Avoiding Plagiarism When Writing Questions

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Tanay
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Avoiding Plagiarism When Writing Questions

Post by Tanay »

I've noticed that one of the major criticisms of some quiz bowl providers :chip: are their tendency to plagiarize from other sources. However, when I write questions, I frequently wonder what does and does not constitute plagiarism.

For example, if I was writing a bonus on the 1812 Overture and I found this neat site: http://web.ku.edu/~russcult/culture/han ... vskii.html

And on this neat site I found this useful sentence:
"For the dedication ceremony for the Church of Christ the Savior in Moscow, Chaikovsky wrote the 1812 Overture."

I think it would be plagiarism to have a bonus lead-in like this.
"BONUS! It was written for the dedication ceremony for the Church of Christ the Savior in Moscow. FTPE:"

But my question is, how much of it needs to be modified so that it isn't plagiarism? Does this involve switching word order, combining several sources per sentence, or something entirely different?
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Re: Avoiding Plagiarism When Writing Questions

Post by at your pleasure »

This thread deals with much the same problem as what you raise here: viewtopic.php?f=20&t=6923&p=112258&hili ... im#p112258.
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Re: Avoiding Plagiarism When Writing Questions

Post by Angry Babies in Love »

Someone tell me if I'm wrong, but I think the problem most people have with :chip: plagiarizing doesn't stem from him copying from websites, books, or what have you. It stems more from him copying other questions (Jeopardy! was specifically cited by critics as a source he copied IIRC). It's basically impossible to write a tossup without getting clues from sources, and if you use similar phrasing from a book or website, I don't see how someone would have a problem with it.
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Re: Avoiding Plagiarism When Writing Questions

Post by New York Undercover »

rmgeokid wrote:Someone tell me if I'm wrong, but I think the problem most people have with :chip: plagiarizing doesn't stem from him copying from websites, books, or what have you. It stems more from him copying other questions (Jeopardy! was specifically cited by critics as a source he copied IIRC). It's basically impossible to write a tossup without getting clues from sources, and if you use similar phrasing from a book or website, I don't see how someone would have a problem with it.
I think Tanay's question is reasonable, considering the complaints made in this thread.
In my opinion, if a question by QG was phrased like the lead-in of the bonus Tanay suggested, it would have been similarly criticized. Additionally, I don't think that the topic Doug links to quite answers the question being answered, as this isn't an issue of stealing a question from another packet but wording from a source. I would say that without changing the wording at all, Tanay would be "plagiarizing" the source. A change may be to try to add another clue to the lead-in and switch some word order- "Along with being played at the dedication ceremony for Moscow's Church of Christ the Savior, this piece [another clue here]."
Then, though it may be clear to someone who looked up the clue that you used the source mentioned, you have made sufficient changes so that it is in your own words. So I think a little bit of both of your proposed solutions- switching word order and having multiple sources in one sentence- would lead to a question that is safe from accusations of plagiarism.

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Re: Avoiding Plagiarism When Writing Questions

Post by Papa's in the House »

tk447 wrote: But my question is, how much of it needs to be modified so that it isn't plagiarism? Does this involve switching word order, combining several sources per sentence, or something entirely different?
Arquette wrote: Then, though it may be clear to someone who looked up the clue that you used the source mentioned, you have made sufficient changes so that it is in your own words. So I think a little bit of both of your proposed solutions- switching word order and having multiple sources in one sentence- would lead to a question that is safe from accusations of plagiarism.
University of Illinois search on the word 'plagiarism' wrote: The following are all examples of plagiarism:

* Copying the words of others, whether from a source or another student.
* Putting your name on a paper written by someone else.
* Purchasing or downloading in paper from the Internet and turning it in.
* Paraphrasing (rewriting in your own words) a source and not documenting it.
* Not using quotations marks properly when using material from another source.
Sources that are given for avoiding plagiarism from that search:
http://www.indiana.edu/%7Ewts/pamphlets ... rism.shtml
http://www.northwestern.edu/uacc/plagiar.html
http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/589/01/

When it comes to QB writing (as opposed to writing a paper), paraphrasing/changing word order (although, not the word order of a list) generally isn't plagiarism. This, of course, depends heavily on how much you paraphrase/change word order (since just one or two words changed is not enough). As stated by Arquette, adding more than one clue (especially for bonuses) from a source in one sentence can help you defend yourself from plagiarism, but you'll still have to avoid directly copying the second clue in. I'd recommend you just read multiple sources (i.e., old questions, Wikipedia for the basic information, Britannica, another book in your local library, etc.) and write a question after doing that. Sure, it takes longer, but you get the added benefit of learning more about the subject that you're writing on so that you can answer questions about it when it comes up again.
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Re: Avoiding Plagiarism When Writing Questions

Post by Stained Diviner »

I don't think this issue has really been addressed in a substantive way, and I would be interested in getting people's opinions on it.

Stating that no plagiarism occurred in the HFT/HSAPQ example and that plagiarism did occur in the QU examples does not really address the issue of what constitutes plagiarism, since they are both very clear cut cases. A further discussion of GG's case against QG would probably shed some light, since that case includes some examples that are not so simple to rule on.

