A Taxonomy of Plagiarism and Academic Fraud
Dr. Catherine Decker and Dr. Curt Burgess
Hyperlinks in this taxonomy last verified 6/7/03
Text copyright Decker and Burgess 2003

There are many ways to classify types of plagiarism. A quick search on the Web in June of 2003 found fourteen different taxonomies of plagiarism; these sites divided plagiarism into a range of subtypes numbering from two to eleven (see all these sites on our students.html page). Upon reflection, the following four categories seem to be the most useful for distinguishing the major types of plagiarism.

1. Fraudulent Claims of Authorship

2. Fraudulent Claims of Originality

We might also add two other categories, perhaps more accurately called academic fraud than plagiarism.

3. Fraudulent Claims about Non-existing Scholarship
(This is the creation of fake quotations, authors, journals, publishers, interviews, data, statistics, etc. When done for humorous purposes and not to mislead, such texts are part of the minor genre of scholarship parody. Publications such as the Journal of Polymorphous Perversity and the Onion are compilations of scholarship parody.)

4. Fraudulent Claims about Existing Scholarship
(This is distorting, misreading, or making false claims about actual scholarship written by other authors, including inserting new words into the original text to change meaning--sometimes called "Contextual Fraud." This may also include the falsification of publication dates or publication media to satisfy some set requirement of the assignment. Another variation of this is the falsification of one's research findings to support some predetermined position or theory. Such false interpretations of data are usually motivated by the desire for fame and financial rewards. Notoriously, during Hitler's reign in World War II, some research findings were manipulated to support the "theory" of Aryan supremacy. One variation of this is usually considered laudable, the article or work that makes fraudulent claims about existing scholarship and/or fraudulent claims in general to expose the poor, inadequate, politicized, and/or biased review-and-acceptance procedure of a journal or publisher. The famous example of this is the Alan Sokal parody article, "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," originally published in Social Text. Sokal's goal was actually to expose more than just Social Text; he set out to expose the shoddy thinking and scholarship associated with an entire school or type of scholarship--in Sokal's case, "postmodernism."


The two major types of plagiarism can be further subdivided as noted below.

1. Fraudulent Claims of Authorship

A. Large-scale fraud: Claiming to have written a paper that was actually written entirely or partially by another person or persons in the same language or in another language.

i. Buying, trading, stealing, copying, or accepting the writing of another and claiming authorship. In addition to the change of authorship, other changes may be made, such as the addition of a new introduction or section to meet the assignment's requirements. The writing may also be revised to change documentation styles, format, or tone. A rare variation of this may occur at the professional level--one academic takes the work of a subordinate--usually a post-doc, graduate student, or research assistant--and publishes the work as his or her own without acknowledging the research and writing of the original writer or greatly minimizing the work of said writing to mere "help" or "advice."

ii. Translating the work of another writer and claiming to be the author instead of simply stating one is the translator. In art, reproducing the art of another artist (in the same or another medium) and claiming to be the original artist, rather than a copier. In the former case, the translation may even be done by translation software which is not acknowledged, a further degree of fraud. Other modifications in addition to the translation and authorship changes may be made to mask this type of fraud, such as changes in documentation style or the false attribution of some of the original sources to sources written or published in English. In the realm of art, the supposedly "new" artist may attempt to justify their appropriation of another's art as "postmodern art" or "artistic licence." (The Emerson College Policy on Plagiarism discusses this type of plagiarism as badly done "artistic quoting"; for Emerson College, the culpability of the artist depends on the intention of the "new" artist and the degree of "familiarity" of the material appropriated.)

iii. Paying for or accepting the writing services of another person who quantitatively and qualitatively revises the writing but who is not acknowledged or made a co-author. Some people call this "ghostwriting" (See Dr. Crawford of Fort Hays State University's discussion of plagiarism). Parents, friends, and/or tutors may be willing accomplices in this type of plagiarism, mistakenly believing they can "permit" their writing to be falsely represented as that of another. Unfortunately on the professional level, this sort of ghostwriting is often sanctioned--authors rely on their editors and sometimes paid ghostwriters for unattributed writing (see Brian Martin's "Plagiarism: A Misplaced Emphasis"). Brian Martin further notes that political speechwriters and comedic writing teams are also types of professional ghostwriters whose writing is commonly not acknowledged.

