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Tips for Avoiding Plagiarism

Monday, July 14, 2014  
The RCC has been rather busy lately on a number of fronts. We have been investigating quite a few cases of scholarly misconduct by or against our members. Some of these involve inappropriate research practices, others relate to plagiarism of conference and journal papers, still others to duplicate submissions to conferences (i.e., where what is largely the same paper is submitted multiple times to the same or different conferences). Most of these cases were referred to the President of AIS by conference chairs and journals editors, but occasionally an eagle-eyed member of the AIS spots something that everyone else missed.

When a scholarly misconduct case is referred to the RCC by the AIS President (this is the only channel available), the RCC contacts all the parties concerned and attempts to establish the truth. In some cases, the alleged perpetrators admit their mistake, apologize, and a case can be wrapped up quite quickly. In other cases, alleged perpetrators may deny any wrong doing, the chains of evidence may be incomplete, or there may be significant doubt as to exactly who did what to whom and when. The RCC may need to go beyond the immediate stakeholders to interview coauthors, colleagues, superiors, journal and conference personnel, etc. At the conclusion of their investigation, the RCC recommends corrective steps to the AIS President, who alone is charged with the authority to implement a recommendation, or indeed to modify it, normally with support from the Executive Committee of the AIS Council.

Naturally, it is preferable if the RCC does not need to investigate these cases at all, i.e. our members are more careful with respect to their scholarly behavior. We suspect, from an analysis of recent cases, that scholars are not always aware of the different ways in which they may inadvertently violate the AIS Code of Research Conduct. Here are some examples of behaviors that authors should aim to avoid:

Plagiarism (without citation)
. Very simply, this refers to copying the published work of others without citation. In the submission forms for AIS conferences and journals, we clearly state that it is not permitted to reuse previously published material without citation.

Plagiarism (with citation). This means copying the published work of others verbatim. Even though there’s a citation, direct copying is plagiarism. This kind of plagiarism often occurs when authors make notes on a journal article, thesis or conference paper that they are reading, and then incorporate those notes verbatim into a paper that they are writing, without modifying the text. This may be careless behavior rather than deliberate theft of ideas, but it is still considered to be plagiarism.

Copying your own published work without citation. For AMCIS and ICIS, authors are required to disclose and explain (as part of the submission process) the relationship between similar or related papers that they have written. If they choose not to disclose and explain, and yet similar/related papers are identified, then the conclusion is likely to be that the authors are trying to deceive the conference committee by concealing the duplication or self-plagiarism in the papers.

NB: Even though only one author may have committed plagiarism, unfortunately all the co-authors on the paper may be associated with the act of plagiarism – with serious consequences for them all.

Good Citing Practices

In general, the simple solution is that you must cite all your sources, and use quotation marks when copying text directly. If you think that citing yourself (for instance if this paper is one of a series coming from a longitudinal research project) has the potential to positively identify yourself in the review process and so violate rules about author blindness, then you can cite an anonymous author, omit full details in the reference list, and only provide the correct details if the paper is accepted. You can also explain the situation in a cover letter. Cover letters are a great place to be transparent about your sources and the similarity between related papers.

Multiple submissions. Sometimes we see situations where an author submits two (or more) identical or very similar papers to the same or different conferences, in the same year or different years. This kind of behavior is frowned upon because once a paper has been presented, it should not be presented a second time. If a later paper draws on an earlier paper, then it must cite the earlier paper (see plagiarism above).

As a consequence of a number of recent cases, the RCC has revised the Code of Research Conduct and the Guidelines for a Victim: Dealing with Plagiarism. We have also created a new set of Guidelines for conference chairs and journal editors. These revisions were approved by Council at the Milan and Tel Aviv meetings. Since conference chairs change every year, we strongly recommend that incoming conference chairs read these guidelines as part of their preparation for taking on their new role. The same goes for incoming journal editors. We recommend that doctoral students read and discuss the Code of Research Conduct. However, our intent is not to encourage members to go on a “witch-hunt” trying to spot wrongdoings of others, but first and foremost to ensure that we all pay attention to our scholarly behaviour.

All the codes and guidelines are available on the AIS website. Click the “Research” Tab on the home page, and then “Guidelines and Policies”. Direct links to the relevant documents are as follows:

AIS Guidelines and Policies
AIS Code of Research Conduct

Guidelines for a Victim: Dealing with Plagiarism
Guidelines for Journal Editors and Conference Chairs

Finally, if you are interested in understanding how cases of scholarly misconduct are handled, then you can see our process guidelines here.

The RCC is committed to upholding strict standards of scholarly behaviour in the AIS.

Robert Davison (Chair), City University of Hong Kong

Cynthia Beath, University of Texas at Austin
Virpi Tuunainen, Aalto University

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