the German-language bachelor's programs and here for the English-taught program.
Writing an academic thesis can be challenging. One of these challenges can be determining exactly where another autor's ideas end and your own work begins. Keep the following in mind while writing:
When writing an academic text, the point is to demonstrate your grasp of the material, not so much to write perfectly formulated sentences. By independently and critically addressing the concepts, you show that you have understood and mastered them.
Research carefully, but remember that just searching for information is not the main core of your work. It is more important to show how you have processed the information.
If your bachelor’s thesis is written as part of a course that also requires students to submit another paper (e.g. a seminar paper), you may have the option of expanding on your seminar paper for your bachelor’s thesis. Similarly, a bachelor’s thesis can sometimes be used as the foundation for a later master’s thesis. This is possible if it can be ensured that the expansion of your topic requires an appropriate amount of additional work and your supervisor approves.
To avoid self-plagiarism when re-using parts of your own work, remember that you always need to provide correct citations, even when quoting yourself.
Please note: It is not permissible to shorten or condense your own master’s thesis and submit it as a bachelor’s thesis, as this would not involve an appropriate amount of effort.