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How to Avoid Accidental Plagiarism

College students often ignore warnings about plagiarism because they believe that it doesn’t concern them. They view plagiarism as some obscure academic crime committed by devious plotters who go to great lengths to create fake documents–or, more commonly, if they do know what it is, they believe they can get away with it.
If you are one of the latter, there is probably not much that I, as a retired college teacher with over 40 years of experience grading student papers, can say to persuade you that it’s not a good idea. If, however, you simply don’t know what plagiarism is and would like to avoid committing this academic crime-then, I can help you.

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First, let’s discuss the nature of plagiarism. It’s actually very simple. Plagiarism is claiming that someone else’s work is your own. This definition is quite broad and doesn’t really describe what happens when most students plagiarize. Most students fall accidentally into plagiarism when they attempt to conduct research for a class paper, extract large chunks of text from a source and transfer that text to their paper. Now, if you put quotation marks around the text you have grabbed and indicate its source, then you are safe-no plagiarism, although probably not a very good paper. On the other hand, if you transfer text from another source and put it in your paper (even if you alter a few words), without indicating where you got the text, that is plagiarism. Let’s repeat the basic premises–if you use material from a text and indicate where you got it–no plagiarism. If you use material from a text and don’t indicate where you got it–plagiarism.

Second, let’s discuss the possible penalties of plagiarism. Even if a teacher doesn’t discuss the repercussions of plagiarizing, that doesn’t mean that he or she won’t punish you if you are caught plagiarizing. Most instructors have a statement on their syllabi indicating a no-tolerance policy for plagiarism, but very few adequately describe what constitutes plagiarism, and many students get caught plagiarizing without intending to do anything wrong. Don’t be one of those. Punishment for plagiarism can be a failing grade on an assignment, failing the class, or even expulsion from the institution.

Third, let’s talk about how and why students plagiarize and why they shouldn’t. Many students often think that grabbing a paragraph or two from a textbook or article and sliding it into their papers will never be noticed by their instructors. Wrong! Remember you are writing papers for professors who have spent their lives studying this topic; they have probably read the texts from which you are plagiarizing many times, they may even have written some of them. Don’t be foolish enough to think they won’t notice when segments of your paper are stolen from another source. Besides, it’s totally unnecessary. Most instructors don’t mind if you quote material from other sources; they know you can’t possibly know all the information in your paper yourself. They expect you to use outside sources. They just want you to cite your sources-that is, say where you got your material! Don’t pretend as if you made everything up yourself. Your professor knows you didn’t, so why pretend you did? Also, remember your professors have read hundreds if not thousands of student papers; they can tell student writing from professional writing. That means when they read a section of professionally written prose in the middle of your student paper, they will suspect plagiarism. When professors suspect plagiarism, they have many methods for determining the original source of the questionable section. If they determine that your paper includes plagiarized material, even if it is a sentence or two, you are a plagiarizer and your professor can and probably will punish you.Plagiarism is also use in dissertation writing services.

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In my many years of teaching, I have encountered many plagiarized papers and have handled each student plagiarist differently depending on the case. The students always claimed they didn’t believe they were doing anything wrong. However, as you may have heard, ignorance of the law is no excuse, and accidental or intentional, plagiarism is an academic crime and all college students should avoid it.