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What Is Plagiarism?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to plagiarize is to "steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own." Plagiarism is "literary theft" and can be intentional or unintentional. Intentional plagiarism includes actions such as buying material from a Web site, copying an entire paper from another source, turning in someone's work as your own, and hiring someone to write for you. Unintentional plagiarism is less clear. The following actions are forms of plagiarism, whether intentional or not:
  • Not placing a direct quotation in quotation marks. You have plagiarized if you use someone else's exact words or phrases and do not use quotation marks, even if you include a parenthetical reference or a footnote after it. For example:
    • Original Source, Correctly Quoted: "This duality of Macbeth is what makes the play possible; it also accounts for the ambiguity, the mystery, that characterizes the play throughout. But it only partly accounts for his hold upon the audience's or reader's sympathy."
    • Plagiarized Example, Lacking Quotation Marks: This duality of Macbeth is what makes the play possible; it also accounts for the ambiguity, the mystery, that characterizes the play throughout. But it only partly accounts for his hold upon the audience's or reader's sympathy.
    • For more information on using quotations correctly, see Using Quotations, below.
  • Following another's sentence too closely. If you only change a word or two in the sentence, delete some words, or change the order within or among sentences, you are plagiarizing, not paraphrasing. For example:
    • Original Source: Jane Austen protected her anonymity as a writer with an almost obsessive diligence.
    • Plagiarized Example: Jane Austen guarded her anonymity as a writer with an obsessive diligence.
  • Placing parenthetical references, footnotes, or other attribution in the wrong place so that paraphrased material looks like your own idea. For example:
    • Original Source: Heavy teen drinkers create problems for others as well as for themselves. Studies have clearly shown that alcohol use and abuse lead to aggressive behavior. Teens who drink frequently and heavily are more likely to run away from home, to steal (from home and elsewhere), and to physically attack other people and their property. They are more likely to get into fights, to shoplift, and to break the law (National Institute for Drug Abuse).
      Plagiarized Example: Heavy teen drinkers create problems (National Institute for Drug Abuse). Alcohol use and abuse among teens who drink frequently and heavily makes them more likely to run away from home, to steal, and to physically attack other people. They are more likely to get into fights and to break the law.
    • In the example above, the second and third sentences are presented as the writer's own ideas, not as a paraphrase.
    • For more information on paraphrasing, see Paraphrase Correctly.
  • Using another source's original idea without including a parenthetical reference, a footnote, or other attribution. For example:
    • Original Source: Additions Stephen Crane made to The Red Badge of Courage in the final manuscript verify his decision to increasingly alienate the character Henry Fleming.
      Plagiarized Example: After he had written a first draft, Crane added material to The Red Badge of Courage that served to alienate Henry Fleming.
  • Using too much of someone else's work. If most of your paper is made up of other people's ideas and words, even if you cite correctly, it may be considered plagiarism.

Because plagiarism is a form of theft, it is a very serious offense in both the academic and professional worlds. Most schools punish plagiarists. The student may receive a failing grade for the paper or the class. Some schools will suspend or expel the student.

Most cases of plagiarism arise because of poor citing and referencing. Luckily, you can avoid plagiarizing if you know how to cite and reference your sources properly. As a general rule, remember that any time you use someone else's words or ideas, you should include a citation.

How Can I Avoid Plagiarism?

As well as knowing how to cite and reference your sources, use the following tips to help you avoid plagiarism.

Taking Notes

  • Before you start taking notes from a certain source, record at the top of the page the author's name, the article title, the publication date, and, if you are using an electronic source, the URL and date of access. Remember to note this information for each source that you use. When you begin writing your paper, this information will help you see which author made certain arguments. It will also help you to cite and reference your sources.
  • If you see a certain phrase or sentence that you would like to quote in your paper, place the phrase in quotation marks in your notes. When you begin writing your paper, this will serve as a reminder that the phrase is a quotation, not your own words. Remember that not placing a direct quotation in quotation marks is considered plagiarism.
  • Give yourself credit. While you are reading and taking notes, you might think of a point you would like to argue in your paper. Write your idea down, but highlight it or draw a circle around it so that you know this is your idea and not something you read in another source.

