With respect to some cultures, in particular Asian ones, one often hears statements such as the following:

In this country, copying is regarded as flattery and thus people do not know the evils of plagiarism.

or (taken from here):

In some traditional cultures in Asia and the Middle East, for example, college students are expected to quote or paraphrase the best known political or religious authorities without attribution because readers, especially professors, are expected to know what texts are being circulated. Indeed, it might be a serious insult to the teacher if the student writer formally cites the text being borrowed.

Such statements may nourish prejudices or lead to it being considered an extenuating circumstance that a plagiarist comes from a such a country (see, e.g., this answer or this case). I wonder whether this phenomenon really has the extents that would justify the latter, more specifically: Is it conceivable that somebody makes it to the point where they author a paper or a PhD thesis without knowing that they must not plagiarise? Or: Can authors really commit plagiarism out of inexperience on this level?


  • I am primarily interested in anything going beyond personal experience (there are individual statements in this article). A scientific study would be ideal, but is probably not the only possible way to fulfill this criterion.
  • This is not directly about how the respective academic cultures nourish plagiarism and what aspect of the culture is behind this.

As all the answers so far have ignored this: I am not asking whether cultures differ in their attitude towards plagiarism – they clearly do. I am asking whether these differences reach a certain level.

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    To simply echo the question: yes, based on considerable personal experience (dozens of cases), for some students it is essentially inconceivable not to copy verbatim, and typically without attribution, apparently not at all understanding that (in my context, U.S., ...) this is a serious no-no. In discussions with the people in these cases, it was very difficult for me to get through to them: they were convinced that I was speaking figuratively or had misunderstood their intent (which was to quote the most authoritative sources, etc.). ... [cont'd] Commented Jun 21, 2015 at 21:51
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    ... That's why I started having "draft submission" so I could detect this and tell them that it's against the rules before they committed to the final copy of a writing project... After all, the notion of plagiarism is "a social construct", not an absolute. I think in the vast majority of the cases I dealt with, the kids (many grad students in CompSci...) were acting in good faith, and thought "research" meant ferreting out sources other people hadn't seen, or were older or... something. But no bibliography...? It did surprise me greatly at the time. Commented Jun 21, 2015 at 21:54
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    This is not from a study, just my experience (in central-eastern Asia). I have see many, many cases of plagiarism. In every case, the student admits that they knew it is wrong but they did not have time to do it right. I believe the issue implied by GKS in the answer: Many teachers here do not do authenticity checks and, therefore, students get in to bad habits. I have seen this at the undergrad level and also in master-level classes. I have not seen a single student claim it was culturally acceptable (and I have asked hundreds of good and bad students).
    – earthling
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 4:42
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    Maybe they just don't have a key for western style quotation marks on their keyboards?
    – Kimball
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 9:29
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    The OP seems to potentially be confusing himself between two very different questions: "Can they write a thesis and not know they must not plagiarize" is actually very different from "Can they write a thesis and not know Western views on plagiarism"? The former is rather easily established positively, as it is very strongly tied into the relevant culture. If it's okay in their culture, then they will definitely not know they "must not" plagiarize: they are likely to know that they must plagiarize! The other one is less clear. The internet can provide that information with a random click. Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 4:48

4 Answers 4


I am not here to create or perpetuate stereotypes. I just want to make an attempt to explain it.

Yes, in my personal experience, in Asian countries, scholars fail to understand the basic concept of plagiarism. Let me give a background of myself, I finished my undergraduate in India and currently a graduate student in USA.

In almost every American University, there are clear rules imposed on assignments and laboratories. There are certain honor codes and honor committees which oversee the description and prevention of plagiarism. Plagiarism check software are utilized too.

However, in India, howsoever unbelievable it is, there is no concept of weekly assignments in most (just a qualifier) of the Indian universities. At most, students are required to complete one (or two) assignment in a semester. The assignments also happens to be most boring ones. For example, "write report on recent trends in "Biomedical Instrumentation"". Unfortunately, even in those assignments, the grading patterns are usually (again, just a qualifier) binary, i.e. you get full credit if you submit the assignment and zero credits if you fail to do so. Thus, there is no mechanism to evaluate the thought process, the research skills and plagiarism related issues.

However, the concern is, when even most of the professors fail to adhere to plagiarism rules. The reason being the professor evaluation schemes utilized in most (you know, it is a qualifier) of the universities. You are supposed to come up with these many conference papers and these many journal papers for doing fairly well in yearly evaluation. No emphasis on the quality of publications is established. To take advantages of such a sad situation, several conferences pop up from nowhere giving professors opportunity to meet the evaluation requirements. Some of these conferences are pathetic. How pathetic? You can submit a single page paper, for starter; You can submit paper as late as just a week before the conference. And what else is incredible, the conferences bear tags like "IEEE International Conference on _______ _______ and ______". Really? Yes, I know it's sad, but it's true.