iv. Combining or blending the work of several sources in an original way, or incorporating the work of several sources into a loose frame of original writing, but claiming to have written the entire document. This is often called "patchwriting," "mosaic plagiarism," "piecemeal plagiarism," or "copy-and-paste plagiarism." (See respectively the University of Michigan's Renoir Gather's use of Diana Hacker's terms, Dr. Crawford's taxonomy, the Emerson College Policy on Plagiarism, Lynn Schalman's "Plagiarism and the Web," "Plagiarism Avoided" by the University of British Columbia, "Types of Plagiarism" at Lewis & Clark College, and C. Barnbaum's "Plagiarism" at Valdosta State University.) There is a close relationship between this type of false claim of authorship and the second type of false claim of originality discussed below. "Legitimate" forms of "patchwriting" and associated legitimate genres are discussed in the same section below.

B. Mid-scale fraud: Claiming to have created the ideas of another author or authors. Taking any exact wording of another source--whether a unique term, a unique figure of speech or metaphor, a sentence, or several paragraphs. Also stealing, copying, or accepting another person's chart, table, illustration, graphics, program, experiment, data, etc. and incorporating it into one's paper as the work of oneself.

C. Small-scale fraud: Claiming the work of one author is the partial or whole work of another author. This may be done accidentally or intentionally. The main motivations for the intentional alteration of an author are avoiding a complex type of documentation, avoiding the need to obtain a source that one has only encountered indirectly, (sometimes called "secondary source plagiarism"--see the Bensman's reference in Brian Martin's "Plagiarism: A Misplaced Emphasis") or creating the illusion of having done a greater amount of research that actually done or the illusion of using more prestigious, respectable, and/or recent sources than actually used. When the writing of one real author is attributed to a nonexistent author, the motivation is to hide deliberate fraud. This seemingly illogical act is usually done to satisfy a requirement to have a particular type of source material or a particular number of sources. At the professional level, sometimes the work of one person is falsely attributed to another in a sanctioned or complicit way--typically this occurs in the form of coauthorship where no such collaboration has occurred. The real author is not denied credit for his or her writing, but the credit of writing or collaboration is extended to a person or persons who have not contributed (at all, or less offensively, in any extensive way) to the body of work. This type of false attribution is what La Follette calls "honorary authorship" and what both Coser, Kadushin, and Powell, as well as Fischer and Lazerson are referring to when they discuss "managed texts" (both phrases are quoted from Brian Martin's "Plagiarism: A Misplaced Emphasis"; none of these three original texts cited by Martin have been consulted to construct this reference). Brain Martin's discussion of these authors' work emphasizes that these types of "institutional plagiarism" (Martin's term) are designed to reward administrators or others with prestige or to sell textbooks by using the names of more prestigious or established writers.

D. Smaller scale fraud: Inadequately framing or documenting any source material that is quoted, summarized, or paraphrased so that some of the source material is implied to be the original ideas of the new author. In these cases, it is easy to prove inadequate citation skills, but difficult to prove malicious intent. Accidentally or deliberately, citations are done in an ambiguous or inadequate way that implies greater intelligence and creativity by the new writer than the reality of the situation. A common variation of this is the "missing quotation mark"--accidentally or deliberately the final quotation mark of a source is left off, so that it is unclear if some sentences are the quoted author's ideas and words or the new author's ideas and words.

