1. Mason, Diana J. PhD, RN, FAAN


Some nurses are guilty of plagiarism-often without intending it.


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Several prominent cases of plagiarism in the past year have attracted media attention. Both Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin, best-selling historians who should have known better, were found to have lifted passages from other scholars' works without indicating direct quotation. Ambrose reportedly said that citing his sources for the passages was sufficient. He found out, publicly, that it wasn't. FIGURE

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In March the New York Times reported on disciplinary action taken against the Rev. Edward L. Mullins, an Episcopalian rector in a Detroit suburb accused of delivering sermons taken from Internet sources, including sites that sell them. Some of his parishioners considered his actions dishonest, even if his payment constituted "fair use" of the material legally.


Regrettably, as go historians and preachers, so go nurses. At AJN we're seeing increasing evidence of plagiarism in manuscripts submitted for publication. In my first few months as editor-in-chief, a staff editor discovered that two-thirds of an article scheduled for an upcoming issue had been copied verbatim from a government Web site. The author had cited the source but hadn't used quotation marks to indicate words that weren't her own. I called to tell her we were returning the manuscript because she'd plagiarized portions of it. She argued that she'd included the source, and that since it was a government site the material was considered to be in the "public domain" (not copyrighted) and hence didn't require quotation marks. She was only half right: as in the rector's case, she hadn't violated copyright law, but she had violated principles of intellectual integrity. If she hadn't strung these words together herself, why did she claim she had?


Harvard University's plagiarism policy (online at defines the varieties of plagiarism. "Most often," it states, "the plagiarist has started out with good intentions but hasn't left enough time to do the reading and thinking that the assignment requires, has become desperate, and just wants the whole thing done with." The Internet certainly makes it easy for a harried writer to copy an entire passage and paste it into her own document. Some authors do so thinking they'll paraphrase later, and then they forget to do it. Other violations are more calculated. But regardless of intention, if you reproduce all or part of a work verbatim, you must set it in quotation marks and reference it. Anything paraphrased must also be referenced.


Self-plagiarism is an issue as well, one new to me and probably unfamiliar to most nurse specialists who write often on the same topics and disseminate their work widely. If your original work is published by one publisher, and subsequent works in which you use the same words are published by another, you're probably violating copyright law. If your publisher is the same for both the original and subsequent self-plagiarized works, you're still guilty of intellectual dishonesty. Readers must be able to trust that writers aren't misrepresenting the originality of their material.


At AJN, we check the facts of manuscripts, and often find plagiarized sentences, bulleted lists, and entire paragraphs. It's a serious infraction in publishing. AJN reserves the right to reject any plagiarized manuscript. And in cases of extensive plagiarism by an academic, we will report it to the author's university, as it constitutes academic dishonesty. So take the time and care to write original manuscripts. Intellectual honesty requires that credit be given where credit is due. And while ideas aren't copyrightable, words are. The ways you express ideas must be uniquely yours or you must make it clear you're quoting another source.


Why should those of you who aren't writers care about this issue? Nursing is building a body of literature that we hope will attain greater visibility among other professionals and the public. Either it will be held up as one of integrity, or we'll be embarrassed by it. And if our literature is dishonest, what will that say about our profession?