These are what I believe the main reasons of why Indian scholars are so much at risk of plagiarism.

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    This isn't really related to the issue of plagiarism, but not having weekly assignments is not at all specific to India, in my native France also (at least in universities, as opposed to prépas and grandes écoles which I do not know well), weekly homework is rarely assigned, and even when it is assigned it is rarely graded. The attitude is that if you don't want to work, more power to you, you will probably fail the midterm/final exam and that's your problem.
    – fkraiem
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 5:32
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    This explores the culture behind the plagiarism and the prevalence of plagiarism in these countries, but what about my central question: Can they really not even know, when they are at the level where they publish a thesis or a paper?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 8:07
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    @Wrzlprmft Think about it for a minute. How do you acquire the knowledge of ethics (or basically any knowledge)? Primarily by conditioning through your environment (social pressure), secondarily by thinking long and hard about the good and bad and maybe arriving at the right conclusion. If you don't have time to think about ethics and there was no necessity to do so in the past you will most probably not know what is right and what is wrong.
    – Nox
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 11:25
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    @Nox: I am aware of this. However, there is a big difference between growing up in a culture that nurtures plagiarism and not even knowing what the Western academic culture considers wrong in this respect.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 11:50
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    @Wrzlprmft "Do they really not know?" would be difficult to answer. If these students have had reasonable access to the internet for many years, one would imagine not. If by nothing else but chance they would have likely stumbled upon this concept. Do we believe they've all had access to the internet for a long enough period of time? And even if they have, and did encounter this notion, how much did it really register? Did they think it some antiquated relic that nobody really pays attention to? And if they have no aspirations outside their country, would they care to even remember? Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 4:36

Some people have low standards. No culture forces you to copy-and-paste.

And although the stereotype is of a Chinese student copying full pages into his essay, the most horrifying cases of concrete plagiarism that I known are from Germany, where several high-profile cases of literally copy-and-paste (not only paraphrasing a source) were found in doctoral theses works.

Most of these German academics defended their actions when they were caught. I don't know of any single case of someone admitting his wrong-doing. Somehow a scientific work for them was a patch work of other's works. The fact that they didn't cite the original work were for them a minor issue.

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    I fail to see how this answers my question. (Also, the popular German plagiarisers were politicians or similar and thus belonged to a group of people that is known for never admitting mistakes.)
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 19:25
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    @Wrzlprmft: most of those with low standards were not politicians. Some were politicians. And some were students that became politicians some years down the road. But the biggest group among those with low standards were the doctoral advisors, the assistants of the advisors, and the thesis committees. These all think that it's OK to have low standards. Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 20:31
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    +1 for challenging OP's stereotypes. Ironically, the OP seems to be German himself.
    – Pierre B
    Commented Aug 15, 2015 at 16:10
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    @PierreB: Please enlighten me about my stereotypes – where do I write anything that assumes a stereotype (other than about politicians)?
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 15:27

I don't know of systematic published studies of the problem, but I do know from having had students write essays on the topic that even American students have significant problems in correctly identify instances of plagiarism. So while they all understand that you should not plagiarize, they often do not understand what that entails. They best understand the requirement to set off verbatim copying in quotes and to pair the quote with a reference, and worst understand the requirement to not represent as your own something that you did not create. My opinion is that universities have made the situation worse by plagiarizing statements and policies about plagiarism (implying that no attribution is necessary in advancing an idea about what constitutes plagiarism, or how to avoid plagiarism). For example, dozens of people have committed plagiarism in talking about plagiarism, as this google search reveals. I have actually encountered foreign students who did not understand the word "plagiarism", everybody at the PhD level in the west almost certainly knows the word and knows that it is bad, but there is still a problem with not knowing what it actually is.


Your question sounds very western-centric. As if plagiarism was an obvious bad thing worldwide. No it isn't. Is it obvious for you that you mustn't hand people anything with only one hand? It's known to be very rude, one need to always hand things with both hands. I learned this was important for Japanese people. I didn't know it. Other cultures don't know US or western Europe attitude as well. For example in Poland one is not frowned upon when they plagiarize [or cheat or something], but only when they get caught [you can't even cheat? What kind of a student you are?]. We have special words for different kinds of cheating and you don't even have a word for cheating at school [to differ it from cheating on your spouse or something]. So yes, cultural thing.

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    While my question is asked from a Western point of view, I do not deny the fact that other cultures have different attitudes towards plagiarism. But as I already said elsewhere, there is a big difference between coming from a culture of plagiarism and and arriving at the stage of writing papers and not having even heard about the gravity of plagiarism in the global academic world. And the latter is what my question is about.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 15:16
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    The fact that cheating is prevalent in some countries does not excuse it. The standards of international scholarship are what they are, and anyone who submits a journal article, book manuscript or conference paper is usually asked to affirm explicitly that the material is his or her own original work. Therefore, ignorance cannot excuse.
    – user10636
    Commented Aug 31, 2015 at 15:51

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