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What is Plagiarism?

A Definition

True or False?
Plagiarism is theft.
True. Plagiarism is stealing someone else's words or ideas.
Generally, plagiarism is using someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as your own. There are different types of plagiarism--unintentional and intentional. There may be cultural differences in the definition of plagiarism. We are using the standard definition of plagiarism in use in academic institutions in the United States.

Sometimes students commit plagiarism intentionally, such as when they cut-and-paste sections from sources and drop them into the text of their paper. Other times, plagiarism happens by accident. Whether plagiarism occurs intentionally or unintentionally, it carries academic sanctions which could range from losing points or failing an assignment, to failing a class or expulsion from school.

Plagiarism is stealing. And stealing is wrong, whether you steal someone's iPod or their words and ideas.

Ethics

Academic integrity is essential to your student career and is something that will follow you through your life. Adopting good research ethics and practices (note taking, citing correctly, etc.) can help you avoid plagiarism and become a better student.

When someone publishes their ideas, they become the intellectual property of that person. In academic writing, you may refer to and build upon the ideas of others, but you must give proper credit to them in your paper. By neglecting to give credit to the source of an idea, you are leading the reader of your paper to believe that the idea is your own.

What is unintentional plagiarism?

Plagiarism is often unintentional and there are some easy ways to avoid it. These are some of the most common mistakes people make that result in plagiarism:
  • Using the same paper for two different classes
  • Quoting a source incorrectly. For example: forgetting quotation marks or not properly introducing the source.
  • Failing to properly introduce an idea you've drawn from someone else.
Most unintentional plagiarism can be prevented by better time management, and by managing your sources correctly. If you aren't rushing to finish a paper, you'll be able to avoid plagiarism.

Use the tips in the "Avoiding It" section to learn more about time management and citing sources properly.

What is intentional plagiarism?

Fabrication
Fabricating a source and quotes.

Mosaic plagiarism
Changing a few words from the original source, and not citing it. (Note: proper paraphrasing requires more than just changing a few words from the original source).

Beefing up the bibliography
Adding references to your works cited page that you didn't actually use.

Using a pre-written paper
Purchasing pre-written papers or getting someone else to write your paper.
True or False?

Which of the following is a form of plagiarism?
  1. True. Whenever you use an author's exact words, depending on the style guide you are using, you must enclose the words in quotation marks, or use a block format.
  2. True. Many students believe that if they use synonyms for certain words but retain the original sentence structure of their source, they have not plagiarized.
  3. True. Students who are in a hurry or who write their papers at the last minute may forget to give credit for the original of the information they use.
  4. True. Outright stealing of papers is an unfortunate reality, but it is not very common. This is due in part because many colleges use plagiarism detection software such as Turn-it-in.

Some Examples:

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Why Care?

Why should I care?

  • Respect for others' work
  • Respect for your own work
  • Being a good citizen of the academic community

What are the benefits to me?

Finding your own voice.
One of the goals of a college education is contributing to the body of knowledge. You can only do that by doing your own work. Listen to what a faculty member at Cornell has to say about this.

Learning to Synthesize and Build Upon the Knowledge of Others
The process of synthesis in academic writing -- interacting with ideas from sources and adding your own ideas and conclusions--is part of becoming a scholar. You are reading and learning from the scholars who have shaped your chosen discipline. By properly citing the words and ideas of experts in your paper, you are bolstering and supporting your own arguments, and developing the skills of a scholar.

Developing Time Management Skills
You need to allocate enough time to do proper research. You must find, evaluate, and acquire sources. You must read, digest, and synthesize information. You must keep track of your sources and cite them properly. Time and project management skills will be useful in your career and your life. It is far better to overestimate the time needed to complete an assignment rather than to underestimate it. University of Minnesota Libraries' Assignment Calculator

What are the consequences?

Possible consequences include:
  • Cheating others
  • Cheating yourself
  • Failing an assignment and/or a course
  • Academic probation
  • Expulsion from school
  • Notation on your transcript
Specific consequences depends on your school's policies (Example: Macalester College)

Bad habits are hard to break, and they have consequences
  • For a discussion/debate on a noted historian's encounter with plagiarism, see this Slate.com article.

Avoiding It

How do I avoid plagiarism in my writing?

True or False?

It is easy to plagiarize.
True. It takes greater effort to avoid plagiarism than to plagiarize.
Plagiarism often happens by accident. Achieving a strong writing style that avoids plagiarism does not happen by accident; it is the product of thoughtful and careful planning. This part of the tutorial illustrates the "How" of avoiding plagiarism, and offers innovative strategies for you to use in your quest for plagiarism-free writing.

