Paraphrasing cartoon

We are now settling in to our new home in Wilmington, Delaware, and they sent us a free copy of the News Journal last week to encourage us to subscribe. One of the cartoons — Tina’s Groove — was surprisingly relevant.

[picapp align=”left” wrap=”true” link=”term=dictionary&iid=1643938″ src=”3/2/3/7/Miami_Schools_Teach_b363.jpg?adImageId=12975402&imageId=1643938″ width=”234″ height=”156″ /] A mother is saying to her daughter: “If you want to get a more comprehensive meaning of the word ‘plagiarism,’ look it up in this dictionary … and then look it up in this dictionary published two years later … almost word for word!”

This raises some interesting questions, which I can’t fully answer:

  1. Do lexicographers (dictionary writers/editors) ever get accused of plagiarism?
  2. How close can a definition be to one in another dictionary before it’s considered plagiarism?
  3. Are there examples of the phenomenon that Tina describes? — that is, identical (word for word) definitions in competing dictionaries?
  4. In other academic disciplines, can you be accused of plagiarizing the definition of a common term, or does this fall under the category of common knowledge? (A graduate student in Nursing at UNC once told me that there aren’t many ways to define osteoarthritis!)

I address some of these questions in my online videos on paraphrasing and plagiarism, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on these problems!

Videos on paraphrasing and avoiding plagiarism

My last major task before leaving UNC-Chapel Hill was to finish a series of video presentations on paraphrasing and plagiarism that I’ve been promising to make for months! They are finished, and you can watch them here.

I had already done a video on this topic last year, but after hearing some great sessions at TESOL in March, I wanted to revisit this important area for academic writers. In particular, the second-language writing interest section’s colloquium on plagiarism (handouts here) stressed the importance of teaching learners good use of sources and not just threatening them with the consequences of plagiarism.

So, that’s what I’ve tried to do in the video presentations. I start by discussing how to use sources — or rather, I give writers questions to ask about sources in their field — and then go on to show the language tricks and techniques that make for acceptable paraphrases and summaries. The series is written for ESL graduate students, but others might find it useful, too.

Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment!