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Avoiding Plagiarism

What is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is using another person's ideas or expressions without acknowledging the source.  Plagiarism is usually considered a moral or ethical offense rather than a legal one.  Some examples of plagiarism are submitting someone's paper as your own, buying a paper from a "term-paper mill" and submitting it as your own, not using quotation marks when you directly quote a source, or failing to cite a source.

The King University Honor Code:

On my Honor, I pledge not to lie, cheat, steal, or fail to address any violation of this Code. I understand that a violation of this Code will result in a trial before the Honor Council.

What are the penalties for plagiarism?

Plagiarism is a violation of the King University honor code.  Penalties range from failure of the assignment, test, or course to suspension and expulsion.

What if I didn't mean to plagiarize?

True, sometimes plagiarism can be unintentional.  This can occur when you do not keep careful notes from sources you have read.  It can also occur if you fail to cite a source or to use quotations.  However, whether intentional or unintentional, it's still considered plagiarism.

But, then I'll have to cite everything in my paper?

Not necessarily.  In order to support your argument, you will need to use the written work of other people on the subject you are studying.  It's a common practice in academic research to use other people's ideas to support your claims.  But your paper will also contain your own thoughts and experiences with the subject as well as common knowledge.

How do I know if something is common knowledge?

Common knowledge is a fact that everyone knows and can be found in several places.  For example, George Washington was the first president of the United States.

So what's the big deal then?

Sometimes when you are writing, whether intentionally or unintentionally, you may  begin to use the language of your sources to express your ideas.  Maybe the original source expresses an idea better then you think you could.  If you fail to acknowledge the source of borrowed phrases and expressions, then there is a problem because the words you use in your paper are no longer your words but the words of your source.

Can you give me an example?

Here's a paragraph from a book by J.J. Tobias called Urban Crime in Victorian England (New York, Schocken Books, 1972):

From about the middle of the nineteenth century the great secular boom which lasted until the 1870s saw a marked rise in employment opportunities and far more general rise in real incomes than had hitherto occurred.  Of course, we must not go too far.  Charles Booth's survey of the London of the 1890s is there to remind us of the appalling poverty which existed at the end of the century.

There are several "apt phrases" which you could use in your writing that would be considered plagiarism if you do not quote and cite the source.  For example, "great secular boom" and "appalling poverty" are two such phrases.  If you used these in your paper without quoting and acknowledging Tobias as the source, you have committed plagiarism.

So, how do I avoid plagiarism?

Glad you asked.  Try these suggestions:

  • Give yourself enough time to do the work. Rome wasn't built in a day, and most term papers (at least the good ones) aren't built in a day either.  Ideas need time to percolate.  You should give yourself enough time to understand new concepts, theories, and ideas, so that you can write about them in your own words.
  • Make careful, detailed notes. Use note cards, yellow notepads, a word processor--whatever method works best for you, but make sure that you clearly note what is a direct quotation, a summary, a paraphrase, and your own ideas or questions about the subject as well as information for the sources you used.
  • Write often about your topic. Writing can help you think about your research topic and may even lead to new ideas and insights on your argument.
  • Talk to your professor or a librarian. If you're unsure how to cite something or if you have inadvertently plagiarized, get help from people who want to help you.  Writing lab tutors are another good source of help.
  • Learn how to quote, paraphrase and summarize ideas you read. The  OWL Writing Lab:  Quoting, Paraphrasing and Summarizing has some good resources to help you do this.
  • Learn about methods for citing sources. Your professor may have a certain style manual that he or she wants you to follow.  The library has copies of these books as well as other resources that can help you cite information properly.  Again, ask for help from your professor or a librarian.