A difficult but essential skill in college writing is using other people's ideas and texts appropriately. All knowledge builds on the contributions of others. In our college courses, we are continually engaged with other people's idea: we read them in texts, hear them in lecture, discuss them in class, and incorporate them into our own writing. It is important in our writing both to show our dependence on other people's work and to identify our own contribution. Plagiarism - failing to acknowledge our debts to others - is using others' ideas and words without clearly acknowledging the source of that information, which muddles a clear identification of original work, as well.
Give credit whenever you use
- another person's idea, opinion, or theory.
- any facts, statistics, graphs, drawings - any pieces of information - that are not common knowledge.
- quotations of another person's actual spoken or written words.
- a paraphrase of another person's spoken or written words.
Common types of plagiarism include
- quoting material from another source without making citation.
- citing only one source while combining materials from several.
- citing fake sources to hide the amount of quoting/paraphrasing or to shortcut finding all the sources used.
- changing the content of sources to make it sound more relevant.
- copying the general structure, argument, or techniques of a source without attribution.
Basic tips to help avoid plagiarism
- Start gathering sources early, so that you have time to develop your own thoughts and opinions based on the sources you have read.
- Keep track of your sources as you get them, so you do not have spend long periods of time looking them up, later.
- Reserve quoted material for those times in which the original quote enhances the work.
- Think of sources as data to be incorporated into your work rather than as groups of words into which you simply swap in a few of your own.
- Seek out a few extra sources and data so that your paper can break away from a single source's material.
- Double check to make sure you are accurately reflecting the works cited.
- Assume that even well-hidden plagiarism will be caught, and be a bit harsh as your own critic.
Examples of Plagiarism & Appropriate Use
Take this snippet of made up text from author I. M. Fictitious (let's say page 17 of the Worpit Encyclopedia):
The largest known type of worpit is the Blue Worpit, having a six centimeter snout and a meter long tail. It is well known for its shrill call and bright fur. Unfortunately, the Blue Worpit has recently become endangered because of its diet on shallow stream minnows being threatened by rapid development of nearby cities. The estimated number of Blue Worpits in the wild is probably under 50,000 now, with that expected to decrease in the next decade.
Here's an UNACCEPTABLE paraphrase of this passage that is plagiarism:
The largest worpit is the Blue worpit, having a long snout and a meter long tail. It is most famously known for its shrill call and brightly colored fur. The Blue Worpit has become endangered recently because of its diet of shallow stream minnows, which is being threatened by rapid deforestation due to nearby cities. The approxiamate number of Blue Worpits is probably under 50,000 in the wild, and that is expected to decrease in the next decade.
The preceding passage is considered plagiarism because the writer
- only slight changed the words and their order around,
- failed to cite a source for any of the ideas or facts; and
- altered the the sentence about rapid city growth to imply deforestation as being in the original source.
Here's an ACCEPTABLE paraphrase:
With its shrill cry and long tail, the relatively large - for a worpit - Blue Worpit is a sight and sound to be known. Sadly, due to rapid development of nearby cities, its diet of minnows from shallow streams is in jeapordy. While there are only tens of thousand left in the wild, even this small number may soon decrease. (Fictitious 17)
This is acceptable paraphrasing because the writer:
- accurately relays the information in the original;
- uses her own words; and
- lets her reader know the source of her information.
See Also: Indiana University at Bloomington has a compare and contrast guide called "Plagiarism: What It Is and How to Recognize and Avoid It" which is the original inspriation, via being spotted at Augusta State University's Sociology Department's page on plagiarism, for the above made up example. Thanks and credit goes to them. For those wanting more info, those two links should be helpful.
Some Useful Terms
Common knowledge - facts that can be found in numerous places, especially general reference sources, and are likely to be known by a lot of people or learned through everyday interaction instead of being learned from a single source.
Quoting/Quotation - directly using words from a source without alteration.
Paraphrasing - using someone's ideas, but putting them in your own words. This can range from a "soft" paraphrasing, where only the general gist of the original source, and the facts, are retained, to "hard" paraphrasing where the words and phrases from the source are largely retained. Generally, hard paraphrasing is right at, or crosses over, the line of plagiarism and should be avoided.