Plagiarism and Business/Professional Writing
Here is an excerpt from an article called "Plagiarism Doesn't Bother Me" by Professor Gerald Nelms:
2. In some “real-world”
contexts, plagiarism is not only acceptable but is expected. Brian
Martin calls this “institutionalized plagiarism.”
Plagiarism is as tied to
context as every other aspect of language use. In our everyday
conversations—and lectures and classroom discussions—we frequently give
information without citing its source(s). Moreover, there exist contexts
where plagiarism is not only acceptable but is expected and encouraged.
Audience expectations and intellectual property conventions of the
community in which the language use occurs determines whether adopting
source material and expression without citation is acceptable or not.
“Institutional plagiarism” frequently occurs and is accepted without
even the lifting of an eyebrow in most daily business communications and
in other bureaucratic contexts. For example, if a company employee
were to try to compose a quarterly report with original language and
organization, her supervisor would probably take her aside and explain
that to be more efficient, she should simply adopt the organization and
language of past quarterly reports.
Some might argue that
“institutionalized plagiarism” is acceptable because the language and
forms being plagiarized are “common knowledge.” That may be the case in
some instances of institutionalized plagiarism but not in every case.
Too often, we decontextualize common knowledge, thinking of it as facts
every child learns in school or as information that exists in at least
five (or whatever number of) credible sources, as some textbooks have
defined it. In fact, content alone does not define knowledge as
“common.” Common knowledge is that which is presumed to be ubiquitous
or, at least, widespread within a specific community—that is, in
context. Not all institutionalized plagiarism fits that bill.
Consider, for example, the
annual reports that a company will publish and distribute to its
investors and creditors and auditors and public officials and anyone
else who might be interested. Annual reports are notoriously templated.
They follow the same organizational structure every year. They almost
invariably use a similar vocabulary, the same phrases, the same
sentences in many instances. Yet, no one accuses the authors, often
anonymous or named in the fine print, of plagiarism. No investors divest
themselves of holdings in a company because its annual report is
This excerpt uses two common
examples of business writing in discussing ways in which information is
plagiarized - or not - depending, perhaps upon the view of those in a
particular business setting.
There are two worthwhile
questions to consider concerning what Nelms tells us about these
seemingly plagiarizing practices of business/professional writing. In a
short paragraph, respond to the following:
1) Based on your experience,
have you seen such practices in your work? Give an example. Why do you
think this practice is rather common in business/professional writing?
2) Where do you think the
practice of using the same format, even the same language, for business
documents might have come from? Can you think of any examples of when
you have noticed the use of what is sometimes called "boilerplate"
documents and language?