1. Are there tools to help me keep track of the sources I use?

Make sure you keep track of all your information sources. At the very least, you should write down all bibliographic information sources you use in your project.

There are many online citation managers that can help you keep track of your sources. If your college subscribes to RefWorks you will be able to use it at no charge. Otherwise, you might want to try NoodleBib, Zotero, or other online citation management products.

2. Why should I take good notes from my sources?

Avoiding plagiarism in a finished project or paper begins long before the final draft. It starts with carefully reading and taking notes from your sources.
  1. Take notes from one source at a time.
    Taking notes from only one source at a time enables you to track your information most effectively. Charles Lipson, in his book Doing Honest Work in College, suggests recording all of the bibliographic information about the source at the top of your page of notes, whether you are taking notes on paper or on a computer (Lipson, 38).
  2. Read each source thoroughly.
    Make sure you understand the whole source--if you understand the main points and can put them into your own words, you have a good grasp on the material.
  3. Begin paraphrasing in the note-taking phase.
    When you borrow information from sources, you should put it into your own words by paraphrasing it. This strengthens the overall style and readability of your paper. It also demonstrates that you have digested and understood the ideas you are presenting.
  4. Distinguish between direct quotations, paraphrases, and your own ideas.
    Charles Lipson also recommends taking careful notes that clearly distinguish between information that is in your own words and direct quotations from other sources (35). To accomplish this, Lipson recommends using the letter "Q" in your notes to distinguish between the two.

3. Why use sources correctly in writing?

True or False?

By including a citation at the end of each paragraph in your paper, you have successfully avoided plagiarism by giving credit to your sources.

False. Merely tacking a parenthetical or footnote reference at the end of a paragraph does not distinguish the ideas in that paragraph that are borrowed from the ideas that are your own.
You need to introduce each source as you incorporate its ideas within your paper. There are three ways to use sources when writing: quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing.
  • What is quoting?
    Quoting is taking words directly from a source and using them in your paper. Whenever you quote a source, surround the quoted material with quotation marks (" ") and cite the source.
  • What is paraphrasing?
    Paraphrasing is taking a passage from a source and putting it into your own words. Be careful when you paraphrase; if your paraphrased version looks or reads too much like the original source, you could be accused of plagiarizing that source. You must cite the source of paraphrased information. Indiana University Bloomington School of Education has examples of correct and incorrect paraphrasing.
  • What is summarizing?
    Summarizing is briefer than paraphrasing. When you summarize, you take an entire thesis, argument, main point, or conclusion from a source and condense it down to a sentence or two.

In which of the following cases should you use quotation marks in your writing?
  1. Correct. You should use quotation marks to indicate that you are borrowing someone else's words. The quoted words must be reproduced exactly as they were spoken or written.
  2. Incorrect. You should either quote a source directly or cite it, or paraphrase an idea thoroughly and also cite it. Quoted words must be reproduced exactly as they were spoken or written. You should never merely change the word order or use synonyms to try to make it your own. Instead, express your ideas without looking at or copying someone else's text.
  3. Incorrect. You should not use quotation marks when paraphrasing, but you still need to cite the source to give credit to the author of the ideas. Quotation marks indicate that words are reproduced exactly as they were spoken or written. Paraphrasing is briefly re-stating a passage in your own words, usually more concisely than the original passage.

4. Take Care with Proper Citation Formatting

Take extreme care in giving credit to the sources that you use in your writing.
  • Citing
    Every time you borrow words or ideas from a source, you must give credit to that source by citing it. Different citation styles may require footnotes, endnotes, or in-text citations. The purpose of an in-text citation is to alert the reader to ideas that come from another source. The citation also serves to point the reader to the full reference at the end of the paper.

  • Referencing
    Every source you cite in your paper should have a corresponding entry on a Works Cited or Reference page at the end of the paper. Some organizations such as the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA) have created rules and formats for correct documentation of sources used in papers for their disciplines. Thus the citation style you use for your paper will depend on the discipline. When in doubt, ask your professors which citation style they would prefer.
True or False?

You should always introduce your paraphrases to let the reader know when a borrowed idea begins.
True. Merely including a citation at the end of a paragraph does not give thorough credit to the source. It is important to lead into a paraphrase with an introduction of the original source. Introducing borrowed words or ideas is an important step in giving other authors the credit they deserve.
True or False?

