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Avoiding Plagiarism

Every writer using sources in an essay needs to understand plagiarism. Using sources clearly and ethically should be the central goal. On the whole, readers assume that all of the language and ideas of an essay belong to the writer, unless the wording is in quotation marks or the paraphrase is cited. If the writer uses words or ideas from another source without those proper signals, the reader may give the writer credit for language and ideas which actually belong to another source. The reader should always understand where the writer's ideas and language end and the ideas and language of a source begin, and it is the writer's responsibility to make that division clear. 

What is plagiarism?

This is the definition of plagiarism from the IVCC Student Handbook:

Plagiarism - comes from the Latin word plagiare, which means "to steal."  Therefore, plagiarism is a form of cheating.  Plagiarism is defined as using the words of ideas of another as one's own either on purpose or unintentionally.  This includes, but it not limited to, copying whole, portions or the paraphrasing (rewording) of passages or information from any source in any academic exercise (written or oral) without giving credit to the author or source using an appropriate citation style.  Students must be able to prove that their work is their own.

Key ideas from this definition:

  • Plagiarism might be intentional or unintentional

  • Plagiarism might involve copying word for word or paraphrasing

  • The burden of proof is on the student.

How plagiarism might appear in an essay

The writer might have:

  • Used another source’s words or ideas without giving acknowledgement that those ideas or words are not his or her own.

  • Taken words directly from a source without using proper quotation marks (this is plagiarism even if the passage is cited).

  • Taken some words or sentence structure of a source and replaced them with similar words.

  • Used the organization, idea progression, or other any other feature of a source (this is plagiarism even if the wording is paraphrased).

How plagiarism can be unintentional

Intentional plagiarism is easy to imagine. If a writer purposefully takes the ideas or wording from another source and presents them as his or her own, that is a clear case of intentional plagiarism, in other words, cheating.

Unintentional plagiarism is a more complicated matter. Plagiarism may occur because the writer

  • did not know that citations were necessary or did not know how to cite the source

  • intended to paraphrase, but did not do so properly

  • planned to go back and cite the sources used, but missed some instances of source usage.

There are many other possible examples, but the overall message is that the writer must take responsibility for using sources properly. Any of the above situations could result in plagiarism, and the work would be penalized regardless of whether it was intentional. When in doubt about whether to cite or how to cite, ask.

What is general knowledge?

General knowledge (or common knowledge) is information that is commonly known in its field, so it appears in many sources. It might also include information that is so basic and factual that most, if not all, sources would agree with it.

Some examples of general knowledge:

  • Kurt Vonnegut published Slaughterhouse-Five in 1966.

  • William Henry Harrison had the shortest tenure of any U.S. president.

  • "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was the single that first got Nirvana national notice.

  • Stomach pain is a common side effect of aspirin use.

Each of these statements would be considered generally true and accepted in its field, and a researcher would be hard-pressed to find a source that disagreed. Statements like those above would not need to be cited. However, statements of general knowledge do not include opinions, analysis, or interpretations conveyed by the authors of sources. For example:

  • Slaughterhouse-Five is the best of Vonnegut's anti-war fiction.

  • Had he lived, William Henry Harrison would have been a popular president.

  • "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was popular in large part due to its music video.

  • People should avoid taking aspirin because it can harm the stomach lining.

Each of these statements is subjective, and if the writer of a research paper got the idea from a source, it would need to be cited.

What is the penalty for plagiarism?

This is the statement from the IVCC Student Handbook about the penalties for plagiarism:

The faculty member has full authority to identify academic dishonesty in his/her classroom, and to impose any of the following sanctions:

  1. Failure of any assignment, quiz, test, examination or paper, project or oral presentation for the work in which the violation occurred.

  2. Lower grade.

  3. Involuntary withdrawal from the course.

  4. Failure of the course.

  5. The faculty member may report extreme cases of academic dishonesty directly to the Vice President for Learning and Student Development for disciplinary action as outlined in section VII Disciplinary Process.

Other sanctions as determined by the faculty member.

How to avoid plagiarism

  • If you are choosing to quote from a source, quote exactly, use quotation marks, and cite.

  • If you are choosing to paraphrase, do so thoroughly, do not use quotation marks, and cite.

  • Cite as you insert sources into your essay. Do not plan to go back and cite your sources later. If the writer misses one citation, the essay will have a plagiarism problem.

  • As you revise and edit your essay, double check your quotations for accuracy and your paraphrases for thoroughness.

  • Keep a hard copy (printout or photocopy) of all of your sources and the necessary citation information so that it is available at any point in your writing process.

  • Keep your notes, annotated sources, drafts, and revisions throughout the writing process so that you can show your work.

  • When in doubt, ask your instructor or a Writing Center tutor to look at your use of sources. Sometimes another point of view is helpful in this area.

To see examples of plagiarism, click here: Plagiarism Examples