Distinction between plagiarism and secondary research

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By Goke Ilesanmi

Research can be classified into two types. One is primary, which is basically concerned with conducting findings into new areas of knowledge, while the other, which is secondary, is solely based on conducting findings by consulting secondary sources like textbooks, journals, magazines, etc. In the course of conducting secondary research, the argument of the distinction between plagiarism and research often arises, leading to a lot of intellectual warfare in some situations.  As a result of this, it is necessary to clearly distinguish between these two intellectual concepts.

Plagiarism and secondary research

According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, plagiarism refers to “the act of using someone else’s words, ideas, or work and pretending they are your own”,  or “an idea, phrase, story, etc. that has been copied from someone’s else’s work, without stating that this is where it came from”. This habit is very despicable in the global scholastic/intellectual community. In fact, one of my lecturers in those days called it “intellectual roguery”.

However, for one to be able to write creatively or naturally, one must be prepared to do a lot of voracious reading.  In other words, reading multiplicity of books written by others makes one exposed to shades of scholastic/intellectual opinions on a subject or concept. So by the time one settles down to write, one will be writing naturally and critically in a blended form with a personal distinction, not just the carbon copy of the work of a particular person.

Works of plagiarists are easily detected because of lack of free flow of thought.  They lift ideas “gullibly” without being able to subject any to rational criticism because they lack necessary intellectual depth.  And the ability to be able to query the validity of old or existing concepts is said to be the beginning of intellectual distinction. In fact, this easily distinguishes a creative or natural intellectual writer from the plagiarists.  When a writer writes naturally from the depth of his or her own intellectual reservoir, the old or existing concepts he or she discusses look new as a result of the addition of personal touch.


As already emphasised, what distinguishes plagiarism from secondary research is that plagiarism is about failure or refusal to acknowledge the source of an idea especially lifted “raw” or verbatim.  Therefore, the moment the source is acknowledged, we cannot be talking of plagiarism.

By analytical extension, if an idea has become a national legacy, acknowledgement of the source may be unnecessary.  For example, if a Nigerian researcher encounters information like the date of Nigeria’s independence, the name of the first prime minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, different dates of military take-overs, etc., in the some published works, acknowledging the sources may be unnecessary because these ideas are not personal intellectual property of anybody, but belong to the entire citizenry. In other words, the authors can only claim authorship of the works in which we have the information, but not the authority of the national pieces of information in their books.

Ignorant accusation

Just as plagiarism is bad, so also is ignorance about what constitutes plagiarism is bad. Some people, probably out of ignorance, take normal secondary research as plagiarism even when sources are acknowledged.  This is tantamount to saying that anybody that wants to write on any concept should not to consult works already done in that area to be able to know what others have covered, know deficient areas to add to, or be able to criticise existing ideas.

This view is wrong because one of the basic requirements of secondary research is literature review.  And just as already said, the essence of reviewing literature already published on a concept is to know what other people have written so far, to avoid writing a repetition and be able to add fresh ideas.  It also affords one the opportunity to criticise existing works.  For example, the addition of references at the end of any (published) scholastic work is enough to confirm that nobody does secondary research in vacuum without reviewing other people’s work.

In the students’ final-year projects, for example, any work without literature review may be considered to be lacking in proper scholastic depth.  Therefore, the inclusion of references at the end of a project is a matter of compulsion. If normal secondary research is  misconstrued as plagiarism, then it can be concluded that all writers/researchers after the first generation of writers/researchers are guilty of plagiarism.  This is simply because, most of the works after this generation, whether by addition or omission, are remoulded versions of their creative and intellectual efforts.

Finally, the need to review other people’s works is to avoid one’s work being out of notional alignment.  For example, in a series of books on a particular subject, it is expected that the general ideas radiated by all authors must almost tally even though expressions, illustrations, allusions, examples, etc. used by each author may be different.  That is, discussing the same ideas, using different contexts.

However, any author that writes totally different ideas may have the validity of his work queried.  So, he or she may try to be intellectually creative by injecting fresh ideas, and also using different contexts, but he or she cannot discuss existing concepts in such a way that no single part will tally with what people already know about the concepts.

Therefore, while plagiarism is extremely despicable, secondary research is a normal and acceptable intellectual venture.

PS: For those making inquiries about our CV/Profile Writing and Speech Writing Services; Political Persuasion and Presentation Course; General Public Speaking and Business Presentation Course; Professional Writing Course, etc., please visit the website indicated on this page for details.

GOKE ILESANMI (FIIM, FIMC, CMC), CEO of Gokmar Communication Consulting, is an International Platinum Columnist, Professional Public Speaker, Career Mgt Coach and Certified Mgt Consultant. He is also a Book Reviewer, Biographer and Editorial Consultant. Tel: 08056030424; 08055068773; 08187499425

Email: gokeiles2010@gmail.com

Website: www.gokeilesanmi.com.ng

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