Academic writing is filled with rules that writers, particularly beginners, aren’t aware of or don’t know how to follow. Many of these rules have to do with research and proper citation. Familiarizing yourself with these rules is critical to avoid charges of plagiarism. Plagiarism is defined as the uncredited use (both intentional and unintentional) of somebody else’s words or ideas.
While some cultures may not require strict documentation of word, ideas, images, sounds, etc., American culture does. A charge of plagiarism can have severe consequences – failing a class, expulsion from college. You will also experience a loss of credibility and professional standing.
There are some intellectual challenges that all students are faced with when writing. Sometimes these challenges can appear to be contradictory. Professors often instruct students to develop a topic that is based on what has already been said and written but to write something new and original.
There are some actions that can clearly be labeled plagiarism. These include buying, stealing, or borrowing a paper (including copying material from the internet), hiring someone to write your paper for you, and copying large sections of text from a source without quotation marks or proper citation.
There are some actions that are questionable. These include using the words of a source too closely when paraphrasing (where quotation marks should have been used) or building on someone’s ideas without citing their work. Sometimes professors who suspect students of plagiarism will consider the students’ intent, and whether it appears to be a deliberate attempt to make the ideas of others appear to be his or her own. Other teachers and administrators may not distinguish between deliberate and accidental plagiarism.
The key to avoiding plagiarism is to make sure you give credit where it is due. This can be credit for something somebody said, wrote, drew, or implied. Many professional organizations, including the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Psychological Association (APA), have lengthy guidelines for citing sources. Students are usually busy trying to learn the rules of MLA or APA format and styles and sometimes forget what needs to be credited to someone else. You should document any words or ideas that originate outside of you. Things that need to documented include:
Some things do not require documentation. Some of these include:
You can consider something common knowledge if you find identical information undocumented in at least five credible sources. It might be common knowledge if you think the information is something your readers already know or something that someone could easily locate in general reference sources. When in doubt, cite.
Most students don’t intend to plagiarize. They know that citing sources builds their credibility. Mistakes can occur, though. Here are a few practices to help you avoid plagiarism:
When you proofread your paper, make sure that anything coming from an outside source is acknowledged in some combination of the following ways:
Unfortunately, plagiarism is a somewhat common occurrence. In a recent study, 84% of students admitted to cheating on written assignments. Over 45% admitted to collaborating inappropriately with others on assignments. 15% had submitted a paper obtained from a commercial term paper service or website. 52% had copied a few sentences from a website without citing the source.
With the accessibility of the internet, students can easily plagiarize by copying and pasting information from other sources. This is often detected for several reasons. Students’ choices of sources are frequently unoriginal. Instructors may receive the same passage copied from a popular source from several students. Students may choose sources which are inappropriate, off-topic, or contain incorrect information. Some instructors insist that submitted work is first submitted to an online plagiarism detector.
Plagiarism will continue until student attitudes change. Almost 85% of college students felt cheating was necessary to get ahead. If you need to plagiarize your work, you may want to reconsider if college is for you. A successful college career requires you to be an active learner. Using someone else’s words as your own is not active learning.
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