Plagiarism is a topic that seems to be exploding with the widespread availability of information on the internet and new tools that make detecting it even easier. I received an email yesterday from the folks at Plagtracker, a free plagiarism checker (http://www.plagtracker.com/). Plagtracker is a free alternative to TurnItIn – http://www.turnitin.com/,
Most academics agree that educating students about plagiarism is an important first step in preventing repeat occurrences. I found a guide online from the University of Oklahoma that I think is fantastic – Nine Things You Should Already Know About PLAGIARISM Plus . . .Six Excuses That Don’t Work And . . . Three Things You Don’t Need To Worry About.
I recommend this as required reading for all students, but some key points of note:
What is academic misconduct?
Academic misconduct is cheating. More precisely, it is any action that a student knows (or should know) will lead to the improper evaluation of academic work. If the professor does not detect it, academic misconduct defeats the purpose of academic work because you are pretending to know more or write better than you actually do.
What is plagiarism?
Plagiarism is a form of academic misconduct in which you represent someone else’s words or ideas as your own. The basic expectation in every class is that whatever you write will be your own words, generated from your own understanding. Therefore it is acceptable to incorporate someone else’s words in your paper only if you clearly indicate the words are someone else’s.
How to avoid plagiarism?
There are three things you need to do to avoid plagiarism: Think, Write, and Signal.
Think. Think about your paper topic and the research you have done. Make sure you have actually thought about everything in your paper well enough to explain it in your own words. Make sure you start the assignment soon enough to think and understand, not just research and type.
Write. Generate your own words to express your own understanding. If you cannot get started, or if you think your words are just too clumsy or inadequate, get help from your professor or a Writing Center. Other people’s words should always be a supplement, not a substitute, for your own writing.
Signal. Clearly signal whenever you are using someone else’s words, whether you are using them by direct quotation or paraphrase. Any direct quotation must be indicated by two things: “quotation marks” (or else “block quotation”) plus a “reference” (also called a “citation”) to the source. A reference alone is not sufficient to signal a direct quotation.
What are the most common kinds of plagiarism?
Whole-paper plagiarism. In this form of plagiarism, all or most of the student’s paper is lifted from another student or published source, for example the Internet, a book, or a print article. It is especially bad to buy a paper from any source that offers ready-made term papers.
Cut-and-paste plagiarism. In this form of plagiarism, parts of a paper ranging from phrases and sentences to entire paragraphs are taken from the Internet or somewhere else and incorporated into the student’s paper with no signal that they are not the student’s own expression.
Cut-and-paste plagiarism with references. In this form of plagiarism, words or ideas in a paper are included from another source, a reference to the source is included, but there is no quotation signal. Again, the problem is that a reference indicates only that the accompanying text is somehow derived from or related to the cited source. A reference alone does not show that the text is a direct quotation from that source. Thus a reference alone does not suspend the professor’s expectation that the words are your own words. A direct quotation with a reference but without quotation marks is plagiarism.
Excuses for plagiarizing that Don’t Work:
I didn’t mean to plagiarize!
The most common excuse to a charge of plagiarism. The test in an academic misconduct case is whether the student knew or should have known that his or her actions amounted to misconduct. Students are expected to know the basic rules of academic integrity.
I forgot to add the references!
Unless the plagiarism is truly minor, the student would still be in trouble even if such excuses are true. Cut-and-paste papers usually contain lots of directly-quoted material that substitutes for the student’s own writing, appears without quotation marks, and lacks any textual indication that the material is quoted. In such cases, the quoted text substitutes for the student’s own writing.
I’m presenting facts, not ideas.
Except for clearly-signaled quotations, every bit of any writing exercise needs to reflect the student’s own expression of the student’s own understanding. Sometimes it may seem that there is only one way to express some things — highly technical lab procedures, for instance. Don’t worry too much about this: once you have understood it, put the original source away and rely only on your own understanding when you write your own words. When you write from your own understanding, you will express yourself uniquely enough to avoid plagiarism.