Ghana: Plagiarism brouhaha!

Tue, 10 Jan 2017 Source: Osei, Nana Yaw

The definition of the word plagiarism is also plagiarism because you are not the first person to come out with it. You are also not the standard bearer of plagiarism movement in the world. This means that not all sources require citations. A common knowledge requires no citation. Current affairs such as the arrest of Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast is a common knowledge. A known historical facts like the inauguration of a head of State, the demise of a president, the political party of a president, Independence Day of Ghana, the sayings of Confucius, Abraham Lincoln, and Kwame Nkrumah are all examples of a common knowledge.

For example, the Chinese philosopher Confucius asserted that “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Confucius is a well-known philosopher of antiquity and nobody can claim ownership of his sayings.

Geographical features such as the continents in the world and a known mountain like Kilimanjaro require no citations because they are common knowledge. Other example is a natural disaster like the Accra flood, earthquake in Haiti.

In literature, there is what is known as an adaptation. An adaption is applying someone else written work in a different form, situation or settings A stage play, a movie, or a music could be adapted from someone’s written work. For example, Sophocles’ drama Oedipus of classical literature fame was adapted by Nigerian writer, Ola Rotimi (1938-2000) in his famous drama, “The Gods Are Not To Blame.” This was a classical Greek drama adapted into Yoruba setting. An adaptation is not plagiarism. What then is plagiarism?

According to Harvard University’s academic policy, “it is considered plagiarism to draw any idea or any language from someone else without adequately crediting that source in your paper. It doesn't matter whether the source is a published author, another student, a Web site without clear authorship, a Web site that sells academic papers, or any other person: Taking credit for anyone else's work is stealing, and it is unacceptable in all academic situations, whether you do it intentionally or by accident” (Harvard Guide For Using Sources: http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k70847&pageid=icb.page342054 ).

Types of Plagiarism

Verbatim plagiarism: “If you copy language word for word from another source and use that language in your paper, you are plagiarizing verbatim. Even if you write down your own ideas in your own words and place them around text that you've drawn directly from a source, you must give credit to the author of the source material, either by placing the source material in quotation marks and providing a clear citation, or by paraphrasing the source material and providing a clear citation” (Harvard Guide For Using Sources: http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k70847&pageid=icb.page342054 ).

Mosaic Plagiarism: “If you copy bits and pieces from a source (or several sources), changing a few words here and there without either adequately paraphrasing or quoting directly, the result is mosaic plagiarism” (Harvard Guide For Using Sources: http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k70847&pageid=icb.page342054 ).

Inadequate paraphrase: “When you paraphrase, your task is to distill the source's ideas in your own words. It's not enough to change a few words here and there and leave the rest; instead, you must completely restate the ideas in the passage in your own words. If your own language is too close to the original, then you are plagiarizing, even if you do provide a citation” (Harvard Guide For Using Sources: http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k70847&pageid=icb.page342054 ).

Uncited paraphrase: “When you use your own language to describe someone else's idea, that idea still belongs to the author of the original material. Therefore, it's not enough to paraphrase the source material responsibly; you also need to cite the source, even if you have changed the wording significantly” (Harvard Guide For Using Sources: http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k70847&pageid=icb.page342054 )

Uncited quotation: “When you put source material in quotation marks in your essay, you are telling your reader that you have drawn that material from somewhere else. But it's not enough to indicate that the material in quotation marks is not the product of your own thinking or experimentation: You must also credit the author of that material and provide a trail for your reader to follow back to the original document” (Harvard Guide For Using Sources: http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k70847&pageid=icb.page342054 ).

We must also not confused an idea with a statement. An idea “is any conception existing in the mind as a result of mental understanding, awareness or activity” (Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/idea ). An idea is also a claim. For example, in 1859, Charles Darwin claimed that human beings are animals (Hall, 1999). I have to cite this because it is a claim that ought to be substantiated. A statement is “a communication or declaration in speech or writing, setting forth facts, particulars” (Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/idea ).

Some claims are statements but not statements are claims. Techiman in the Brong Ahafo Region of Ghana is a known market city. If I say: “I will go to Techiman on Thursday January 12, 2017.” It is a statement that has no owner because I may not be the only person who will go to the same market on the same day. Nana Addo’s speech has more statements than ideas. Therefore, plagiarism argument somewhat has no merit here. What about if President Bush encountered the same problems as President Akufu-Addo?

There is no writings without similarities. This partly explains why in the United States, academic assignments are run through a software known as “turnitin” before a final submission. Where I am schooling for example, the work is considered plagiarism if the similarity index is above 12%. Those accusing the president of plagiarism must run his entire speech through a software and provide the percentage of similarity. It will be unfair to accuse someone of plagiarism while we fail to provide the similarity report. God Bless Our Homeland Ghana.

Nana Yaw Osei (Padigo), USA. Feedbacks must be sent to n_yawosei@hotmail.com.


Hall. C.S. (1999). A Primer of Freudian Psychology, a meridian book

Harvard University (n.d). Harvard guide for using sources http://isites.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k70847&pageid=icb.page342054

Columnist: Osei, Nana Yaw