You should list all of your sources (from which you have incorporated ideas) in a works cited page at the end of your writing project.
True. If you do not include a full citation for a book or an article at the end of your essay, you have not given full credit to the source of your borrowed ideas and quotations.
True or False?

It is better to have too many citations in your paper than too few.
True. When in doubt, cite your source of information.

5. What's a good plan when researching a paper?

Avoiding plagiarism in your writing takes time and effort.
  1. Expect it to take much longer than you think it will. The following aspects are all part of a strong, plagiarism-free paper. Set aside time to accomplish all of them.

    • Starting your research - Take time to think about your search strategy. Do some background reading on your subject to gather ideas and keywords to find more information. Brainstorm various aspects of your topic in order to generate ideas for how you will find superb sources for your paper.
    • Locating the best information sources - Don't just rely on a web search in order to find sources for your paper. Plan to spend some time researching in your college library, or at least explore the resources on the library's website. You might need to obtain some sources via interlibrary loan, which takes even more time.
    • Reading the sources you find - Set aside plenty of time to read and understand the sources you've selected. Take time to ponder the ideas presented in each book, article, or website, and begin to form your own thoughts on the material.
    • Taking careful notes - It takes time to take notes that are neat and well-organized, but it saves you from having to waste time tracking down lost sources later.
    • Paraphrasing well - Putting the ideas of others into your own words is a skill that takes time and practice to develop. It might take more than one attempt to create a paraphrase that is sufficiently unlike the original source.
    • Formatting citations correctly - Some people so strongly dislike formatting citations that they save this step for last, often right before the paper is due. You can save time at the end of the writing process by formatting your citation when you take notes from the source. You might also wish to use citation formatting software such as RefWorks.
  2. Use a calendar to plan your writing process in advance. Some professors give intermediate deadlines for projects by requiring the submissions of outlines and rough drafts. Whether or not your professor sets these types of deadlines, go ahead and set them for yourself. Use whatever scheduling system works best for you: on your computer, mobile device, or paper. Plot out the steps for your research and writing project in advance. For example, consider setting a deadline to locate initial sources within a week of receiving the assignment.
  3. Try using the Assignment Calculator from the University of Minnesota. The Assignment Calculator will set intermediate deadlines for your project when you enter the project's due date.

6. Where to Go for More Help

Does this process of writing well seem difficult, even tedious? There is help available that could save you time and headaches as you navigate your writing project.
  1. Visit your institution's Writing Center
  2. Talk with a professor - Your professors have a lot of experience with academic writing, and they probably have a few insights on where to find excellent sources of information in the discipline that they teach. Set up an appointment with your professor early in the writing process, and get started in the right direction.
  3. Talk with a librarian - The librarians at your college are experts at navigating the world of information, and they want to help by connecting you with the best information sources for your research need. They are aware of the array of print and electronic resources available through the college library as well as other sources than can be accessed on the web or obtained through interlibrary loan. Make it a point to visit with a librarian soon after you receive your assignment, as you begin to gather sources and develop your research strategy.
  4. Online help - There are many citation and writing sites on the web that offer tips and help for students. One of the best sites is The Online Writing Lab (OWL) from Purdue University
  5. Read a book on academic writing. The insights and strategies contained in a good book on college writing can save you time in the long run. See this tutorial's Resources' section for some excellent books on writing.
The questions in this quiz are also available throughout the tutorial text. Feel free to use this quiz to review the questions.

Review the Questions

This embedded content is also available as questions throughout the text.

Resources

Borowske, K. (2010). For Your Consideration. [Online presentation] Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/kborowske/clicplagiarism
Colomb, G. G., Williams, J. M., & Booth, W. C. (2008). The craft of research. Chicago guides to writing, editing, and publishing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Cornell University. Faculty Viewpoint: Professor Paul Sawyer. Retrieved from http://courses.cit.cornell.edu/digitalliteracy/tutorial/dpl3321.html
Lipson, C. (2008). Doing honest work in college: How to prepare citations, avoid plagiarism, and achieve real academic success. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Matsuda, P. K., Tardy, C. M., & Lunsford, A. A. (2010). Easy writer: A pocket reference. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's.
Pennsylvania State University (2008, August 28). Copyright Perspectives: No, You Stole It [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TzV8GAtK0A0
St. Catherine University (2009, February 24). Avoiding Plagiarism: The Real World [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_eJoryk_gYc
University of Minnesota Libraries. Assignment Calculator. Retrieved from http://www.lib.umn.edu/help/calculator/
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