Plagiarism: What is it and How to Avoid it

Plagiarism is using the ideas and words of others and failing to acknowledge the original source. However, college students are constantly exposed to the ideas of others. Students read texts, attend class lectures, watch documentaries, and even surf the internet where we are routinely inundated with unlimited online content. Students are often confused by all the complexities involved in citing sources, so determining when and how to cite information in research papers is always a challenge.

To avoid plagiarism, you must credit any source when using

  • another’s idea, opinion, or theory

  • statistics, graphs, charts, or other images

  • any direct quotations of written or spoken words

  • paraphrase or summary of another’s written or spoken words

In short, any time you incorporate another’s ideas or words in any form, regardless of whether you use a direct quote, or whether you paraphrase or summarize another’s information, you must clearly acknowledge the source or you could be accused of plagiarism.

Quoting and Paraphrasing

It’s most common to incorporate direct quotes into our research papers, and most students know to acknowledge the original source of any direct quotes used. But paraphrasing is another skill that you might utilize even more often than directly quoting sources. Paraphrasing, even though it isn’t the exact words of the original source, must be cited, so it’s imperative to learn how to paraphrase correctly.

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.

Original –

“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.”

Paraphrase Considered Plagiarism –

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 high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

 

Notice that in the 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 sentence – however, has not been altered, except for one or two words. Basically, the second example is the same as the original, minus a few synonym changes. The best way to avoid plagiarism when paraphrasing is to read the section a few times, and then put it in your own words. Avoid cutting and pasting, then simply tweaking the language.

 

Plagiarism and the Internet

The World Wide Web is a wonderful thing. Boundless information is available at our fingertips, some of which has an author attributed to the writing, but many that do not. Don’t be fooled into thinking that an online source does not need to be acknowledged if no author’s name is attached. The rules apply to online sources of information just as they do to print sources, even blogs and social media. Any content taken from another source must be acknowledged. This includes not only ideas or theories, but also images, graphics, tables, charts – any type of information that you have not originally conceived.

If you can find no attributable author, then you would cite either by the title of the article, the web page, or the website name.

 

Information Considered Common Knowledge

Common knowledge is information that is widely known and available in numerous sources. Note the following statements, which would be considered common knowledge

The first president of the United States was George Washington.
The Earth is one of nine planets that orbit around the Sun.
World War II ended when the Allied troops defeated Nazi Germany and Japan.

These statements are widely known and widely read in texts. Each of these statements can be used in a research paper without acknowledging the original source, as the statements are general knowledge.

Experts sometimes disagree on how to judge what is considered common knowledge and what is not. Some facts that are common knowledge in one discipline may not be common knowledge in another. For instance, if a definition or fact is found in a highly specialized reference book, such as a medical reference book, but not readily known to a general audience, than it should probably be cited.

Understanding exactly what constitutes plagiarism is the first step to avoiding it. Take care to acknowledge any information you get from any type of source, be it print or online, with a given author, or no author. If you have any doubt about how or when to cite a source, always ask your professor.

 

 

 

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