We’re brought up knowing that plagiarism is wrong. But what happens when our concepts of plagiarism are wrong? Misguided by the phrase, “using someone else’s words as your own,” it’s often assumed that by changing some wording around with your handy thesaurus, it can no longer be considered plagiarism. There have been worse cases where a student truly believes what is written in their notebooks from last semester were his or her own thoughts, when it fact, it was a quote from a well-known philosopher. As the student uses this idea within their thesis paper without having credited the appropriate source, trouble can ensue. In fact, just by citing a source incorrectly, you could be accused of plagiarism!
The issue is convoluted enough that even graduate students, who publish their work in journals, don’t always have a good grasp of the idea. According to an article published recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education, graduate students surveyed at six universities (University of Alabama at Birmingham, University of Arizona, Columbia, Emory, Michigan State, and Pennsylvania State Universities) thought that plagiarism was a problem, but when it came down to it, they weren’t always able to identify what plagiarism is. These students had trouble understanding conflicts of interest, and they had difficulty grasping self-plagiarism: the act of reusing one’s own copyrighted or published work in another work without citing the original publication. The study, entitled Project of Scholarly Integrity, began in 2008, and was conducted by The Council of Graduate Schools.
It’s up to the college or university to teach students ethics in research and writing. As many graduate students surveyed did not feel confident in this area, the University of Arizona responded by offering workshops and designing lessons that specifically deal with identifying plagiarism. Many colleges across the country have similar kinds of preparation.
Knowing what is considered plagiarism and how to properly cite work is extremely important in the academic world as even accidental plagiarism has been known to have its consequences. Here’s a few tips to minimize your chance of copying someone else’s work.
Tips to Avoid Plagiarism
Plagiarism is more than using someone else’s words–it’s using someone else’s idea. If it’s not your idea, or if your idea has already been published in another work, you need to cite it.
If you plan to use someone’s exact words, it needs to be in quotes as well as cited.
When taking notes in class, be sure to include the source of your information, even if it’s from your professor or another student, so you don’t accidentally mistake someone else’s work for your own.
Get a book on how to properly site sources in MLA, APA, and Chicago Style formats. They’re available on your college campus, and they’re only a few bucks. This information is also available on numerous online sites.
When in doubt, ask a librarian or English professor for help. They are experts in this stuff!