Beg, Borrow and Steal: Plagiarism and How to Avoid It

A 3-Part Series

Part Three: Works Cited and Citations

In part one of our series on how to avoid plagiarism, we discussed the differences between intentional and unintentional plagiarism. Part two covered the intricacies of the paraphrase. In the final installment of our three-part series, we’ll cover what many students feel is one of the most difficult things to write: the Works Cited page.

Why do you need a Works Cited Page?

Students often find compiling their Works Cited page – the final page of a research paper that lists all of the sources a writer has used in the paper – a complicated and daunting task. Well-written papers are often marked down because of a failure to include all of the research presented in the paper in the list of Works Cited, or a failure to format the Works Cited correctly, or both. Failure to include all sources used in the paper on the Works Cited page is a form of unintentional plagiarism because you have used a source but not given the original author credit.

Why are you required to provide a Works Cited page with your research paper? For readers who are interested in your topic and would like to read more about it, a Works Cited page allows your audience a way to easily locate the books, journals or articles you have referenced and read more on the subject. Failing to list sources accurately on a Works Cited page is frustrating for readers who would like to study more about your topic.

Works Cited Entries

Leroux, Marcel. Global Warming: Myth Or Reality?: The Erring Ways of Climatology. New York: Springer, 2005. Print.

The entry above is an example of what a print-based entry looks like on the Works Cited page.  This entry indicates that Marcel Leroux is quoted, paraphrased or summarized somewhere in the paper. Usually, instructors will look at the Works Cited page, and then flip through the paper to find where the source was cited. If either the in-text citation or the entry is missing, you could be accused of unintentional plagiarism.

 In-Text Citations

The source’s entry on the Works Cited page is only one piece of the puzzle. You must also cite that source in-text, which means the quote or paraphrase you have used from that source must be followed by a page number if it’s available, an author’s last name if it is not clear who the author is, or the title of the article if no author is given. An in-text citation for Marcel Leroux might look something like this:

Ex. 1:     Many scientists believe global warming is a myth (Leroux 21).

If Marcel Leroux’s name is given in an attributive tag, his last name does not need to be in the citation:

Ex. 2:      According to Marcel Leroux, author of Global Warming: Myth or Reality, many scientists believe global  warming is a myth (21).

If you have used any kind of information attained from a source, whether it is a direct quote, a summary or a paraphrase, you must always cite the source both in text and enter it on the Works Cited page. Failure to do both is a form of unintentional plagiarism.

As you can see, compiling an accurate Works Cited page and citing sources in-text can often be confusing, but writers can find a myriad of help from a good handbook or from reliable online sources, such as Purdue Owl. Avoid guessing when it comes to how to cite an entry, and always try to find how to cite your source before you go to your instructor for help. Chances are if you can’t locate information on how to cite your type of source, your instructor probably would have to look it up too. Part of writing research papers is learning how to cite research and create a Works Cited page.  For more questions on citations or Works Cited, several links have been provided below.

Purdue Owl – MLA
Purdue Owl – APA
Purdue Owl – Chicago Style
MCC Citation Help
Cornell Citation Help

Beg, Borrow and Steal: Plagiarism and how to avoid it

A 3-Part Series

Part Two: Art of the Paraphrase

Last week’s post discussed the intricacies of unintentional plagiarism. This week, we’ll discuss what most professors believe is the main cause of unintentional plagiarism: failure to paraphrase correctly. In a random poll of MCC English instructors, the majority responded that failure to paraphrase correctly was the number one cause of unintentional plagiarism. According to the online writing lab, Purdue Owl, the definition of paraphrase is “putting a passage from source material into your own words. A paraphrase must also be attributed to the original source. Paraphrased material is usually shorter than the original passage, taking a somewhat broader segment of the source and condensing it slightly.” This sounds simple enough, but the problem lies when the paraphrased material is not changed significantly enough. So how do you know when enough is enough?

Below is an example  from Purdue Owl of an original passage, followed by an acceptable and unacceptable paraphrase:

The original passage:

Students frequently overuse direct quotation in taking notes, and as a result they overuse quotations in the final [research] paper. Probably only about 10% of your final manuscript should appear as directly quoted matter. Therefore, you should strive to limit the amount of exact transcribing of source materials while taking notes. Lester, James D. Writing Research Papers. 2nd ed. (1976): 46-47.

An acceptable paraphrase:

In research papers students often quote excessively, failing to keep quoted material down to a desirable level. Since the problem usually originates during note taking, it is essential to minimize the material recorded verbatim (Lester 46-47).

