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Avoiding Plagiarism

From plagiarius (Latin), meaning kidnapper

Plagiarism and Academic Integrity

Plagiarism is the intentional use of another's words and ideas without proper documentation. It is the writer's responsibility to do and take credit for his or her own work. The value of one's educational experience is measured by honest contributions to the academic environment.

Plagiarism Information Links:

Why is Documentation so Important?

The purpose in writing papers involving research is to share your ideas on a subject. It is often essential to use the words and ideas of others to support your own thinking, but the sources of those words and ideas must be acknowledged.

When doing research assignments, much of the information you present will not be your own. Academic discourse has created large pools of information and insights made accessible through publication. You must credit the thoughts and works of others when re-presenting their academic and creative ideas. While avoiding plagiarism may be the first thing on our minds when typing a paper's bibliography, there are many important reasons to document sources:

  1. Retrace your steps. By citing sources, you provide other readers with the necessary information to access the materials you used. Reference lists also create a place for further investigation, questioning, and dialogue about a topic.
  2. Join the conversation. Referencing the work of others aids the evolution of an ever-changing academic dialogue. By referencing your work you are placing your own interpretations into such academic context.
  3. Distinguish yourself. Source citations allow you to distinguish your ideas from those of others as well as build upon previous academic exchanges. Sources establish the legitimacy of the paper and the status of the writer.
  4. Flaunt what you've got. Documented sources are testimony to research you have done and help bring credibility in your work.
  5. Offer kudos. You don't want others presenting the hard work, time and commitment of your writing as their own. It's only fair to acknowledge others.
  6. Avoid plagiarism. When building upon others' work or using it to support your own, you need to acknowledge where you found your information. Lifting words and ideas from others without acknowledging where they are from, altering their meaning or improperly paraphrasing with or without documenting your source are forms of cheating in most academic disciplines. Such cheating can have serious consequences.

How do you avoid plagiarism?

You can avoid plagiarism by accurately taking notes when doing research, properly citing your sources, paraphrasing correctly, and keeping drafts of your papers.
Taking notes is the most important part of doing research, but sometimes it's hard to know what is important. There are three main ways to record information while taking notes: quoting, paraphrasing, and summarizing. Summarizing condenses information and puts facts into your own words. Quotations are used when the exact words are important or stand as strong evidence in your argument. Paraphrasing is used to represent the source's information in your own language while maintaining the length of the excerpt.
Here are some general guidelines for taking notes:

  • Copy the source's bibliographic information: Author, Title, Publisher, Year, etc. Documenting when you gather information makes it easier to compile your works cited page, as well as relocate information later in your research.
  • Place quotation marks around words directly from the source when summarizing, paraphrasing and quoting. This will help while writing to know how to format or cite the information.
  • Give yourself time to complete research. Leaving research to the last minute leaves you more tempted to resort to plagiarism out of carelessness or ease.
  • When in doubt about whether an idea or statistic is common knowledge, cite the information.

Citing sources is often the most tricky part of research. There are many forms of documentation out there, and it is crucial that you document properly and in the required method. Proper methods of citation vary by academic discipline. Below you'll find links to three ways to properly document sources. Source documentation differs with academic disciplines. Some departments use parenthetical documentation while others use endnotes or footnotes. What is appropriate for an English paper may not be appropriate for a Psychology or Chemistry paper. Which documentation method is appropriate for your academic discipline? Before you begin your paper's bibliography or works cited page, check with your professor to see which method is preferred.
Here are some common documentation styles:

  • MLA-Modern Language Association
  • APA-American Psychological Association
  • CMS-Chicago Manual of Style

Paraphrasing is taking information you have read and placing it into your own words and writing style while maintaining the text's meaning and the source's approximate word count. As easy as it sounds, it can be difficult. Over-reliance on an author's own words and language are plagiarism, even if they have been changed some.

Suggestions for paraphrasing properly:

  • Read the original text carefully for meaning. Ask yourself if you understand the information. Look up words you don't know.
  • Close the text and work from memory. This will lessen your reliance on the language in the text.
  • Substitute words and restructure sentences while keeping the passage's meaning. When keeping original words and phrasing, place quotation marks around the information to signal that they're not your own.
  • When you've written a section in your own words and style, compare it with the original text for accuracy.
  • Acknowledge your source by citing it.

Here is an example of paraphrasing using the opening sentence of the Gettysburg Address:


Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

First draft paraphrase replacing words with synonyms:

Eighty-seven years before today, our political and spiritual ancestors created in North America a country that did not exist before, thought of in freedom and devoted to establishing the principle that all people are born with the same rights.

Revised paraphrase with restructured sentences:

Our political and spiritual ancestors were thinking of how to make freedom a reality when, eighty-seven years before today, they created a country that did not previously exist. Their creation was devoted to establishing the principle that all people are born with the same rights.
(Bazerman, Charles. The Informed Writer. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston. 1992. 39-40.)