Writing papers is a part of most classes. Whether it’s a book report on a novel you had to read for English class or a history paper about a historic event, at some point you will be writing a paper while you’re in college. The last thing you want to have happen is a teacher accusing you of cheating or stealing someone else’s work. Plagiarism is a serious issue that should be avoided. Although it’s easy to commit by accident, knowing what plagiarism is, how to recognize it, and learning how to avoid it will help you keep your papers plagiarism free. Keep reading if you want to learn what you need to know to avoid plagiarism and to find tools to help you keep your papers plagiarism-free.
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Plagiarism in its simplest terms is using someone else’s work and passing it off as your own. This is not always a deliberate thing, many people plagiarize and don’t even realize it. However, although it might not be deliberate, it can still culminate in some serious consequences. After all, it is considered a form of cheating, and if you are caught plagiarizing another person’s work, you will be punished in the same manner as someone who turned in someone else’s homework or who got caught cheating on a test. It’s truly something that should be avoided at all costs.
There are several different types of plagiarism and other types that overlap each other. But the four main categories of plagiarism are:
Common knowledge are concepts that everyone knows. If something falls under this umbrella, it typically doesn’t need to be cited. For example, if you make the statement, “Water is wet”, that’s common knowledge because everyone knows that water is wet. However, if you go on to explain the science behind why water is wet, you will most like need to cite a source or include a quotation because that explanation doesn’t fall under common knowledge. Another example, most people are familiar with the poem, “The Raven”, but if you quote it in a paper, not citing Edgar Allan Poe as the author would be plagiarism.
Another consideration is the audience to whom you are writing. If you’re a biology major and you’re writing a paper on DNA for a biology class, including a source that explains that DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid isn’t necessary. However, if your audience consists of laymen, then adding a source and citation from say, the Mayo Clinic is a safe course of action.
It might not seem like plagiarism is that big a deal, but it certainly can be. As mentioned previously, it’s considered a form of theft. And, although you probably won’t be arrested and jailed for doing it, you could lose a letter grade on a paper or in some of the most egregious cases, fail a class. One of the reasons that the punishment for plagiarism can vary is because it involves intent. For example, if someone copies and pastes whole paragraphs of a source and attempts to pass it off as their own writing, it’s pretty obvious they intended for people to believe that what was written were their own words. On the other hand, if someone includes a sentence or two from a source, or does not properly reword a source, the person might not have intended to pass someone else’s work off as their own, but they are still guilty of doing so. In the former case, that student would probably face a harsher punishment than the latter student, but both would be guilty of plagiarism. The latter student might lose a letter grade because part of what the teacher is teaching them is how to appropriately write whatever type of paper they were working on, without plagiarizing; the second student may fail the class because they were purposefully lying about writing the paper themselves.
This is why it’s important to know what plagiarism is and the different types that exist. Not knowing is not an excuse. Ignorance of the rules will not excuse you from the consequences of committing plagiarism.
When you submit a paper to a teacher, they are looking for many different things, including whether or not you submitted original work. To help with this, they have plenty of resources available to them. One of the most common tools is personal knowledge. Many teachers will provide students with references and resources to at least help get the paper research started. What students might not realize is that teachers are often very familiar with the resources they suggest, so if you plagiarize from one of those, a teacher will almost immediately recognize it. But there are other tools available to teachers to check for plagiarism, and we’ve included a brief list below.
The best way to avoid plagiarism is to make sure everything you write is in your own words. This could mean doing all your research and giving yourself time to comprehend everything and then writing your paper. In this same vein, give yourself plenty of time to work on a paper. Procrastination can cause you to rush and, in your hurry, you could forget to cite someone or think that what you’re writing is an original thought but it actually be an idea from one of your sources.
Another option to avoid plagiarism is to use one or more of the same tools teachers use to check for it. Even the programs that you have to pay for often have low-cost or free student versions. Running your paper through a plagiarism program will help you avoid making the error. Another approach is to make sure that areas of your paper where you are expressing a thought are in your words before turning in your paper. Compare what you wrote with the original source. The only thing that should sound remotely similar is the overall thought. If any of the words are the same if the tones or sentence structures are similar, you might need to rework the thought in your paper.
All students should do what they can to avoid plagiarism. Here are some tips on how you can avoid committing plagiarism.
As was mentioned previously, the consequences of plagiarism vary. Some colleges might give you a slap on the wrist in the form of losing a letter grade, while others could decide that the act was a form of thievery and either give you a failing grade or in more severe cases, expel you from the institution altogether. Most schools make their stance on plagiarism known in written form, whether it’s a dedicated subject in the school handbook, or as part of every teacher’s syllabus. It’s a good idea to learn what your school’s stance is on the subject because, even though ultimately you want to avoid committing the act at all costs, knowing what the punishment might be could help keep you vigilant against it. It’s one thing to accidentally commit plagiarism and lose a letter grade, but it’s an entirely different situation if it costs you a letter grade or admission into the school.
Plagiarism Frequently Asked Questions
Here is a list of the most common questions regarding plagiarism.
Can you plagiarize yourself?
Yes, you can plagiarize yourself. Using something you’ve previously written in a new paper is a form of plagiarism. You can write about the same topic, but everything in the new paper has to be rewritten and cannot just be a repeat of what you said in the previous paper. In order to quote yourself, you might be required to get permission from all teachers involved, so it would probably just be easier to reword what you said previously and turn in an original work.
How bad does it have to be for me to get kicked out of school?
The punishment can vary by school, but the intent is a huge factor. For example, if you accidentally forget to cite a source you quoted, your teacher will most likely point out you forgot to cite something and take some points off your paper. But if you have copied entire paragraphs of a source and provided no attributions whatsoever, the consequences could be dire, especially if it is a repeat offense. Failing the paper, the class, and being kicked out of school are all possible consequences for a student who establishes a pattern of plagiarism.
What do I do if I realize I committed plagiarism by mistake after I turn in a paper?
Let your teacher know. In this age of technology, shooting your teacher an email stating, “I think a forgot to cite a source or properly attribute a quote”, and providing the proper source and attribution will show it was an accident and not something you deliberately meant to do.
Do I have to source every idea I use?
If the idea is not common knowledge, it’s not your original thought, and you aren’t an expert in the subject, then it is better to have a source for every idea you present in a paper.
What is copyright?
Copyright is the law that covers the written word. As soon as someone writes something, they own the copyright. For anyone else to use those words, or the idea presented in an identical form requires a citation and attribution to the person who wrote it. Not providing the source for the material is plagiarism.
Does it matter how much of a source I used?
It doesn’t matter whether you use one word or fifty, if you use a source, you must cite the source.
How should I show proper attribution for a source?
If you quoted the source, then the quotation has to be included in quotation marks. If you used an idea from a source, you have to state where the information came from. And, in your work cited section, all sources have to be listed.
Can common facts be plagiarized?
Common facts cannot be plagiarized. However, explanations of those facts can be.
How can I avoid plagiarism?
Everything you submit should be in your own words. If you use an idea, thought, or phrase from a source, then attribute the idea, thought, or phrase to the person who said or wrote it originally as soon as you use it in your paper. Finally, list every source you used in your paper.
What is plagiarism?
Plagiarism is using another person’s material and claiming it as your own.
Most word processing software such as MS Word or Open Office have citation generators as part of their package, but sometimes they aren’t accurate or don’t cover everything. If you’re looking for an external citation generator, here are few you can use.
Another option is picking up a copy of the handbook that corresponds with the writing format you are required to use for the class. High school and college students are usually required to use the MLA Handbook, while graduate students use the APA Handbook. Other writing format books include the Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Stylebook.