Avoiding Plagiarism

  • What is plagiarism, and why should writers worry about it?
  • Some tips for avoiding accidental plagiarism when you use sources
  • Applying these tips: avoiding two common forms of accidental plagiarism
    • Paraphrases with no citation
    • Misplaced citations
  • Example of acceptable paraphrase: putting the idea in your own words

What is plagiarism, and why should writers worry about it?

Deliberate plagiarism is cheating. Deliberate plagiarism is copying the work of others and turning it as your own. Whether you copy from a published essay, an encyclopedia article, or a paper from a fraternity’s files, you are plagiarizing. If you do so, you run a terrible risk. You could be punished, suspended, or even expelled.

Otherwise mild-mannered professors tend to turn into vigilantes when confronted with plagiarism. Why borrow trouble?

But there is also another kind of plagiarism–accidental plagiarism. This happens when a writer does not intend to plagiarize, but fails to cite his or her sources completely and correctly. Careful notetaking and a clear understanding of the rules for quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing sources can help prevent this.

Any college handbook (such as the St. Martin’s Handbook, quoted in this document) will offer more guidelines for avoiding plagiarism when you write a paper. See also the excellent Northwestern University Academic Integrity: A Basic Guide, which has numerous examples of the right and the wrong ways to sources.

Some tips for avoiding accidental plagiarism when you use sources:

  • Cite every piece of information that is not a) the result of your own research, or b) common knowledge. This includes opinions, arguments, and speculations as well as facts, details, figures, and statistics.
  • Use quotation marks every time you use the author’s words. (For longer quotes, indenting the whole quotation has the same effect as quotation marks.)
  • At the beginning of the first sentence in which you quote, paraphrase, or summarize, make it clear that what comes next is someone else’s idea:
    • According to Smith…
    • Jones says…
    • In his 1987 study, Robinson proved…
    • At the end of the last sentence containing quoted, paraphrased, or summarized material, insert a parenthetical citation to show where the material came from:

The St. Martin’s Handbook defines plagiarism as “the use of someone else’s words or ideas as [the writer's] own without crediting the other person” (Lunsford and Connors 602).

(Notice the use of brackets to mark a change in the wording of the original.)

Applying these tips: avoiding two common forms of accidental plagiarism

1. Paraphrases with no citation

Because a paraphrase is supposed to contain all of the author’s information and none of your own commentary, a paraphrase with no citation is an example of plagiarism. The St. Martin’s Handbookdefines an appropriate paraphrase as follows:

paraphrase accurately states all the relevant information from a passage in your own words and phrasing, without any additional comments or elaborations [it] always restates all themain points of the passage in the same order and in about the same number of words. (Lunsford and Connors 596)

Lunsford and Connors go on to give two examples of unacceptable paraphrases: one that uses the author’s words, and one that uses the author’s sentences structures (597).

Lunsford and Connors also state that “even for acceptable paraphrases you must include a citation in your essay identifying the source of the information” (597). This point is crucial: without the information about the source, an appropriate paraphrase becomes plagiarism.

Even if you have avoided using the author’s words, sentences structure, or style, an unattributed paraphrase is plagiarism because it presents the same information in the same order.

2. Misplaced citations

If you use a paraphrase or direct quotation, it is important to place the reference at the very end of all the material cited. Any quoted, paraphrased, or summarized material that comes after the reference is plagiarized: it looks like it is supposed to be your own idea.

This is one reason why accurate notetaking is so important; it is possible to forget which words are yours and which are the original writers.

Original source:

Paraphrasing material helps you digest a passage, because chances are you can’t restate the passage in your own words unless you grasp its full meaning. When you incorporate an accurate paraphrase into your essay, you show your readers that you understand that source. (Lunsford and Connors 596)

Plagiarism (misplaced citation):

Lunsford and Connors say that paraphrasing is useful because “[p]araphrasing material helps you digest a passage, because chances are you can’t restate the passage in your own words unless you grasp its full meaning” (596). When you incorporate an accurate paraphrase into your essay, you show your readers your understanding of that source.

The reader would logically assume that the sentence following the citation is your own comment on the quotation, when it is actually part of the original quote.

Finally, a point about multiple citations from the same source: cite them all individually. It is not adequate to give one citation at the end of the paragraph for a bunch of individual points abstracted from a source.

Parenthetical citations are intended to make citing your sources easy to do; don’t be shy about using them.

Example of acceptable paraphrase: putting the idea in your own words

Taken from Lunsford and Connors 597-98. Key words and phrases in the original are in boldface. The changes in wording and sentence structure in the paraphrase are underlined.

Original

But Frida’s outlook was vastly different from that of the Surrealists. Her art was not the product of a disillusioned European culture searching for an escape from the limits of logic by plumbing the subconscious. Instead, her fantasy was a product of her temperament, life, and place; it was a way of coming to terms with reality, not of passing beyond reality into another realm.

Hayden Herrera, Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo (258)

Paraphrase

As Herrera explains, Frida’s surrealistic vision was unlike that of the European Surrealists. While their art grew out of their disenchantment with society and their desire to explore the subconscious mind as a refuge from rational thinking , Frida’s vision was an outgrowth of her own personality and life experiences in Mexico . She used her surrealistic images to understand better her actual life, not to create a dreamworld (258).

Works Cited

Lunsford, Andrea, and Robert Connors. St. Martin’s Handbook. 3rd. ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.