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Casey 💎 for The DEV Team

Posted on with Michael Tharrington and Rachel Fazio • Updated on

DEV Community: How to Avoid Plagiarism

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!

What is Plagiarism?

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:

  1. "Direct Plagiarism"

  2. "Self Plagiarism"

  3. "Mosaic Plagiarism"

  4. "Accidental Plagiarism"

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).

How to Avoid Plagiarizing Someone's Work?

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.

When should I cite something?

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.

How should I cite something?

Great question!

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.

A Note on AI Assisted Plagiarism

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.

How to Recognize & Report Plagiarism?

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.

Recognizing Plagiarism

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)

Reporting Plagiarism

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.

Wrap Up

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!

Top comments (13)

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afif profile image
Temani Afif • Edited

Let's hope this post will also play as a warning for people doing plagiarism 😉

A good free tool I always use to detect plagiarism is ... Google! yes google. If you have any doubt about any content, take 3 or 4 sentences for the post (always from the middle, not from the beginning) and put them on the search result. If it's a plagiarism you will get the original post.

Another advice is to consider formatting. Bad formatted posts are generally plagiarism due to the simple copy/past (yes, some users are lazy to format what they pick elsewhere)

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icecoffee profile image
Atulit Anand

That's actually clever

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johansansebastian profile image
Johan Sebastian

That was actually a good point to note for.....Thanks

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michaeltharrington profile image
Michael Tharrington

Thanks so much for writing this up Casey, this is super helpful advice all around! I really like how you covered the plagiarism that is specific to the developer world — folks copying code without giving credit or misrepresenting repos at their own.

So happy to be working with ya to remove plagiarism from the site and educate folks on how to properly cite sources!

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graciegregory profile image
Gracie Gregory (she/her)

This is awesome. Thanks to the entire Community Success team for the work you do protecting people and their work.

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mellen profile image
Matt Ellen • Edited

What I find odd, as some plagiarised posts are easy to spot from their title alone*, is that the things being plagiarised often exist on multiple pages on the web, which raises the question: are the plagiarisers plagiarising other plagiarisers?

* Titles like "unions with c" or "c strings" or other such short titles, always about C.

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incrementis profile image
Akin C.

Hello Casey 💎,

thanks for your article!
I assume the diamond is part of your name so I put it in there :D!
Showing respect for someone's work is always important because at least two simple reasons came to my mind (besides the reason that the work is not one's own).

  1. This person's work seems to be "teaching" and therefore has some value to you if used
  2. That person's work was done with difficulty, and if the person is not named, the effort will not be respected

However, there may be licenses or other situations where the work can be used by someone else without naming. Therefore, I fully agree with
"If you encounter plagiarism, the absolute BEST action you can take is to report the post. Reporting the post sends it directly to our community team to take action."

Please consider some research before blocking the content. Otherwise, it could lead to great displeasure. Take, as an example, an extreme situation where a group of people does not report real plagiarism just to create such unrest within the community.

But keep in mind that I am not an expert on such critical situations. These are just some thoughts.

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itscasey profile image
Casey 💎

Hey Akin!

I completely agree with you! There's definitely a gray area that may be unknown to an average user. We're always looking into reports and also reaching out to the original authors in some instances.

Please consider some research before blocking the content.

You betcha! All reports are reviewed by the Community Success team, Michael, Ella, and myself before any action is taken. We're also very forgiving in most instances because a lot of times it's not malicious

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craigross profile image
CraigRoss

Anyone know how do we stop people stealing our front end code in chrome extensions now that Google are discontinuing the licensing api (which normally protects front end code for paid for chrome extensions)? 9to5google.com/2020/09/22/google-c...

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best_digital_trendz profile image
Best Digital Trendz

Great information... thanks for share

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andrewbaisden profile image
Andrew Baisden

Good information.

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ozzie_eu profile image
João Osório

Someone tell user @abusayed to read this... dev.to/ozzie_eu/comment/1jdc7

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lethargilistic profile image
Michael MacTaggert • Edited

In case someone would be interested in the POV of a Plagiarist! dev.to/lethargilistic/what-is-plag...