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What is Plagiarism and How to Avoid It

Plagiarism is a word everyone knows, but not everyone understands what it means.  How do you know if you are just quoting something or plagiarizing? Why do you need to learn how to avoid plagiarizing? What happens if you do plagiarize? These are actually some very important questions that need to be answered to ensure you can complete your papers without worrying if you are copying someone else’s work.

Plagiarize:

transitive verb : to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own : use (another’s production) without crediting the source

intransitive verb : to commit literary theft : present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

pla·gia·riz·er noun ( www.merriam-webster.com )

How do you know if you are plagiarizing?

Plagiarism most often happens because the student does not know how to properly cite their resources, or what the rules of plagiarism are.   Every syllabus teachers give out is required to have a section on plagiarism, but they are often brief and don’t fully explain how to avoid plagiarizing.

The Savannah Technical College Code of Student Conduct describes what it considers plagiarism in the following ways:

‘a. Submitting another’s published or unpublished work in whole, in part or in paraphrase, as one’s own without fully and properly crediting the author with footnotes, quotation marks, citations, or bibliographical reference.

b. Submitting as one’s own original work, material obtained from an individual or agency without reference to the person or agency as the source of the material.

c. Submitting as one’s own original work material that has been produced through unacknowledged collaboration with others without release in writing from collaborators.’ (Savannah Technical College Student Code of Conduct, 41-42)

In short, it is plagiarism if you do not credit when you use…

a. Another person’s idea, opinion or theory

b. Any item that is not common knowledge—such as graphs, statistics, and even drawings.

c. Quotes by other people, either spoken or written.

d. Paraphrase of another person’s words, either spoken or written.

What is paraphrasing?

These seem pretty straight forward, until you reach the last one. What do we mean by paraphrasing?

Paraphrases are not actually quotations of another person’s words. They are accurate descriptions of another person’s ideas done in the writer’s own words.

Indiana University’s tutorial services provide excellent examples of both acceptable and unacceptable paraphrases.

“Here’s the ORIGINAL text, from page 1 of Lizzie Borden: A Case Book of Family and Crime in the 1890s by Joyce Williams et al.:

The rise of industry, the growth of cities, and the expansion of the population were the three great developments of late nineteenth century American history.  As new, larger, steam-powered factories became a feature of the American landscape in the East, they transformed farm hands into industrial laborers, and provided jobs for a rising tide of immigrants. With industry came urbanization the growth of large cities (like Fall River, Massachusetts, where the Bordens lived) which became the centers of production as well as of commerce and trade.

Here’s an UNACCEPTABLE paraphrase that is plagiarism:

The increase of industry, the growth of cities, and the explosion of the population were three large factors of nineteenth century America. As steam-driven companies became more visible in the eastern part of the country, they changed farm hands into factory workers and provided jobs for the large wave of immigrants. With industry came the growth of large cities like Fall River where the Bordens lived which turned into centers of commerce and trade as well as production.

What makes this passage plagiarism? The preceding passage is considered plagiarism for two reasons:

  • the writer has only changed around a few words and phrases, or changed the order of the original’s sentences.
  • the writer has failed to cite a source for any of the ideas or facts.

If you do either or both of these things, you are plagiarizing.

NOTE: This paragraph is also problematic because it changes the sense of several sentences (for example, “steam-driven companies” in sentence two misses the original’s emphasis on factories).

Here’s an ACCEPTABLE paraphrase:

Fall River, where the Borden family lived, was typical of northeastern industrial cities of the nineteenth century. Steam-powered production had shifted labor from agriculture to manufacturing, and as immigrants arrived in the US, they found work in these new factories. As a result, populations grew, and large urban areas arose. Fall River was one of these manufacturing and commercial centers (Williams 1).

Why is this passage acceptable? This is acceptable paraphrasing because the writer:

  • accurately relays the information in the original uses her own words.
  • lets her reader know the source of her information.

Here’s an example of quotation and paraphrase used together, which is also ACCEPTABLE:

Fall River, where the Borden family lived, was typical of northeastern industrial cities of the nineteenth century. As steam-powered production shifted labor from agriculture to manufacturing, the demand for workers “transformed farm hands into industrial laborers,” and created jobs for immigrants. In turn, growing populations increased the size of urban areas. Fall River was one of these hubs “which became the centers of production as well as of commerce and trade” (Williams 1).

Why is this passage acceptable? This is acceptable paraphrasing because the writer:

  • records the information in the original passage accurately.
  • gives credit for the ideas in this passage.
  • indicated which part is taken directly from her source by putting the passage in quotation marks and citing the page number.

Note that if the writer had used these phrases or sentences in her own paper without putting quotation marks around them, she would be PLAGIARIZING.  Using another person’s phrases or sentences without putting quotation marks around them is considered plagiarism EVEN IF THE WRITER CITES IN HER OWN TEXT THE SOURCE OF THE PHRASES OR SENTENCES SHE HAS QUOTED.

Your teacher says you need to cite the sources for your paper. How do you know when to do it?

Citing your sources is one of the most important parts of writing your paper. It ensures that people don’t think you have created ideas when they are not actually yours, or that you have outright stolen them.   It shows that you have done plenty of research on the subject and provides a good foundation from an outside source for your own ideas.

So, does that mean you have to cite everything?   No. There is an exception to the rule.

“Common Knowledge”—When something is a commonly known fact not unique to the resource you are reading. Common Knowledge could be something like a president’s birthday, or how many people live in Texas. There is no way to properly cite the origin of this knowledge because it is so wide spread. So in the case of Common Knowledge, you do not need to cite.

Of course, it is always better to be safer than sorry. Plagiarizing in a paper can result in serious actions by the school, including failure, suspension, and even expulsion from the institution.

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