Avoid Stumbling Upon the Plagiarism Monster

Avoid Stumbling Upon the Plagiarism Monster

As students approach the end of the school year/semester, you can sense the anticipatory joy that fills the school hallways and classrooms. But this time of year also often brings with it the anxiety of finishing term papers and theses.

Trying to write an “A” or “B” paper can be challenging enough, but figuring out what to footnote and what not to footnote can be a tedious, even painstaking process. Yet, it’s a crucial component of the writing process if you want to avoid plagiarism, an academic cardinal sin that can derail a person’s college career.

It is better to err on the side of citing, rather than not citing, information on an academic paper to guard against plagiarism.
It is better to err on the side of citing, rather than not citing, information on an academic paper to guard against plagiarism.

Wendy Hardenberg, instruction coordinator at Southern’s Buley Library who also teaches a freshman Inquiry class, says a surprising number of students don’t have a clear understanding of what plagiarism is when they first get to college. As a result, some students actually commit plagiarism accidentally.

“It’s still bad even if you didn’t mean to do it,” she says. “In fact, consequences of plagiarism can range from getting a poor grade on an assignment to failing a class outright.”

And the consequences don’t always end with your academic career. “You can actually lose a high-profile job years in the future because someone finds that you plagiarized your dissertation,” Hardenberg says.

“Plagiarism basically means presenting someone else’s ideas and/or writing as your own,” she says. “If you found something somewhere else, you have to tell your reader!”

Hardenberg offers a few clarifications and tips on avoiding plagiarism:

*Cutting and pasting a quote from someone is fine — as long as you put their words in quotation marks and indicate where you found the quote.

*You can paraphrase instead of quoting directly, but paraphrasing also has to be cited. And paraphrasing does not mean just changing a few words. If you find yourself only changing a few words, you might well be better off using a direct quote.

*Remember, if you can Google the quote, your professor can, too. And many professors have lots of experience checking on whether quotes or parts of a paper were “lifted” from another source without attribution. This is especially true in this era of electronic media.

*Copyright infringement and plagiarism are not the same thing. Copyright infringement is a legal issue, while plagiarism is an academic honesty problem.

*When in doubt, cite it!

(Incidentally, Hardenberg recently competed on Jeopardy!, where she placed a close 2nd to a defending champion who had been victorious on 20 consecutive shows. Check out an article that appeared in the New Haven Register before the show aired on May 30.)


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