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Recognizing and Avoiding Plagiarism

Use ideas and information from others to support and strengthen your arguments or analyses. That is what research is all about—finding out what is already known, assembling it in a new way with other ideas, and then adding your own new insights. Knowledge is a pyramid that many people build over time, building upon the ideas of one another.

If we did not borrow and build on one another’s ideas, science would never advance nor would a company. However, don’t overuse the work of others. Your paper should not be primarily filled with a collection of quotes and paraphrases. Communicate your view of the topic as supported by others.

It is as important to identify or cite the source for information you use as it is to use the information.

Here are reasons to cite your sources:

    • For the reader, the source lends credibility on the strength of the source. Thus the citation allows the reader to evaluate the quality of information you are using to build your arguments. It also allows the reader to look up the original works to learn more.
    • The authors, it is giving credit for the work they have done–or their “intellectual property.”
    • For you, it is honesty. Information has value like money. If you take someone’s money without permission, it is called theft. It is called “plagiarism” when you steal or use someone else’s ideas—using another’s ideas or words without acknowledging them. Penalties for stealing someone’s ideas, on purpose or by accident, are failing the assignment or course, or dismissal from the university. We take it seriously!

This section will help you recognize when you have committed plagiarism in your writing. It also includes some ways to avoid plagiarism. Finally, there are some concrete examples of plagiarized and non-plagiarized writing to help you.

Guidelines for Recognizing and Avoiding Plagiarism

Defining Plagiarism

What is Plagiarism?

Plagiarism is using someone else’s ideas or phrasing and representing those ideas or phrasing as our own, either on purpose or through carelessness.

  • Ideas or phrasing includes written, spoken, or electronic material—from whole papers and paragraphs to sentences, and, indeed, phrases—but it also includes statistics, lab results, songs, web pages, diagrams, and artwork.
  • Someone else can mean a professional source, such as a published writer or critic in a book, magazine, encyclopedia, or journal; an electronic resource such as material we discover on the World Wide Web; another student at our school or anywhere else; or a paper-writing “service” (online or otherwise) which offers to sell written papers.

Recognizing Plagiarism

Actions that might be seen as plagiarism

You should understand that plagiarism is plagiarism whether it is deliberate or accidental. Here is a list of actions From “Avoiding Plagiarism” (1995-2002) that might be seen as plagiarism starting with actions that may be seen as possibly accidental plagiarism and ending with actions that are deliberate plagiarism.

  1. Using the source too closely with paraphrasing
  2. Building on someone’s ideas without citation
  3. Copying from another source without citing (on purpose or by accident)
  4. Hiring someone to write your paper
  5. Buying, stealing or borrowing a paper
Review list of action on page
Actions that might be seen as plagiarism. A scale outlining deliberate versus possibly accidental plagiarism.
Note: From “Avoiding Plagiarism” (1995-2002)

Avoiding Plagiarism

How do I avoid plagiarism?

The heart of avoiding plagiarism is to make sure you give credit where it is due. This may be credit for something somebody said, wrote, e-mailed, drew, or implied. Table 5 clearly separates when you need to cite the source of some information, and when you do not. Table 6 suggests actions you can take during your researching and writing processes to avoid plagiarism. Please remember: even if it’s an accident, it’s still plagiarizing!

Choosing When to Cite the Source

From “Avoiding Plagiarism” (1995-2002)

Need to Cite Source
  • When you use or refer to someone else’s words or ideas from a magazine, book, newspaper, Web page, computer program, or any other medium.
  • When you use information gained through interviewing another person.
  • When you copy the exact words or a unique phrase from somewhere. In this instance, use quotation marks in addition to the citation.
  • When you reprint any diagrams, illustrations, charts, and pictures.
  • When you use ideas that others have given you in conversations or over e-mail.
Do Not Need to Cite Source

When you are writing your own experiences, your own observations, insights, thoughts, or conclusions about a subject, or experimental results.

Making Sure You Are Safe

From “Avoiding Plagiarism” (1995-2002)

There are actions you can take during the writing process and also in the appearance on the finished product to make sure you are safe.

When researching, note-taking, and interviewing:

During the writing process:
  • Mark everything that is someone else’s words with a big Q (for quote) or with big quotation marks.
  • Indicate in your notes which ideas are taken from sources (S) and which are your own insights (ME).
  • Record all of the relevant documentation information, including page numbers, in your notes.
Appearance on the finished product

Proofread and check with your notes (or photocopies of sources) to make sure that anything taken from your notes is acknowledged in some combination of the following ways: In-text citation, quotation marks, footnotes, indirect quotations, and bibliography.

When paraphrasing and summarizing

Paraphrasing involves putting a passage from source material into your own words. Summarizing is similar, but it includes only the main point(s). A paraphrase or a summary must be attributed to the original source.

