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Prevalent plagiarism

By Chemical Engineering |

One of the reasons that Chemical Engineering will have the honor of celebrating its 110th anniversary this year is its longstanding reputation for original, noteworthy and unbiased articles that cannot be found anywhere else. Our internal policies help protect the magazine’s reputation from a number of threats, but not without relentless tenacity on the part of the editors. Much of that is to be expected, but what continually surprises me is the frequency at which we encounter blatant plagiarism.

Just last month, I received a manuscript that I ultimately discovered had been copied — entirely, it appears — from the Yarway Steam Handbook, which was ironically cited in the references section. Appalled by this discovery, I began reaching out to colleagues, readers, former authors and chemical engineering professors to see what they had to say about plagiarism. Many of their experiences were in line with those of my own, so my first reaction was to chalk the trend up to an overall decline in worldwide integrity. (Our audience is global, and this particular manuscript came from an author in Pakistan.) While integrity is certainly an issue, Sundar Madihally, associate professor of chemical engineering at Oklahoma State University, reminds us that now more than ever we must define what is — and is not — acceptable.

“I think the bigger problem is defining plagiarism in the international context,” he says. “With the easy availability of resources on the internet throughout the world and significant influence of monetary benefits, it is always tempting as a human being to take the easy path. Also, in some parts of the world, authors may [consider that] plagiarism is not giving proper credit to the source. If they have [cited] the article where they got the sentences from, then they may perceive the incidence to not be plagiarism.”

Whether the context is international or local, first-time writers or seasoned wordsmiths, admittedly, there are some instances where someone else said it best and it is worth repeating. With that in mind, here are some rules of thumb to follow when submitting a manuscript for publication:

• Above all, be clear about what is and is not original

• Unless there is particular impact in the exact words that the original source used, find your new words to summarize important information. Tom Overton, gas technology editor at Power magazine, aptly points out that this even applies to your own, previous work

• Use citations for bits of information (whether data or text) that you are summarizing and rewording yourself — unless it is already well-known

• If you must reuse someone else’s work, employ quotes for short bits of text. A contrast in formatting, such as italics or indentation, is often preferred for lengthy or multiple paragraphs

• Before submitting a manuscript, obtain proper copyright clearance for anything more than a short quote, including tables, illustrations, diagrams and photographs. Give proper credit to each source

• Submit your manuscript exclusively and to only one publication at a time. Unfortunately, as noted by Robert Peltier, editor in chief of Power magazine, the practice of “shotgunning articles to multiple publications in hope of hitting one target is becoming more common these days”

At the end of the day, if personal ethics are not motivation enough, Ronald J. Willey, professor of chemical engineering at Northeastern University (Boston) leaves us with this. “My graduate school technical-writing teacher warned us early, ‘If you attempt plagiarism, someday, sometime, it will catch up to you.’ Surprising, 30 years hence, I have observed several times where he was right.”

Rebekkah Marshall


* We welcome your own comments on the online version of this article, which can be found under “Web Extras” at www.chemengonline.com.

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