This post was updated by the DEV Team on January 5th 2023 to take into account AI-assisted plagiarism.
As DEV continues to grow, we want to ensure that DEV remains a place of integrity and inclusiveness. At DEV, we use Community Moderation as a tool to maintain a respectful and positive environment. It is important to us that we provide you all with the tools to identify and flag problems that may affect a single author or countless DEV users.
In this post, we hope to provide simple and effective guidance to combat plagiarism as a community. Whether you’re reporting plagiarism as you stumble upon it or learning how to avoid it in your own writing, hopefully, you find this resource helpful!
Oxford Languages defines plagiarism as, "the practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own," however, plagiarism is multifaceted and it’s not always so clear as this.
Bowdoin University wrote a great breakdown of the four most common types of plagiarism, in tl:dr fashion these are:
Let's take a little deeper look into each…
Direct Plagiarism is the most blatant form of plagiarism we encounter. This pertains to a user copying and pasting content from another blog, piece of media, or document, and claiming it as their own.
Self Plagiarism is described through an academic lens in the Bowdoin University article which is not as relevant to our community, but we can think of this in a different way. For instance, you could potentially self-plagiarize by reposting an article you wrote for a company or publication, if they own your work. In many circumstances, these places will be happy for you to repost your work elsewhere, but make sure that you understand the terms and conditions of your writing before reposting.
Mosaic Plagiarism generally starts when someone is inspired by another user's work and wants to write about the same topic. This occasionally manifests as copying and pasting certain passages of someone else’s work or as Bowdoin says “finds synonyms for the author’s language while keeping to the same general structure and meaning of the original” but failing to cite the original author. (Notice how we were able to link directly to the specific language in the text... every extra step we can take to clarify where the info came from is ideal!)
Accidental Plagiarism happens when folks misquote their sources, forget to cite sources, or copy their sources too closely by accident (like mosaic plagiarism).
Luckily, avoiding plagiarism is pretty easy once you know how to identify it. Typically, it is as simple as providing a straightforward source and citation to any media you use that is not your own in your post.
If you're pulling information from an external source that you did not create, you should always cite where the information came from.
For example, say you're writing an article on using an npm package, axios, and you're using information from their documentation — you should link their docs in your article. This not only gives them credit for their work but also helps the DEV community in case someone wants to do more research about the topic.
If you copy a source directly — use quotes and absolutely provide a source + citation. If you just looked at a source and paraphrased it in your own words, you don't need to use quotations, but it is still best to cite the source.
If in doubt, always provide a source + citation! It's unlikely anyone will fault you for offering too many citations or listing too many sources.
See how I linked to the university's actual post on plagiarism (the source) and quoted the plagiarism types that they named. Notice that I didn't try to misappropriate these ideas as my own in any way and made it explicitly clear that this information came from Bowdoin University. This allows readers to do more research at the original source and ensures that the writers receive fair credit.
We understand that there are AI tools (like ChatGPT) that can be used to aid in content creation. When used responsibly, these tools can be really cool and are generally allowed on the platform. However, these tools also have the potential for abuse.
Please review our guidelines for using AI-assisted tools in your writing here:
You should check out the full guidelines, but in regards to plagiarism, take care not to use AI to copy someone’s work unwittingly… and of course, don’t do it on purpose either! Always do your research and be responsible, making sure to cite sources if appropriate and disclose whatever tool you used to write your article. And even then, using AI does not excuse you from posting an article that plagiarizes others’ works. If we discover that you have done so, we will act to unpublish any offending posts and may suspend your DEV account. Be mindful and don’t let your usage of AI cause you to plagiarize.
Now that you know how to properly cite sources, let's talk a bit about how to recognize plagiarism and where to go to report it.
Sometimes you just get the feeling that something is being plagiarized. Maybe you feel like you read it somewhere before. Or perhaps you notice a sharp change in the author’s voice. Maybe you see strange errors that occur from copying/pasting! Do a little detective work by dropping chunks of the text into your search engine of choice (or try the “quick search” option on plagium.com), and see if you can find any results with similar wording. If you do, report it to us! (More on that below!)
And of course, plagiarism doesn’t just happen in writing — it’s just as important to attribute images, code, videos, and other media. If you see a graph (or code block) you recognize from elsewhere, try to place it, and again, let us know. You might find the reverse image search at tineye.com helpful for seeing if an image is plagiarized!
Other times, you may notice that someone isn't taking content from another source word-for-word, but their content feels too close to the original for comfort. Alternatively, maybe their graph is in blue instead of red like the original, or maybe their code has slightly different variables but is otherwise the same as someone else’s. If you feel like it’s off, report it and let us know why!
What about those times when someone seems to be claiming that a repo or CodePen is theirs (when it's not)? ... Definitely reportable!
As for examples that likely should not be reported:
- someone is reposting their own work that they first posted elsewhere
- someone is giving a shout-out to someone else's work or has written a companion piece/response to someone else's post (while making it clear it's unaffiliated)
If you believe you’ve encountered plagiarism or copyright violations, the absolute BEST action you can take is to report the post and provide any evidence you have.
Reporting the post sends it directly to our community team to take action. If you're unsure, it's okay to send it to us for review... we won't penalize you for being mistaken.
All this said, we do not recommend calling anyone out in the comments section — as we discussed before, plagiarism can be accidental and/or is sometimes enforced differently in a variety of cultures. We ask that you simply report the post rather than getting personally involved which could accidentally trigger arguments, hurt feelings, or possibly even further conduct violations.
We hope this advice is helpful! Of course, if you think we missed any good points here or would like to add your own advice, feel free to comment down below!