Plagiarism - Engineering/Science Example

In [1] Mokhberi et al. write:

One of the difficulties associated with Hall measurement is in the interpretation of the measured quantities, the Hall coefficient, and the conductivity. From these two quantities, one can calculate mobility and active dose, where based on a simple first-order approach, the relations are

However, these relations neglect the statistical variations in the velocities of free carriers. In general, this is taken into account by introducing the Hall factor (or Hall ratio) r

One could use this article as a source to discuss the concept of a Hall factor. The following are examples of how one might use this information along with a discussion of whether it is plagiarism:

1. Exact copying

  • In this example, a copy of the entire text is not called for. The text is not so unique that a student should feel that he/she needs to reproduce it in its entirety.
  • If a student did decide that he/she wishes to copy the entire text, it would have to be set out as a direct quote using indentation as above.
  • Without explicitly citing the text as a direct quote, exact copying is, by definition, plagiarism.

2. Slight rewording

  • In general, slight rewording is not enough to avoid plagiarism. For example, if instead of “…. From these two quantities, one can calculate mobility…” one said, “…. From these quantities, we can calculate mobility…” this would still rank as plagiarism.

3. Citing the equations

  • In general, citing equations without giving a reference specific to the equation is plagiarism.
  • In some cases the equations are so standard and so well-known in the field that a specific citation is not required. This is the case, for example, with the Hall equations used in the paragraph above. The authors do not give a specific reference because the equations would be known to any graduate student well-versed in the field of electrical measurements of semiconductors.
  • When in doubt, it is always better to give a citation. Even if one is reproducing a standard and well-known equation it is better to give a citation by saying (see for example [n]) where "n" is the number of a reference in your list of references pointing to a particular textbook or article containing the equation.

4. Using your own words

  • This would be the appropriate method of giving this information.
    Students sometimes struggle with how to “reword” a particular paragraph. In fact, for a scientific paper this is the wrong way to think about the task. One should rather think of the task as made up of two steps: (1) understand the concept completely; and (2) explain the concept from scratch to someone else who desires to understand it.
  • The best way to do this in general is to understand the concept from more than one source then attempt an explanation without looking at any of those sources. It may help to actually try to verbally explain the concept to a friend and allow that friend to ask questions regarding this concept.
  • Even without the benefit of multiple sources, it is always possible to use your own words. Again, thinking of the task as an attempt to educate others about a concept, we have to realize that we make a large number of choices when we explain something: we choose which steps of a derivation to include, which steps to skip over, which assumptions we state, which objections we address, the specific order in which the different parts of the explanation are to be presented, the specific vocabulary, etc.
  • As an example, consider the above paragraphs on Hall measurements, and compare with an alternate explanation of the same concept:

    "The results of a Hall measurement are two numbers: conductivity, and the Hall coefficient, RH. We use these to compute mobility, c, and carrier concentration, p or n, using:

    where r is an empirically-determined coefficient known as the Hall factor or Hall ratio. The Hall ratio is a correction required because the velocities of free electrons and holes are known to have statistical fluctuations that will affect the Hall measurement."

    In writing the above, I made a number of choices different from the original authors. For example, I gave the symbols for each quantity when I first mentioned it instead of assuming that the reader would be familiar with it. I went straight to the second set of equations without discussing the simplified version first. I did not approach the derivation as a "difficulty associated with Hall measurement" but rather presented it as a well-known procedure for measurement. You may agree with some of these choices or you may agree with none. The point is that you will have your own choices to make.

    Plagiarism in engineering and science writing is a problem precisely because it means that you did not make your own choices regarding what merits presentation and how. And this may mean that you did not understand the material to begin with.

[1] A. Mokhberi, P. B. Griffin, J. D. Plummer, E. Paton, S. McCoy, and K. Elliott, "A Comparative Study of Dopant Activation in Boron, BF2, Arsenic, and Phosphorus Implanted Silicon," IEEE Trans. Electron Dev., vol. 49, pp. 1183-1191, 2002.