E. Even smaller scale fraud: Claiming to have created the wording, sentence structure, or organizational or argumentative pattern used to convey the ideas of another source. Here is where many students and even faculty or administrators, unfortunately, sometimes disagree over the culpability of the author. Given the effort taken by the "author" to have somewhat revised the original material, some will excuse occasional thefts of exact words or even of entire sentence structures. In these cases, students may simply be so badly trained at paraphrasing or summarizing that they believe their inadequate rewriting is original enough to be considered an acceptable paraphrase or summary. Other students will attempt to excuse such fraud by claims of poor-training, ignorance, or even miraculous coincidence--"we just happened to write similar sentences or organize in similar ways." More subtle is the theft of organization or argumentative patterns. Here the same ideas are presented in the same order. The ideas may be common knowledge while the wording is unique. What is stolen is the pattern of the text--the order, the logic, the structure. When common knowledge is involved, this has been called "Style plagiarism" (see C. Barnbaum's "Plagiarism" at Valdosta State University). When what is borrowed in an argumentative pattern, including the citing of a series of secondary sources, this can be called "plagiarism of the form of a source" (this phrase is quoted from Brian Martin's "Plagiarism: A Misplaced Emphasis"). Occasionally students will claim that their thefts of wording; sentence structure; or organization of ideas, material, and/or sources is legitimate because the ideas of the original text are common knowledge or because the original text is a public-domain document. This reasoning is fallacious because unique wording, sentence structure, and organizational patterns must be cited whatever the status of the information embodied in the wording, structure, or pattern. The intention of the student, however, might not have been to commit fraud, hence leading to ethical confusion. The role of intention in determining guilt or innocence is not a ethical issue that is easily agreed upon or resolved (consider for example the ethical distinctions between first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and manslaughter).

2. Fraudulent Claims of Originality

This area is another about which there is some ethical confusion. Students, faculty, and administrators may disagree about whether these cases constitute "plagiarism" or "academic fraud."

A."Self-plagiarizing" or "recycling" are common names for when students claim writing done for some other course or purpose as original, distinctive new work. Some taxonomies of plagiarism consider this a variation of "Ghostwriting" plagiarism--in this case, the ghostwriter is the same person as the new author of the "new" assignment (see Turnitin.com's "Types of Plagiarism" subpage).The degree of revision of the non-original work may vary from simply changing the title page information to more substantive rewriting. The fraud, however, is that the student is not doing--in whole or in part--new, original research and writing. Although the author has written all the material, the material was not written for the purpose of the assignment or was written to meet the requirements of two or more assignments and to be turned in for multiple credit.

B. The writer contributes no original thinking, writing, performing, or art whatsoever to the "new" work. Every idea, chart, data, illustration, etc., has a source, and the author has merely compiled or arranged the material into a whole. The "new" paper adds nothing to the world's body of knowledge. Often this is not considered plagiarism by teachers or administrators, but simply (and usually equally fatal to an evaluative grade) a failure to follow the directions of the assignment or grossly inadequate writing that overquotes. The paper that is merely one string of quotes after another with no substantial writing or thinking by the "author" is this type of academic fraud. For a music assignment, this type of fraud involves excessive "sampling" in which nothing but samples of other people's music is used. Again, students, faculty, and administrators may disagree on whether musical works consisting entirely of sampling constitute"fraud" although they clearly involve little or no originality. Claiming to be a "compiler," "editor," or "disc jockey" seems more appropriate in these cases than claiming to be an "author," "writer," "artist," or "composer." Socially sanctioned art forms that involve a minimum of creativity and are closely related to this type of fraud are "found poetry," "found art," "collage," and "photomontage." The documenting of sources and/or declaration that the author has merely found and arranged the material, rather than created the material, legitimizes this appropriation and distinguishes "art" from "fraud." The perspective of different systems of ethics (such as intention-based versus result-based ethical systems), however, may influence our judgments of "originality." The important factor in distinguishing fraud from legitimate art or scholarship (such as the review article or review of the literature, the synthesis, or the meta-analysis) is both whether the previous produced material is presented honestly as the work of others and if a degree of originality or novelty is actually involved. In a good review article, review of the literature, synthesis, or meta-analysis, source material is primarily used to present some new material--typically a new conclusion, interpretation, or evaluation of the older material. These legitimate forms of scholarship do contribute new ideas while fraudulent scholarship merely purports to contribute such new ideas but does not. These legitimate forms of scholarship differ from patchwriting because patchwriting does not attribute the "patches" to the original authors