A plagiarized version:

Students often use too many direct quotations when they take notes, resulting in too many of them in the final research paper. In fact, probably only about 10% of the final copy should consist of directly quoted material. So it is important to limit the amount of source material copied while taking notes.

First, let’s look at the plagiarized passage. In this version, the paragraph seems to have been cut and pasted, with a minor switching of synonyms (“often” for “frequently”; “when they take” for “in taking notes”; inserting “In fact”; “final copy” for “final manuscript”; “So” for “Therefore”).

This is considered plagiarized because the passage is not in the writer’s own words. Even though the writer has changed a few words, and added and removed a few, the majority of the passage remains the same. In addition, the sentence structure has not been changed, which indicates it was probably cut and pasted.

In the acceptable paraphrase, we can deduce that the writer read the original version, and then wrote his or her own shortened version, as it is condensed slightly and is in the writer’s words, using his or her own style and sentence structure.

Some key tips to follow when paraphrasing:

  1. Always read the original passage until you thoroughly understand the information.
  2. Write down your paraphrase on a note card, using your own language and sentence structure, making sure to keep the original’s meaning intact.
  3. Use the note card to also write down the source information so you can properly document it on your Works Cited or Reference page.

Remember, just because you have paraphrased a source into your own words does not mean you don’t have to document the source. The information still originated with someone else, and those ideas are “owned” by that person.

Now that you know how to correctly paraphrase to avoid unintentional plagiarism, if you fail to paraphrase or cite correctly, are you committing intentional plagiarism? I would like to hear what you think. Send me your responses and we’ll talk about the results in next week’s post.

For more questions on paraphrasing, documenting sources, or unintentional plagiarism visit Purdue Owl.



Beg, Borrow and Steal: Plagiarism and how to avoid it

A 3-Part Series

Part One: Intentional and Unintentional Plagiarism

Your research assignment requires you to use outside sources, so you scan the internet and library databases and find a few full-text articles that fit your needs. You cut and paste the quotes you want to use into your paper, but are careful to acknowledge the source of the information in your paper. Is this considered plagiarism?


You have found the perfect sources to use in support of your argument, and you are careful to take the quotes and change a few words so it is not worded exactly the same as the article. Is this considered plagiarism?


You have used several direct quotes in your research paper, but have not included author or attributive tags; however, you have cited the sources in the text and on your Works Cited or Reference page. Is this considered plagiarism?

The answer to all three examples: it depends.

Hearing the word “plagiarism” is enough to send some students into a panic, and causes great concern among faculty. Often a great deal of time and even money is spent on fancy plagiarism-finding software to catch the culprits of cut-and-paste papers. Syllabi are full of “Academic Honesty” sections, and college handbooks warn of the severe consequences that will befall the student who stoops to such practices. Students are often confused and bewildered by all the intricacies involved in citing sources correctly.

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, to “plagiarize” means

•to pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one’s own

•to use (another’s production) without crediting the source

•to present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source(

Every student knows to pass off another’s work as his own is intentional plagiarism. But when you search for formal definitions of plagiarism, you’ll find no delineation between “intentional” and “unintentional” plagiarism. Part one of our three-part series on plagiarism will attempt to define unintentional plagiarism.

Unintentional Plagiarism

Poor Citation

One type of unintentional plagiarism is when a student uses words or ideas of another and fails to give the original source credit. This lack of acknowledgment usually happens when students are learning how to integrate research into their papers. This can be remedied by simply learning how to cite properly. The following direct quote is from an essay by Roger Sipher:


“A decline in standardized test scores is but the most recent indicator that American education is in trouble.”

As you can see, there is no in-text citation, or parenthetical reference, to identify the writer or source. Also, remember to always include some kind of introductory tag along with direct quotes, as direct quotes should never stand alone as a sentence.


According to Sipher, “A decline in standardized test scores is but the most recent indicator that American education is in trouble” (25).

The second example has not only included the page reference to the source, but also added a few words of introduction. Regardless of whether you directly quote, summarize or paraphrase, the original source must always be cited in text, as well as listed on the Works Cited or Reference page.

Poor Quoting

When you want to directly quote a source, take care to put quotation marks around all of the words that came from the source, whether it’s one word or fifty. Inserting exact wording from a source without using quotation marks is a form of plagiarism, whether you cite the source or not.


A decline in standardized test scores is but the most recent indicator that American education is in trouble (Sipher 25).


“A decline in standardized test scores is but the most recent indicator that American education is in trouble” (Sipher 25).