Quizbowl cannot use the same definition of plagiarism as academia for a few reasons:
1) In academia, the general rule is that if there is any doubt, then the writer should cite a source. The expectation is that if you look something up to write a paper, then you cite your source. This general expectation does not exist in quizbowl, where the universal practice is that writers do look stuff up in various sources to write questions and then don't provide footnotes. In other words, what we generally consider good question writing would not be acceptable academic writing.
2) I see some suggestions in this thread that plagiarism can be avoided by rewording phrases or by changing a simple sentence into a compound sentence. I'm not sure to what extent we want to buy into this for quizbowl, but in academia this idea has no merit.
3) The purpose of writing quizbowl questions is different than the purpose of writing an academic paper. The purpose of writing quizbowl questions is to create a good quizbowl match and to teach facts. The general purpose of writing an academic paper if you are a high school or undergraduate student usually is to show your teacher that you have thought about the subject matter and that you can write about it coherently. The general purpose for more advanced students is to provide new insights into the subject matter and to help other people who are advanced in the field continue their development. Copying a sentence or two from an article while pretending it is your own completely undermines the purposes of an academic paper more directly than it undermines the purposes of a quizbowl question.

When we talk about plagiarism in quizbowl, we generally are talking about copying from a previous question or copying from an information source. Let me handle each situation differently.

When copying a previous question, you are creating bad quizbowl. The only reason to do it is because you need to submit some questions that you don't feel like writing. You are giving a significant undue advantage to anybody who has read the packet you are copying from, and you are making this a less educational activity. While quizbowl has a canon, which means that clues and answers are going to get recycled, writers should strive to provide new emphases on various topics, especially on leadins and hard parts of bonuses, and they should not recycle exact words and phrases whenever possible. I think it is fair to use the word plagiarism to describe copying a question, whether or not some phrasings were edited by the person plagiarizing.

When using sources, the usual reason quizbowl writers do not copy exactly what is in the source is that quizbowl questions serve a different purpose than the sources. Sources use things like topic sentences, and they base one sentence on the assumption that the reader understood the previous sentence and knows the topic of the article because it's in the title. They also generally have several pages to work with. The purpose of a quizbowl tossup question is to name more and more facts until somebody knows what you're talking about, and the purpose of a quizbowl bonus question is to give a very small number of facts so that a certain percentage of your audience knows what you're talking about and is presented with interesting facts that stretch their knowledge. Because of these different purposes, sources are not written in a way that makes for good questions, and so question writers have to do some work to put things together.

Additionally, if you use a common source, namely Wikipedia, to write questions, then you do not want to give undue reward to somebody who has read that article as opposed to a better source, so you don't want to use phrases that a Wikipedia reader would recognize, so you shouldn't use phrasing from Wikipedia. Additionally with Wikipedia, the articles often stress unimportant facts ahead of important facts, and question writers should go out of their way to avoid unimportant facts that are stressed in Wikipedia and instead focus on more important facts.

Keeping in mind the caveats included in the last two paragraphs, I'm not sure what purpose is served by rephrasing the Tchaikovsky quote that started this thread. That is, I think it is OK to say, "BONUS! It was written for the dedication ceremony for the Church of Christ the Savior in Moscow. FTPE:" In an academic setting, adjusting the wording would not prevent this from being an act of plagiarism--the only two ways to prevent it from being plagiarism would be to not use the information or to cite the source. In quizbowl, we always use information, and we pretty much never cite sources. Furthermore, it is worded in a very straightforward way that is useful within a question, which probably is a significant difference between this example and the QG examples.

I am interested in other opinions on this, and it's quite possible that I'm wrong. I don't think that the use of sources in question writing is a clear cut issue.
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Matt Weiner
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Re: Avoiding Plagiarism When Writing Questions

Post by Matt Weiner »

You're pretty much right; especially when dealing with the need to say things as succinctly as possible, it can be tortuous to try to reword a source to a level that would not be possible plagiarism in an academic setting.

The easiest solution to this is to put quotation marks around any phrase longer than one word that you take from a source. Even if you don't actually cite the source, you acknowledge that the words are not your own by leaving the quotation marks in there.
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Re: Avoiding Plagiarism When Writing Questions

Post by Howard »

Shcool wrote:I think it is OK to say, "BONUS! It was written for the dedication ceremony for the Church of Christ the Savior in Moscow. FTPE:"

Don't recall seeing it in this thread, and am not sure if it has been mentioned elsewhere, but it's important to remember that facts cannot be claimed as intellectual property. So it's particularly difficult to call this particular instance plagiarism, even with only very minor changes. As we look at the sentence, there's very little present other than facts. Other than putting in stylistic subtleties (which would typically be awkward in a question anyway), any version containing these facts will be very similar to the original.

In the event we actually choose to use someone else's words, Matt's absolutely correct that quotation marks should be used.

I am curious, though, whether this might cause some confusion in reading the questions. Typically, when quotation marks are used in a question, there's a reference to a particularly unique statement made by an entity referenced in the question.
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