How to Avoid Plagiarism
Plagiarism is stealing the intellectual work of someone else and passing it off as your own. While this definition seems simple enough, plagiarism can take many different forms. The theft can be deliberate, such as the purchasing of a paper. Plagiarism might also be as innocent as forgetting to cite your source. Plagiarism can even occur somewhere in between these two poles—that is, the intellectual theft is not outright stealing, nor is it completely without guile. But no matter where plagiarism falls on this continuum, the result is the same: using someone else’s words or ideas without giving credit is stealing. It’s the same thing as looking over the shoulder of a fellow student during a math exam or smuggling in notes to a science test. If you are caught, the penalties can range from receiving a zero on your paper to failing the entire course...or even being suspended or expelled. The good news is that all teachers would rather see an honest, even if flawed, effort from their students rather than the perfected work of someone else.
What Plagiarism Is
1) Buying a paper. This is deliberate stealing of the worst sort, and if caught, you will definitely suffer the most severe disciplinary penalties. Increasingly, more and more high schools, colleges, and universities are using plagiarism detection services such as turnitin.com, which can tell your teacher or professor just how much of your paper was stolen. While some essay writing “services” may tell you that your purchase is undetectable, don’t believe it. Even if these charlatans are telling the truth, sites commonly known as “paper mills” tend to sell the same paper over and over. Teachers report having seen the same paper turned in by different students in the same class! This is stealing and cheating and it’s wrong.
2) Not citing your source. Sometimes you may decide to directly quote from someone or paraphrase his or her ideas. Using the format your instructor prefers (e.g., MLA, Chicago, or APA), you must say where you have located the quotation and/or ideas. Failing to do so makes it appear that you are either claiming the ideas as your own or that you have not done the proper leg work to verify your materials. If you want proof of just how much the literary community looks down on this failure to cite sources, consider the case of the famous historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose inattention to citation nearly destroyed her reputation. Failure to cite your sources is a form of plagiarism, and, once again, this is stealing and cheating and it’s wrong.
3) Your dad’s, your mom’s, or your roommate’s words are not your own. You may know that cutting and pasting from the Internet or copying passages out of a book constitutes plagiarism, but another form of academic dishonesty is to have a friend or family member write your paper (or portions of your paper) for you. This is not to say that you shouldn’t talk to knowledgeable people to get their perspective on your subject, but having someone else substantially write words for you is cheating. Furthermore, you are unlikely to get away with this form of plagiarism. Most instructors will know your “voice,” whether from previous assignments or from your in-class contributions during discussions. If your ideas and phrasing seems markedly different from your efforts in the past, be sure that a teacher’s alarm will sound. Taking ideas from someone else is plagiarism; once again, this is stealing and cheating and it’s wrong.
4) A little of this, a little of that. Veteran teachers have keen noses for plagiarism. One of their most unpleasant duties is tracking down uncited text cobbled together from many sources. You might think that if the entire passage isn’t copied word for word, professors will not be able to locate the theft. This is not the case. It is no more difficult for instructors to locate the multiple source materials than it was for you to find them in the first place. This kind of...
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