During the writing process:
  • First, write your paraphrase and summary without looking at the original text, so you rely only on your memory.
  • Next, check your version with the original for content, accuracy, and mistakenly borrowed phrases.
Appearance on the finished product
  • Begin your summary with a statement giving credit to the source: According to Jonathan Kozol (1999, p.23), “…” or Kozol (1999, p.23) states, “…” or As Kozol (1999, p.23) points out, “…” Avoid repetitive phrasing.
  • Put any unique words or phrases that you cannot change, or do not want to change, in quotation marks: … “savage inequalities” exist throughout our educational system (Kozol, 1999, p. 23).

When quoting directly

Quotations must be identical to the original, using a narrow segment of the source. They must match the source document word for word and must be attributed to the original author.

During the writing process:
  • Keep the person’s name near the quote in your notes, and in your paper.
  • Select direct quotes that make the most impact in your paper — too many direct quotes lessen your credibility.
Appearance on the finished product
  • Mention the person’s name either at the beginning, middle, or end of the quote.
  • Put quotation marks around the quoted text.
  • Indicate your added phrases in brackets ([ ]) and omitted text with ellipses (. . .).

When quoting indirectly (paraphrasing)

During the writing process:
  • Keep the person’s name near the text in your notes, and in your paper.
  • Rewrite the key ideas using different words and sentence structures than the original text.
Appearance on the finished product
  • Mention the person’s name either at the beginning of the information, or in the middle, or at the end.
  • Double check to make sure that your words and sentence structures are different than the original text.

When quoting Web sources

During the writing process:
  • Beware of Web sources that do not contain an author and date. Without knowing the origin and time frame, you cannot be sure of the accuracy of the information.
Appearance on the finished product
  • Do not cut and paste from sources on the Web. In addition to concern about the accuracy of the content, it is too easy to forget to cite the source, leaving you in plagiarism mode.

If You Are Still Not Sure...

Review these four examples

The following four examples have been adapted from Capital Community College Humanities Department and the Arthur C. Banks Jr. Library (2004) “A Statement on Plagiarism.”

There are four samples of writing, using original text from Elaine Tyler May’s “Myths and Realities of the American Family.” As you read each version, try to decide if it is a legitimate use of May’s text or a plagiarism.

May’s original text follows:

Because women’s wages often continue to reflect the fiction that men earn the family wage, single mothers rarely earn enough to support themselves and their children adequately. And because work is still organized around the assumption that mothers stay home with children, even though few mothers can afford to do so, child-care facilities in the United States remain woefully inadequate.

Version A

Since women’s wages often continue to reflect the mistaken notion that men are the main wage earners in the family, single mothers rarely make enough to support themselves and their children very well. Also, because work is still based on the assumption that mothers stay home with children, facilities for childcare remain woefully inadequate in the United States.

Verdict: Plagiarism.

In Version A, there is too much direct borrowing in sentence structure and wording. The writer changes some words, drops one phrase, and adds some new language, but the overall text closely resembles May’s. Even with a citation, the writer is still plagiarizing because the lack of quotation marks indicates that Version A is a paraphrase, and should thus be in the writer’s own language.

Version B

As May (1989) points out, “women’s wages often continue to reflect the fiction that men earn the family wage” (p. 588). Thus many single mothers cannot support themselves and their children adequately. Furthermore, since work is based on the assumption that mothers stay home with children, facilities for day care in this country are still “woefully inadequate” (p. 589).

Verdict: Plagiarism.

In Version B the writer now cites May, so we’re closer to telling the truth about our text’s relationship to the source, but this text continues to borrow too much language without using quotation marks.

Version C

By and large, our economy still operates on the mistaken notion that men are the main breadwinners in the family. Thus, women continue to earn lower wages than men. This means, in effect, that many single mothers cannot earn a decent living. Furthermore, adequate day care is not available in the United States because of the mistaken assumption that mothers remain at home with their children.

Verdict: Plagiarism.

Version C shows good paraphrasing of wording and sentence structure, but May’s original ideas are not acknowledged. Some of May’s points are common knowledge (women earn less than men, many single mothers live in poverty), but May uses this common knowledge to make a specific and original point and her original conception of this idea is not acknowledged.

Version D

Women today still earn less than men — so much less that many single mothers and their children live near or below the poverty line. May (1989) argues that this situation stems in part from “the fiction that men earn the family wage” (p. 588). May further suggests that the American workplace still operates on the assumption that mothers with children stay home to care for them (p. 589). This assumption, in my opinion, does not have the force it once did. More and more businesses offer in- house day-care facilities. . . .

Verdict: No Plagiarism.

In version D the writer makes use of the common knowledge in May’s work, but acknowledges May’s original conclusion and does not try to pass it off as his or her own. The quotation is properly cited, as is a later paraphrase of another of May’s ideas (Capital Community College, 2004).

Academic Integrity

Student Code of Conduct

Plagiarism is one type of academic dishonesty. This is a serious offense at Boise State, as it is at any university in the country. For more details, please review Boise State University’s Definitions of Academic Integrity

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