In order to know how to avoid plagiarism in your writing, you first need to know what plagiarism is. Once you know what it is, you can learn ways to avoid it.
Well then, what exactly is plagiarism? Let’s look at a few definitions. “Plagiarism occurs when a writer uses someone else’s ideas or words but does not give the original writer credit and instead passes off the material as his or her own” (Frank, 1998). “Plagiarism is passing off someone else’s words of ideas as your own” (Grinsell and Kogan, 2005). “Plagiarism is purposely using another person’s writing as your own. You cannot present as your own another person’s words, music, or drawings without providing a citation to that person” (Lester and Lester, 2005). “Plagiarism is the failure to acknowledge your sources or the act of making it appear that someone else’s work is your own” (Pearson Education, 2006).
What do all these definitions have in common? They all include the act of writing. You are all writers in this class, and will be writing throughout your academic careers. Often when you write, such as for this course, you will use other source material. Since you did not come up with this material on your own, you are obligated through moral, ethical, and academic standards of behavior to give credit where credit is due. Notice something that all the definitions do not contain. They never make mention of the intent of the writer. It doesn’t matter if you wanted to pass off someone else’s words as if they were your own; it only matter that you did it. So you should learn when and how to cite your sources correctly — the subject of another “lecture”.
So what’s the big deal? Most importantly, conscious plagiarism is cheating. And there is a good chance that you will get caught. The Internet has multiple tools for instructors to use to determine if you used someone else’s words or ideas as your own. It is almost as easy to determine if someone has cheated on a paper as it is to cheat. Even if you somehow don’t get caught, you cheat yourself out of the opportunity to learn. Why pay all this money for an education if you don’t want to learn?
Of secondary importance, if you get caught plagiarizing (even if you don’t intend to do it), the college has strict rules that I, as teacher, am obligated to enforce. These rules state that a student who violates the plagiarism policy can be subject to a warning, a loss of credit for the assignment, rewriting the assignment (for no credit), suspension, or even dismissal! One of the most important things that you will do, then, when you write your final papers, is document and cite your sources correctly.
When to cite
Now that you realize how important it is to cite your sources, you are probably asking yourself, “When do I cite?” That’s a good question. The first and most obvious answer to this question is “anytime you quote.” If you pull a direct quote from a source, you MUST cite the source. No exceptions. Well, actually, there is one exception. When you quote a source that is common knowledge you don’t need to cite. If I write “To be, or not to be, that is the question,” most people know that that’s Shakespeare. If I write “I pity the man whose idea of bliss is eight hours sleep,” I might want to acknowledge the Latin poet Ovid as the source. In the first case, almost all native speakers of English have heard the quote, and almost all know that it comes from Shakespeare. In the second case, most people are not familiar with Latin poetry, and even fewer are familiar with Ovid.
Other than this one exception, when you quote, you cite! Even if you only choose to use one word from a longer passage, if it is unique to that source, you must put that word into quotes (Frank, 1998). Chapter 14 in Bookmarks tells you most of what you need to know about using quotes. I will emphasize that whenever you quote you MUST properly use quotation marks to set your quote off from the rest of your paper. Also keep in mind that when you use a chart, graph, figure, or picture, you are considered to be quoting from the source material, and you should cite accordingly.
Another time you must cite is when you paraphrase. According to Bookmarks, a paraphrase reviews important ideas and supporting details. When you paraphrase, you go over the key information or state in your own words the main arguments of your source. A paraphrase can be almost as long as the original source material (p. 131). Usually your paraphrase will follow the same pattern as the original work. The Online Writing Lab at Purdue University (OWL) says it like this:
“A paraphrase is…
·Your own rendition of essential information and ideas expressed by someone else, presented in new form.
·One legitimate way (when accompanied by accurate documentation) to borrow from a source.
·A more detailed restatement than a summary, which focuses concisely on a single main idea.” (2003, Paraphrase: Write it in Your Own Words).
Lester and Lester (2005) mention some important rules for paraphrasing. They say that you should keep the original meaning when you restate the material; you should write about the same number of words; you should put quotation marks around any “key-word” phrase that you may have to quote from the original, and you should credit the source at the beginning of the paraphrase and then put the page number at the end (p. 75). See how I did that? That was an example of a paraphrase. You’ll want to use a paraphrase to make your paper reflect your own style of writing and to avoid long, tedious quotes. Lengthy quotes don’t add anything to your paper. They mostly show that you haven’t done a lot of work.
One additional point about paraphrasing from Bookmarks — changing a few words around from your source and then turning the paper in as your own is possibly “the most dangerous and academically dishonest sort of summary or paraphrase” (p.131). Finally, you should try to paraphrase more than you quote. If you find something that is particularly well phrased, then by all means quote. Feel free to mix and match paraphrases and quotes, especially if the source contains a particular phrase that you’d like to keep word for word (Frank, p. 48).
I’ve discussed the first two reasons that you cite a source. If you’ve been paying attention at all to the class assignments and the previous lecture material you’ll already know the third time you have to cite your source: when you summarize. I saved summaries for last because they are usually the easiest to write, but often the hardest to remember to cite.
How and when to cite a summary
Quotes are easiest to remember when to cite—if you have one, you cite it. It’s as simple as that. Paraphrases are somewhat more difficult, but if you keep in mind that a paraphrase is taking someone else’s ideas and putting them into your own words, you’ll know when you should cite because you know that you’ve used someone else’s ideas. Summaries, on the other hand, are the most difficult to remember to cite.
Summaries are harder to cite because you often don’t know when your summary begins and ends, and where your original thoughts come in. You’ve read so many sources while you’ve done your research that you think that the ideas are your own. You have to ask yourself then if you know the information because you researched it or because most everyone should know the information. If you are stating facts that most people don’t know, you are probably summarizing, and must cite your source.
The best time to avoid plagiarizing the summary of information is when you are taking notes. If you have summarized important facts and figures for your paper, or if you have summarized the results of a study, the plot of a story, the material in a speech or radio broadcast—you need to cite any of these. When you refer back to the notes that you have on your sources, it would then be time to cite the source.
The last word on avoiding plagiarism
Let me include a checklist for avoiding plagiarism that I found in Research Paper Handbook by Lester & Lester. I have paraphrased it so that it matches our course content better:
1.Frame your quote or paraphrase, either placing the name of the source at the beginning of your quote or paraphrase or by including it inside parenthesis at the end of the quote or paraphrase.
2.Use quotations marks around all direct quotes.
3.Rewrite summaries and paraphrases in your own words and style; don’t just rearrange sentences or use synonyms.
4.Make sure that you include the page number within parentheses at the end of each summary, paraphrase, or direct quote. If the material came from the Internet, then you can omit the page or paragraph numbers.
5.If you have an in-text citation, you need a reference on your reference page; if you have a reference, you need an in-text citation (p. 83).
Hopefully you will be able to use this information as you write your final project. Plagiarism is a serious offense, with serious consequences. You have to make sure that you cite all of your sources, whether you quote them, paraphrase them, or summarize them. If you cite a source, then list it as a reference. If you list a reference, make sure that you have the in-text citation. If you follow these simple directions you can avoid even inadvertent plagiarism, and you’ll be well on your way as an academic researcher.