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English -- ENG 110,120,122: Avoiding Plagiarism

Course Research Guide -- Communication Skills: Writing
Subjects: English

What is Plagiarism?

What is Plagiarism?

Many people think of plagiarism as copying another's work, or borrowing someone else's original ideas. But terms like "copying" and "borrowing" can disguise the seriousness of the offense:

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, to "plagiarize" means

  • to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own
  • to use (another's production) without crediting the source
  • to commit literary theft
  • to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source.

In other words, plagiarism is an act of fraud. It involves both stealing someone else's work and lying about it afterward.

But can words and ideas really be stolen?

According to U.S. law, the answer is yes. The expression of original ideas is considered intellectual property, and is protected by copyright laws, just like original inventions. Almost all forms of expression fall under copyright protection as long as they are recorded in some way (such as a book or a computer file).

All of the following are considered plagiarism:

  • turning in someone else's work as your own
  • copying words or ideas from someone else without giving credit
  • failing to put a quotation in quotation marks
  • giving incorrect information about the source of a quotation
  • changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit
  • copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not (see our section on "fair use" rules)

Most cases of plagiarism can be avoided, however, by citing sources. Simply acknowledging that certain material has been borrowed, and providing your audience with the information necessary to find that source, is usually enough to prevent plagiarism. See our section on citation for more information on how to cite sources properly.


Where Can I Learn More About Plagiarism?

Where Can I Learn More About Plagiarism?

On campus, you can ask your professor or a librarian at the Reference Desk.  You can also visit the Rudin Center in Amend Hall for assistance in any stage of writing, including helping you avoid plagiarism.

 On the Web, there are many sources of information for students to learn about plagiarism. Try these two:


Understanding Plagiarism (Indiana University)
Test your knowledge of plagiarism and find resources about how to recognize it.

How to Avoid Plagiarism

First, do your own work - Begin your research project as early as possible. Keep up in class, do your library work and start your drafts in a timely fashion. Writing your paper will be so much easier if not put it off to the last minute. Procrastination is not a credible excuse; it's simply a bad choice. Performing under deadline pressures often pushes a student into cheating.

Second, establish your own voice - Easier said than done, but this is a key ingredient to your success and a primary difficulty all experienced writers have had to face and overcome. Learn as much as you can about your topic: it will help you develop a point-of-view from which to speak. The more you know, the easier it will be to avoid plagiarism.

Third, do your research carefully. Read the material closely. Knowing your topic well includes knowing what others have said. Strive for a mastery of your topic by introducing yourself intellectually to those who have already made a contribution, or are presently adding to the ongoing conversation. Keep an annotated bibliography of the source material you intend to use in your paper.

Fourth, keep copies of all your drafts - In review, you will notice your own point-of-view developing, changing and growing; a voice of authority all your own, emerging. It will stand in contrast to those of your sources. The difference between yours and their voices will go a long way toward helping you avoid plagiarism.

Finally, make sure that your document is properly constructed and your sources correctly cited. Remember, if the general concept, idea, quotation, statistic, fact, illustration, graph or data you intend to include is not common knowledge in the field of your investigation, a source must be cited. Not doing so will damage your credibility.

Share hard copies of "work-in-progress" with your instructor if the opportunity arises. As you move toward completion invite—and be receptive—to constructive suggestions. It can only make your paper better. This is where errors, especially citation errors, get pointed out and corrected. After a paper is handed in, such mistakes can be grounds for plagiarism charges.

Here is a checklist of questions to ask yourself before handing in your work:

  • Are all quotations surrounded by quotation marks?
  • Are single and double quotation marks properly used in quotations within quotations?
  • Are ellipses and brackets included in quotations where words have been deleted or comments added?
  • Are any quotations, paraphrases or summaries attributed to the wrong author? Are any missing an attribution completely?
  • Are your paraphrases worded significantly different than the original?
  • Are your summaries written in your own voice?
  • Are all your source citations included in your bibliography or sources cited page?
  • Are the titles, page numbers and dates in your documentation correct?

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