In academic writing, it's considered plagiarism to use any other person's ideas in your work without properly crediting them. This can be done deliberately or accidentally, but the outcome is still the same. If you draw from any of the following people or works, you must be careful about citing them correctly:
- A published author
- Another student
- A web site without clear authorship
- A web site that sells academic papers
- Any other person
As you can see, there's a variety of sources available to you. This means you can get all kinds of information on your topic, but you must cite them correctly. If you do use their work without proper accreditation, it is considered stealing whether you meant to or not. This is why it's taken so seriously by every academic organisation, including your university.
As you find sources and use them in your work, it's vital that you keep track of where they all came from. This can be done in notes on your assignment, or in a separate file. It's especially important when you're looking for sources on the web. It's so easy to find multiple sources that it's easy to lose track, or mix them up. Not doing so means you could take credit for an idea without meaning to.
When you use the internet to find sources, it's important to cite every page you use in your work. Many students don't bother citing them all, as many web pages don't have a clear author. Even if a page doesn't have an author it needs to be cited, as it is still a document that somebody has written. Even if their name isn't on it, it still contains their ideas. There are ways of citing a piece without an author, but it will depend on the citation style that your institution uses. Make sure to look it up if you're not sure.
When you think of plagiarism, you're probably thinking of whole pages of text copied into a document and claimed as your own. You would never try and pass off large chunks of other people's work as your own, so surely you'd never be flagged for plagiarism in your own work. However, there's actually several forms of plagiarism that you may not be aware you're committing. Here's a guide to all the different types of plagiarism you should be wary of, and how to avoid them.
This is the version of plagiarism that most students think of when the subject is mentioned. Verbatim plagiarism is when a whole section of text is copied directly from a source, such as a book or web page, and not given credit.
This is often not done maliciously, but because proper accreditation is not given. Placing the text into it's own paragraph, or making it look different by making bold or italicized is not enough. Remember, even if you paste in the text and write your own thoughts around it, you need to give the proper citation for it. Without it, you could be seen as trying to take credit for another person's work.
Many students copy bits and pieces from a source, or several sources, without adequately explaining where those ideas come from. If they're not properly cited, this is called mosaic plagiarism.
Again, this is often not done on purpose. It often comes about because of careless note taking. When you're looking for sources to prove your point, you need to ensure which ideas you want to take from them, and what the author has said. If you don't do so, it's hard to see where your ideas end and theirs begin. Soon enough, you won't remember where the ideas came from in the first place, and so you won't be able to cite them even if you wanted to.
To avoid this, take careful notes and keep track of your sources. Remember, you may think you're ok because you're paraphrasing what the author has said. However, they still have to be cited or you're claiming the ideas as your own. Make it clear which ideas are yours and which are from another source, and you'll avoid being accused of mosaic plagiarism.
When you paraphrase, the idea is to take an idea or passage from a source, and completely rewrite it. Many students think you can just change a few words here and there, but that's not enough. If you do that, even if you do cite the source, it can still be observed as plagiarism. That's because you haven't placed the text into context within your own piece. If you've just taken the whole block of text and rearranged it a little, you're not explaining it in your own words.
If you want to paraphrase, the best thing to do is to put the source away. This way, you're forced to think about what it meant, and recreate the ideas in your own words. You're looking to distil the ideas you read about into a few sentences that fit in with the rest of your essay. Once you've done so, take the source back out and re read it. If it looks too close, edit the piece so it's all your own work. Be sure to cite the idea afterwards, so you've made it clear where it comes from.
If you need to use some of the original text in your paraphrasing, be sure to use quotation marks and cite after each example.
There's an idea among many students that if you're not using the exact words from a source, then you don't need to cite it. This is a dangerous misunderstanding of how attribution works. If you're using the ideas of someone else in your own argument, they need to be cited. Paraphrasing them may be seen as trying to pass them off as your own, even if you don't mean to. This is why citing your sources is so important.
As with quoting, you need to cite anything that you paraphrase. If you're not sure whether to cite or not, there's a good rule of thumb. If you're using an idea that you did not think up yourself, you need to add a citation. If you don't, you're at risk of being accused of plagiarism.
Quoting material that you're using in support of your arguments is the right thing to do. It shows that you are acknowledging that those ideas aren't your own, and that you want to show the reader that. However, many students fall down because they don't cite where that quote came from.
That can be flagged as plagiarism, because the reader doesn't know where that source came from. They can't take the citation, find the text that you used, and read it for themselves. That's why it's a bad idea to quote without sourcing.
If you do want to quote a text, make sure you cite it directly afterwards. That way, it's obvious that the quote came from that source, and it's easy for the reader to go and find it.
Using material from another student
In some courses while you're at university, you will be encouraged to work in groups and come up with ideas together. Doing so is a great way of expanding your thinking on a subject, and helping you understand them from a different angle. However, it's sometimes not clear that the writing that results from these group sessions must still be your own. This doesn't mean that you can't get feedback from another student or a professor once you've done the writing. That can be very useful and is encouraged within academic settings. The final work, though, has to be yours and yours alone.
So, how does this work when it comes to citations? Well, if ideas come up as a result of the discussion you've had, the best thing to do would be to add a footnote that explains this to the reader. If there's one idea that clearly came from one student, though, you should cite that student directly. This shows you're giving credit where credit is due, and not taking credit for what was actually a group or whole class discussion.
As you can see, there's multiple different ways in which plagiarism can be committed. When papers are flagged for plagiarism, it's often the case that it wasn't done intentionally. The number of students who use others people's work and hope to get away with it very, very small. However, you need to ensure that your work isn't flagged because of your own mistakes. Be careful and clear when you cite your sources, and use this guide. That way, you can't go wrong.