Using Quotations

  • Before you quote, begin the sentence with the author's name or the title of the article. This indicates to your reader that you are about to use someone else's words and ideas. Examples: "As Harold Bloom writes in his book Poets and Poems, 'Emily Dickinson is a very difficult poet; even her best critics tend to underestimate just how subtle and complex a body of work ensued from her immense cognitive originality.' (225)" If necessary, make sure you include a parenthetical reference or footnote at the end of the sentence.
  • Place all quotations in quotation marks. If the quotation is long, you may need to indent it. Check with your teacher or style guide to see what rules you should follow for long quotations.
  • Use quotations sparingly. Only quote when you think using the author's exact words is the best way to make a point. Do not include long quotations just because you need to submit a certain number of pages or words.
  • If you need to include a quotation within a quotation (sometimes called an embedded quotation) use single quotation marks ('...') instead of double ("...") to differentiate the embedded quotation from the surrounding one.
  • If you need to shorten a quotation, use an ellipsis (...) to indicate that you have left words out. If you need to add a word to a quotation to make it clearer, add the word or words in square brackets []. Be very careful not to change the original meaning of a quotation in the process of shortening it, or in adding necessary background. See examples below.
    • Original Source: "Tolkien's letters to his children, both during wartime and throughout their lives, are frank and honest. Though he offers advice on everything from sex to religion and from dealing with the oppression of war to surviving college politics, he also shares his own fears and acknowledges his own failures. He confesses to Michael that from 1920 to 1930 he provided a poor example since he did not attend mass as regularly as he should have. "
    • Shortening a Quotation Correctly: "Tolkien's letters to his children, both during wartime and throughout their lives, are frank and honest...He confesses to Michael that from 1920 to 1930 he provided a poor example since he did not attend mass as regularly as he should have. "
    • Shortening a Quote Incorrectly: "Tolkien's letters to his children, both during wartime and throughout their lives, are frank and honest. Though he offers advice on everything from sex to religion...he provided a poor example since he did not attend mass as regularly as he should have."
    • Original Source: "Like Don Quixote, Twain's masterpiece serves a multiple function in our literature and culture: as a literary fountainhead, as a work of powerful mythic expression, and as a disturbing challenge to how Americans see themselves and their history."
    • Adding a Word or Words Correctly: "Like Don Quixote, Twain's masterpiece [Adventures of Huckleberry Finn] serves a multiple function in our literature and culture: as a literary fountainhead, as a work of powerful mythic expression, and as a disturbing challenge to how Americans see themselves and their history."
    • Adding a Word or Words Incorrectly: "Like Don Quixote, Twain's masterpiece serves a multiple function in our literature and culture: as a literary fountainhead, as a work of powerful mythic expression, and as a disturbing challenge to how [all people] see themselves and their history."

Paraphrase Correctly

  • Paraphrasing means taking facts or ideas from another source and putting them into your own words. Following another's wording or sentence structure too closely is not paraphrasing. Remember that the words and sentences should be your own and in your style, rather than those of the author. If you are worried about following another's words too closely, try reading the source and taking notes only after you have closed the book or minimized the onscreen page. When you have finished writing, check your paraphrase against the original source. If you have used two or more consecutive words of the author's, place the words in quotation marks.
  • Before you paraphrase, begin the sentence with the author's name or the title of the article. This indicates to your reader that you are about to use someone else's ideas. Example: "According to the historian Edmund Morgan, Arthur Miller understood contemporary men and women better than he understood Puritans."
  • If necessary, make sure you include a parenthetical reference or footnote at the end of the sentence.

Check Your Citations

  • Be consistent when citing. Include source information each time you quote, paraphrase, or use someone else's words or ideas.
  • When you have finished writing your paper, go through it and check all parenthetical references or footnotes. Make sure that each parenthetical reference has a corresponding entry in your Works Cited or References list (see Citing Sources). Make sure that each footnote has a corresponding entry at the end of the page. If you are using endnotes, make sure that each note has a corresponding entry in your Notes or Footnotes page. Remember that including false citation information is also considered plagiarism.
 
“What Is Plagiarism?” The Facts On File Guide to Literary Research, Facts On File, 2017. Bloom's Literature, online.infobase.com/Article/Details/485628. Accessed 26 Oct. 2017.