According to Roger Sipher, author of, “So That Nobody Has To Go To School If They Don’t Want To,” “A decline in standardized test scores is but the most recent indicator that American education is in trouble” (25).

Poor Paraphrasing

When you want to paraphrase, you must not only change the words of the original source, but the sentence structure as well. Simply replacing one word with a synonym is not enough to avoid plagiarism.


“Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that affects children and adolescents. It occurs when a child is well above the normal weight for his or her age and height. Childhood obesity is particularly troubling because the extra pounds often start children on the path to health problems that were once confined to adults, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.”

Poor Paraphrase:

“Obesity in children is a serious condition that affects children and teens. It occurs when a child is above the normal weight for his or her age and height. Childhood obesity is particularly worrisome because the extra pounds often cause kids to have health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.”

Notice that in the poorly paraphrased example, a few words were omitted and a few were changed to a word with the same meaning. The sentence structure – the order of the words in the sentences – however, has not been altered. Any time you want to paraphrase or summarize, it’s best to read the section and then put in your own words. Avoid cutting and pasting, then simply tweaking the language.

As you can see, once you understand how to correctly cite and quote research, you can avoid most unintentional plagiarism errors.

Next time: More on the the art of the paraphrase

New Year’s Resolution: Trim the Fat

Although it is a very common conviction–and, indeed, a completely comprehensible one–that utilizing verbose, inflated language in the pursuit of academic excellence in the practice of written communication will impress those who dispense evaluations by way of a lettered grade, this misguided mindset results in merely mediocre manuscripts, and the resulting responses given by their respective educational overseers has left quite a number of pupils not only bewildered by the lack of an acceptably elevated score, but too often quite frustrated that their attempts at meeting academia’s professoriate requirements in written academic discourse fall significantly short of satisfying said professoriate’s expectations. 


How many times did you have to go back and re-read that sentence? I had to re-read it about a dozen times, and I wrote it! Translation: Say more with fewer words. Here are a few tips and tricks you can try in the editing process to make your writing more direct, concise and authoritative.


Eliminate Vague, Imprecise Language:

Speaker 1: The exam was kind of hard.     😦
Speaker 2: The exam was quite hard.        

Speaker 3: The exam was difficult.            

What’s the difference between Speaker 1 and Speaker 2?

If you said Speaker 2 is more direct, you’re right. He or she may even be more decisive. Speaker 3, however, uses a more precise word that doesn’t need an intensifier (quite), which wins the prize.  This is most important when writing argument papers. If you kind of or sort of think something, your reader will assume you aren’t sure, or don’t really know. You are trying to ride the fence and not make a decision – not a good thing when arguing a position.
Direct and decisive is best.

Other common words that rob us of direct, precise writing include

 lots, a lot, that, which (in some cases, not all).

Ease Up on Intensifiers:

Eliminating paper waste is a really good idea. (A better idea than just plain “good”?)

Eliminating paper waste is a really, really good idea. (Is it a better idea because they’ve used two “really”?)

Eliminating paper waste is a really, really very good idea. (Or is it simply just a very good idea?)

Often, when we start to pile on these intensifiers, the word they attempt to intensify isn’t strong enough (as in the first example, “quite hard”).

Eliminating paper waste is an excellent idea.

This sentence has omitted the intensifiers and utilized more precise language. You don’t have to eliminate these words completely, but only use when you really, really must. Better still, only use when you absolutely must. Best: only use when you must.

Other common words that could be omitted include

basically, totally, essentially.

Omit Bloated Phrases:

Due to the fact that snowy owls have lost much of their main food source in the Arctic, the rare owls are now wintering across Nebraska.

Due to the fact that is an empty, meaningless phrase often used in academic writing, but “because” is the better choice. Any time you can omit five words for one, do it. 

Because snowy owls have lost much of their main food source in the Arctic, the rare owls are now wintering across Nebraska.

Some other common bloated phrases include

for the most part
for all intents and purposes
as a matter of fact
in my opinion

And lastly, avoid using the adverbial forms firstly, secondly, thirdly. Number things first, second, third, if you feel you must number at all.

And finally. I mean, use the word “finally” instead of “lastly, ” and especially not “and last but not least.” The jury is still out on “in conclusion.” That is referred to as instructor preference, which means ask your instructor what they prefer.

Instructors: what do you prefer? Share you thoughts.
Any other common bloated phrases or unnecessary jargon we should mention?
What’s your personal pet peeve? Mine are New Year’s resolutions.