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Dr. Karen Palmer

What is Plagiarism?

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The term plagiarism is derived from the Latin word for “kidnapper.” When you plagiarize, you essentially ‘kidnap’ another person’s words or ideas and pass them off as your own without acknowledgment. Plagiarism is often a deliberate act. Whether a student is trying to get out of writing a paper and copies one from the web or a songwriter ‘ steals’ lyrics from a band member, plagiarism is wrong. Deliberate plagiarism is an intentional misrepresentation meant to deceive the reader.

Students often plagiarize unintentionally, as well, simply because they do not realize what should be cited. For example, a student might include a statistic in his/her paper and not give the source. That is plagiarism. If a student copies a sentence or two from a Wikipedia article and gives the source in parentheses after the quote, but does not put the quote in quotations marks, that is plagiarism.

Another method of inadvertent plagiarism is to paraphrase too closely. You can avoid this pitfall by reading a paragraph and then, without looking back, writing about the paragraph. Unless you have a photographic memory, this method will result in you rewording the idea. When you finish writing, look back to make sure you included all aspects of the original text and to clarify that you depicted the ideas accurately.

When you are planning to quote an author’s exact words, follow these guidelines:

  • If possible, copy and paste the quotation directly from your Research Journal so you know you have not made any inadvertent changes.
  • Be very careful not to change any word orders, word choices, spellings, or punctuation.
  • Use quotation marks.
  • If you choose to omit any words from the quotation, indicate this omission by replacing the words with ellipses (…).
  • If you add additional words to the quotation, place them within square brackets ([]).
  • Immediately include the in-text citation in parenthesis at the end of the sentence in which the quotation appears.

Avoiding Plagiarism

One way to avoid unintentional plagiarism is to begin by writing down your own ideas first. Put an asterisk * in the text where you know you want to insert a quote, but don’t put the quote in yet. This method ensures that you are consciously inserting quotes at a time when you can take the time to cite the source properly. One side benefit of this method is that you don’t lose your train of thought while writing. Another is that you are focusing on your own words and ideas—not simply reporting what others have said. In fact, APA guidelines state that no more than 20% of a text should be referenced from other sources.

Note that ideas that are common knowledge do not need to be cited. Common knowledge includes well-known facts or general knowledge (like the number of states in the union or the team that won the Super Bowl). Sometimes what is common knowledge in the field you are studying may not be common knowledge to you. But, if you see the same thing over and over again in all of your sources, this is probably common knowledge. When in doubt, always cite!

Consequences of Plagiarism

The consequences of plagiarism vary widely, depending on the writing situation. Songwriters caught plagiarizing face hefty fines, as well as the possible end to their careers. Academic writers may lose their jobs. Students can receive failing grades or even be expelled from school. Regardless of your writing situation, your credibility as a writer and as a person and as a research is compromised. Take the extra time to verify your sources and give credit where credit is due.

Exercise 1

1. Research an instance of plagiarism that made the news. Discuss the issue with your group. What happened? What could the person have done differently to avoid plagiarism?

Exercise 2

1. Look at your Turnitin report for your essay rough draft. Is there anything you should adjust as to avoid plagiarism?


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Avoiding Plagiarism Copyright © 2023 by Dr. Karen Palmer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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